|Very comfortable||Poor connectivity in congested areas|
|Great audio quality for most||Large, bulky charging case|
|Amazing battery life||Can’t easily check battery on Android|
|Very secure fit for the active wearer|
|High quality microphones for phone calls|
|Water resistant (IPX4)|
Beats. Around since 2006, the company was born out of Dr. Dre’s concern about piracy and subpar reproduction of his music, with the first product to be released in July 2008. Visiting an audiophile or audiophile-lite community, you will rarely see a recommendation for any Beats product with the usual rhetoric being “too much bass, overpriced, muddy treble/highs”. Naturally these were geared towards hip-hop and pop since their inception, and could be perceived as a status symbol. Their logo became iconic.
As someone who has always been interested in audio, particularly on a budget, I’ve avoided any Beats products because they were never considered a value product. 15 years ago, my choice of wired headphones were the KSC75. While being open headphones (sound bleeds into your surroundings), they had very good sound reproduction for their price. Speaking speakers, I would normally look for internet-direct companies to try and get products that did not have as much overhead as the bigger brands. AV123 comes to mind, although their founder ended up being somewhat scummy, misusing donations. Most recently, I purchased a set of RBH Impression-series towers.
When I first heard of the Powerbeats Pro, I automatically dismissed them as another “Beats product” without any particular personal value, and figured they were overpriced at an MSRP of $249.95. While I prefer a good set of over-ear headphones (my current favorites being Sony’s WH1000XM3 – a name that rolls right off your tongue…), I do like having a second, more compact set, particularly for walking outside and exercise. My earbuds of choice have been the Jabra Elite 65t. As the weather in NYC reaches its usual excessive humidity, the Jabras have started to slip out of my ears, and making ungodly suction-like shlopping sounds when I push them back in. This led me down my usual rabbit hole, because when anything inconveniences me in the slightest, I get more focus than I do in any other aspect of my life and try to figure out how to solve that inconvenience. I did consider the active version of the Elite 65t, but I wasn’t convinced that my sweat-lubricated ear canal would be enough to maintain their security in my ears.
What made me honestly consider the Powerbeats Pro was iPhonedo’s review. Faruk has always given honest and well-planned reviews of headphones, and has shown his relative disapproval of Beats products in the past. When he mentioned the audio quality on these Beats was unlike the sound signature of their predecessors, I was sold. This was early June. It turns out they are still not so easy to get! Sold out everywhere online, and I could not find any B&M store by me that had them. After checking for several days on Apple.com, I found them at their flagship store on 5th ave in Manhattan (which happens to be open 24/7). Placing the order online for pickup, I was quickly notified that they were ready for pickup (within the hour). Arriving at the store at 10pm on a Saturday, it was quite busy! Mostly with tourists, but there was definitely a lot of product being moved. An associate immediately assisted me through the seamless pickup process, and I could focus on wading through the sea of midtown drunks (no judgment, I had a few drinks myself) on my way home.
Now that you’ve read my pleonastic introduction, which only took four paragraphs, the caveat mentioned in the title of this article is that I am using these solely with an Android device, specifically Google’s Pixel 3 XL. Google’s own hardware has had a notorious reputation for having weak Bluetooth. I have had significant issues with Bose’s QC 35 II headphones dropping connection and then not reconnecting, with the audio from my phone call defaulting to the Samsung Galaxy Watch. Apart from that, I have never had any significant connection issues with my Jabra Elite 65t. Yes, they might hiccup slightly if I’m wearing a heavy longer coat and keep my phone in my front right pants pocket, but that was a rare occurrence and I’d have to do a true contortion act with my neck before I dropped connection for a few seconds.
Unfortunately, while the pairing process to the Pixel 3 XL was painless (open the Powerbeats Pro case, hold the button on the inside, and pair to the phone), I noticed some issues when walking around the busy streets of New York City. Sometimes streaming just the audio of Twitch channels (shoutout to Kitboga), I noticed when the connection wasn’t strong enough, the two earbuds actually became slightly out of sync, creating an echo effect. This never occurred indoors or in a wide-open area. Walking down 5th avenue without a jacket and Pixel 3 XL in my front right pants pocket, I started noticing more hiccups near the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As an area filled with tourists and gentlemen selling likely blank CD-Rs of their “music”, I could attribute it to the congestion. I pulled the phone out of my pocket and had to hold it at around chest-height before I got a more stable connection – even then, I had to pause and restart what I was playing. Again, never occurred on the Jabra Elite 65t. However, when I got closer to 59th street on my south-bound walk, I was getting complete drops of my audio without anything playing for minutes at a time. Of note, this occurred less with Spotify, so it may be related to the way Twitch streams its audio, but it still occurred.
Based on my usage above, I realized how unhelpful the distance test is, particularly when in a congested area. Living in NYC, which is absolutely one of the most populated areas, there still exist places that are even more densely populated. I am not sure if it is actually getting overwhelmed when surrounded by so many people with Bluetooth-enabled technology, but this article makes it seem like it has a lot of native features to prevent that type of congestion.
These issues have also been identified by professional reviewers, as noted in this Digital Trends article. It appears densely populated areas affect the connectivity of these headphones, and a firmware update is eagerly awaited to hope for its timely resolution.
When I am running up and down the stairs of my apartment building in the mornings, I notice no connection issues, nor does the sweat cause any problems with how the headphones sit in my ears or the audio.
Out of the box, these fit perfectly in my ears. They do come with additional rubber tips, but I did not need to try them. Certain days of the week I spend a lot of time in front of my computer completing documentation for work. I am able to comfortably tolerate 3 hours without breaks. When comparing to the Jabra Elite 65t earbuds, those will start to feel like they are expanding my ear canals after about 2 hours. I don’t have to shove the Powerbeats Pro until they abut my eardrums to make sure they sit snugly – the ear hook is working overtime!
Battery life? Incredible for true wireless earbuds. You can have 9 hours (if not more) of continuous playback, and then charge up for 15 minutes to get back another 4.5 hours. Throw them in the case for 90 minutes and you get a full charge. The case itself can charge fully from 0% in about 2.5 hours. One can look to get about 24 hours from a fully charged case and buds, without access to any chargers.
Android caveat: Battery percentage is not displayed anywhere in the interface. On iOS, you will get the % of the case and the buds.
The case does have an LED which can give you an idea of how much battery it has remaining.
Audio & Microphone Quality
There’s a lot to say here, but none of it may matter to you! Audio quality is inherently subjective, and are varying levels of inter-rater reliability. Of course even the average listener will (should) be able to tell the difference between a pair of $25 Logitech speakers and a pair of B&W towers – but that is a ridiculous comparison. A person may be satisfied with their $25 set of speakers even after having heard both, and having the finances to back the purchase of either. That level of audio quality just is not important to everyone, and that is perfectly reasonable! Audiophilia can be treated as a religion in the sense that some zealots will try to shove it down your throat.
The more classic Beats sound signature was never for me. I grew up enjoying boomy bass, but when I heard more refined subwoofers with much tighter bass, I realized that my preference is not for overpowering bass, but for appropriate bass depending on the music / movie being played. For example, many subwoofer fanatics like to use the Finding Nemo scene where Darla taps on the aquarium glass at the dentist’s office. You do not get that effect on a set of headphones or a cheap subwoofer, because it does not dig deep enough to give that pounding in your chest. However, the subwoofer should also be able to handle running bass lines in jazz without muddying up their character and finesse. I treat my headphones similarly. The Powerbeats Pro are the first product after the acquisition of Beats by Apple. They have a full frequency response, which is still slightly bass boosted. However, because they are not completely sealed in your ear, this is actually somewhat welcomed. There is no active passthrough of outside sounds, as they are designed to let noise in passively. I appreciate that in NYC because I need to be aware of my surroundings, and active passthrough of other earbuds, like the Jabra Elite 65t, makes the sound of what I’m listening to suffer when passthrough is on.
I do not like to listen to headphones at high volume levels, and I can see why these would be insufficient for those who do enjoy very loud listening. On my Google Pixel 3 XL, ideal listening volume is at about 90% of maximum on these headphones. However, I have noticed that ticking up the volume 1 notch from that point gives an exponential increase in volume (to my ears). I definitely could not listen to these and tolerate them at max volume, but others may reach that point.
I left myself a voicemail using the Powerbeats Pro. Doesn’t sound so bad when it’s quiet!
I played a movie at a high volume in the background, and the earbuds barely picked it up.
Sitting directly in front of a desk fan caused the most difficulty for these earbuds. While you can somewhat make out my voice, it is much quieter and there are strange rattling sounds.
Sitting directly in front of a fan is really worst-case scenario, and if you’re on the phone in hurricane or tornado-level winds, you likely have more important things to worry about. Otherwise, the talking experience is as expected from these earbuds, and a step above the Jabra Elite 65t.
Other features of audio playback are as you’d expect from a relatively expensive pair of earbuds: even on Android, they will pause music playback when removed from the ears. As noted before, there is no active passthrough, but at the same time you would probably want to show the usual courtesy by removing at least one earbud when engaging in face to face conversation.
My research indicates that these earbuds cannot have their firmware updated manually. While “Beats By Dre” has a Beats Updater, these are not listed as a supported product, and would be baked in as part of future iOS updates. You’d have to track down an iOS user to pull that firmware update! I will be using my work iPhone to do this when a new firmware is released.
The Powerbeats Pro earbuds are truly sturdy and high quality earbuds from Beats by Apple. Active wearers will appreciate their secure fit and sweat resistance, and critical listeners will appreciate the toned down bass and clearer highs than their predecessors.
Should you get them? Maybe.
If you live in a suburban area and would be using them at a relatively spacious and not-too-crowded gym, or jogging on small roads, you will appreciate them without highlighting their current blatant flaw: connection instability in congested metro areas.
In NYC, walking the crowded streets may become frustrating as your audio cuts in and out for seconds at a time, immediately pulling you out of whatever zone your audio had you in. Factoring in public transportation, and you have some true game breakers. In that case, I would recommend the Jabra Elite 65t earbuds. If you’re prone to sweating or are just very active, definitely go for the “Active” version – although I have not personally tested those.
I will update this review after the next few firmware updates with my testing of their connection on the busy streets of New York.