Beats have made a big name for themselves in the audio world and the opinions are mixed on them. Audiophiles are not usually big fans due to the increased bass not offering true sound profiles but some people love them — whether it’s that bass or whether it’s because they saw them on one of the bazillion celebrities who use/wear them.
Yes Beats founders did admit that they deliberately sent free headphones to ALL the celebrities to entice everyone to buy them and as such are full of hype. I’ve never used Beats headphones before, of any type so didn’t really have an opinion one way or the other. My Android bias (remember Apple own Beats) is offset by my huge fan-boy status of anything Dr Dre (I was a huge NWA fan way back in the day before most of you were born) does.
So we got a chance to check out the new Beats Powerbeats headphones I figured why not. I’ve used a lot of gym/workout headphones in my day, mostly through Ausdroid but even before then used some decent Sennheiser gym headphones so I figure I could make a decent decision on the quality of these.
What’s in the box?
The box is a basic box, nothing special. You do get the headphones funnily enough, the worlds shortest charging cable — yes you guessed it, it’s a lightning cable, and three different sizes of ear tips (plus the one already installed on the headphones making four). There is also a Beats sticker if you decide you want to tell the world about your Beats love plus a small instruction booklet.
A carry case is included in the box as well. It is the most flimsy, average, cheap-looking case I have ever seen and from a company that prides itself on its packaging of products and with a set of headphones that cost north of AU$200 I find it inexcusable. It is a very thin canvas-style material with a drawstring top.
Design and hardware
The design of the Beats Powerbeats are different to the design of most headphones in 2020. A few years ago there were a few brands with this around-the-ear design but they have gone by the wayside in favour of true wireless earbuds and pure in-ear wired buds and after using the Powerbeats I can see why.
The hardware inside includes Apples H1 headphone chip which enables “faster setup, pairing, and switching time between iCloud devices”. That’s all well and good but what use is it to an Android users — not much.
Aside from that they do include an IPX4 water resistance and drivers in each ear buds that is 12mm in size which is a very decent size and should produce a great sound, considering my go-to wired Bluetooth headphones, the Jaybird Tarah Pro have just 6mm drivers.
The buttons on the headphones are more usable than most others I have used, mostly because of the stem that when pressed does not affect the fit in the ear. The Jaybirds mentioned above have an in-line remote which works well but can be difficult to locate is behind the head, under a hoodie etc. The left side houses the power and Bluetooth buttons. The left button easy to use and worked well, although it would have been nice to have it play a noise when turned on rather than just show a blinking LED — I cannot see the LED if the headphones are already on.
The button on the right side of the headphones is a volume rocker and the Beats logo button is a button also which calls up your preferred digital assistant (yes, it worked perfectly fine with Google Assistant), pause or play music and to answer and hang up phone calls.
The battery life was good, basically the same as most other headphones of this variety — it is rated to be 15 hours and I had no reason to dispute that during my testing over the last couple of weeks. Charging though could present an issue though for non-Apple())) users. They are charged using a lightning to USB-A cable. Sure there is one included but it has to be one of the shortest charging cables I have ever seen. It is a plus that it is a common cable though and not a proprietary pogo pin solution by the manufacturer — hopefully next time they use USB-C.
As an Android user you may not have a heap of longer lightning cables lying around which may present an issue if you cannot plug your tiny little lightning cable that is included into something allowing the headset to be charged.
Sound and software
Now Beats do not have the best reputation for high quality sound but what I did expect some bass-heavy signature sound that would fit well with the current listening I am making a habit of — Aussie drill hiphop group, OneFour.
Before listening I did make a check that they will not sound as good as over-ear headphones such as Bose, Sony or JBL even but I still expected some great sound from them. Unfortunately I was extremely disappointed. The lack of bass out of the box was extremely noticeable. The mids and highs were crisp as you’d want but the headphones lacked an overall depth due to the lack of bass.
Let’s face it, most in-ear ear buds lack the depth of sound that you get from over-ear headphones and these are no exception but still I expected better. The bass on the Jaybird Tarah Pro was much better than that in the Powerbeats with the mids and highs being very similar — slightly better on the Powerbeats though.
In the end it depends really on the type of music you listen to with respect to the sound you prefer and want from the headphones but the lack of bass in the Powerbeats was disappointing to say the least. I had one person say to me how about using an equaliser — so I opened up the Beats app and there was not a single thing in there to aid the sound produced by the headphones.
Let’s face it, a bulk of people are not going to install a separate EQ app to make their $200 headphones sound decent and you shouldn’t have to. The Jaybirds on the other hand come with a very good app that has a bazillion different sound profile equalisers to make the headphones produce the sound you prefer.
The fit is okay, just okay
I have used headphones like this in the past where the cable/stem wraps around the ears so it was not my first dance. These were possibly the most difficult headphones I have ever had to fit to my ears. Eventually I found a fit but it is still awkward to get the headphones on — Beats obviously acknowledge this and include a diagram for how to fit them. Even following the diagram I found it difficult.
The around-the-ear design is not just difficult to get onto the head but also not great at getting it to sit comfortably into the ear. Sure the cable and the around the ear stem allows for more tech to be included in the headphones hopefully leading to a better sound but it’s no good if they feel insecure in the ears. To aid in the fit they include four sizes of ear tips in the box with three of them being the mushroom cap variety and the other an ice cream-cone “double-flange” design (I’m sure there are proper names for these but this is what they look like to me).
I opted for the double-flange ice cream cone design which were the best fit for me. They just sit in there relatively loosely and rely on the stem wrapping around the ear to hold them in place — it is unfortunate that the stem around the ear was what made them uncomfortable at times, mostly when I was wearing a beanie. They did not fall out at any time though no matter the exercise I was doing and no matter the head position so that is a big plus.
So should you buy them?
If you are a hype beast and own a heap of plain white t-shirts that cost more than $100 because of a small “Supreme” logo on it then these are the headphones for you. The name Beats is synonymous with celebrity endorsement and the founders have admitted as such. Early on in their lifetime they just sent out heaps and heaps of sets to celebrities and influencers to get their brand out there — all of a sudden everyone wanted a pair — they didn’t care how they sounded, just how they looked. For those people, everyone will see you wearing these headphones, a design in 2020 that is synonymous with Beats along with the Beats logo flex on the side so you should buy them.
The sound from them is okay — just okay. The mids and highs are relatively crisp and decent but the bass is lacking in the extreme. If you like your hiphop then these aren’t the Beats you are looking for. The fit in the ear is ok — they don’t head down the ear canal for any form of noise isolation but they don’t fall out either. The stem around the ear is uncomfortable at times but ok when not wearing any head covering.
The case is below average rounding out an okay experience. For AU$219 I expected them to be better than okay. I expected a bass-heavy sound signature from headphones that fit so well in the ear they blocked out a lot of outside noise. If you own an Apple phone your mileage may vary but for an Android user there are a lot of other options out there that you should be considering before purchasing these headphones — at around the same price the Jaybird Tarah Pro are one.
The Beat Powerbeats earphones can be purchased from the Beats website and most electronics websites or stores for $219. These headphones are okay but I expected a lot better than just okay.