The term “pro” is being tossed around so much it seems to have lost its meaning. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be a professional user to make full of it anymore, now it just signifies the best that a particular company has to offer. In this case, that company is Apple. The Powerbeats Pro and AirPods Pro are two very different earbuds with basically the same price point. So which one is better for you? The best Beats in-ears, or the best AirPods?
Editor’s note: this article was updated on January 18, 2022, to include new frequency response charts of the Powerbeats Pro and AirPods Pro, and to add new microphone demos.
Do the AirPods Pro or Beats Powerbeats Pro have a better fit?
The answer to this question seems like a no-brainer at first glance, but it’s not so simple. The original AirPods is notorious for having a terrible fit, but that was fixed with the AirPods Pro which makes this a way cleaner fight. Now, these come with three pairs of ear tips that snap on easily to the end of the earbuds thanks to a proprietary system giving them a much more versatile fit in the ear that most people can make use of. So they no longer have the terrible fit and isolation problems that plagued the originals.
The Powerbeats Pro on the other hand also comes with three different sized ear tips, but it has an ear hook design as well. This gives the buds a slight edge when it comes to how they fit. Even if the nozzle falls out of your ear, at least you know they’ll be held in place by the ear hook. Anyone who has ever dropped a single true wireless earbud on the street knows how helpful having an around-ear hook can be.
Is the Powerbeats Pro better for working out than the AirPods Pro?
The Beats Powerbeats Pro is the more appropriate set of workout earbuds for vigorous exercise, but the AirPods Pro can hold its own too. The Powerbeats Pro has full playback controls including volume so you never have to reach for your phone while pumping out a set. It also has the aforementioned hook design that keeps them from flying out under even the most intense workouts.
That ear hook may not seem like a huge help when working out, but by increasing the overall size of each earbud, they distribute their weight more evenly over your entire ear. Additionally, they’re much easier to locate in the far less likely event that they fall out.
Still, the AirPods Pro is no slouch here. The earbuds share the same IPX4 rating and do a decent job at staying put in your ears. Still, the lack of volume controls means you’ll have to reach for your phone every time you want to lower the volume unless you don’t mind being the weird person speaking to Siri in the gym. Both earphones support full mono playback if you want to exercise outside while keeping an ear on what’s going on around you.
Which has better features?
If you’re not going to be lifting iron in the gym, then maybe you just care about which pair of earphones has the best and most convenient features. If that’s what you’re after then your path forward is clear, just get the AirPods Pro. Not only has the design of the AirPods been given a makeover between it and the original, but it also has some new and improved features as well that blow the Powerbeats Pro out of the water.
For one, there’s the new active noise cancelling (ANC) which is quite good considering the small size of the buds. Furthermore, the AirPods has a transparency mode that lets you hear what’s going on around you. It’s great if you want to exercise in stereo mode, or just hear subway platform announcements on your way to work.
While active noise cancelling is intended to help block out the world around you, the release of iOS 14 brings Spatial Audio to the AirPods Pro which aims to further immerse you in your content. The feature is compatible with content mixed in 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound, in addition to Dolby Atmos. Apple’s approach to spatial audio uses the gyroscope and accelerometers within the AirPods Pro, mapping out the earbud’s position relative to your iOS device; it even supports head tracking. As of now, Spatial Audio is only compatible with a handful of apps, including Apple TV, Disney+, Plex, and HBO Max.
Does the Powerbeats Pro have better battery life than the AirPods Pro?
The Beats Powerbeats Pro’s battery life laps the AirPods Pro’s battery life, which makes sense seeing how the former doesn’t use ANC (a power-hungry technology). The Powerbeats Pro lasts just over 10 hours on a single charge, while the AirPods Pro lasts just over 5 hours on a single charge. We reached these results after subjecting each headset to a constant 75dB(SPL) output until the batteries fully depleted.
Both true wireless charging cases use the Lightning adapter and can quick charge the earbuds. With the AirPods Pro, 5 minutes in the case yields 60 minutes of playtime, slightly shorter than the Powerbeats Pro case’s ability to provide 90 minutes of playtime after 5 minutes of charging. Only the AirPods Pro case supports wireless charging, though.
Sound quality and isolation
If we’re being honest, you’re probably not picking either of these for studio-quality audio. While each headset is good enough for its respective use case, you’re not going to see any audio engineers using these to mix tracks.
As you’d expect, the Powerbeats Pro emphasizes the low-end frequencies in order to provide a little more bass while exercising. The mids are slightly de-emphasized which makes it hard to hear vocals and other instruments during bass-heavy sections of your favorite tracks. While this isn’t ideal, generally, it may be exactly what you need to stay motivated during your workout. Upper-midrange frequencies are amplified while low-treble notes are de-emphasized to prevent cymbals and synths coming across too loud.
The AirPods Pro has a much more consistent output across the frequency spectrum, making it a better option for varied music tastes. It more closely follows our house curve, though you can’t EQ it from the Apple Settings app. It’s worth noting that you’ll need a near-perfect fit to get the seal required to enjoy that, so make sure to give the Apple fit test a try, which lets you know which ear tips to use.
Need noise cancelling? Get the AirPods Pro
The Apple AirPods Pro has active noise cancelling, which combats low and midrange frequency noises better than the Beats Powerbeats Pro. If you’re commuting, you’ll want to throw the AirPods Pro in your bag. That said, for a pair of non-ANC earbuds, the Powerbeats Pro does a fine job of blocking out high-frequency sounds like conversations and other incidental noises.
Which has better microphone quality, the AirPods Pro or the Powerbeats Pro?
Plenty of people use their headphones to take phone calls, and thankfully both the Powerbeats Pro and the AirPods Pro are fairly good in this respect. You won’t sound terrible on either, but the AirPods Pro has a slight advantage when it comes to the lower frequencies in your voice.
On the whole, though, the Powerbeats Pro are better at noise rejection (but not as good against wind), and they also seem to be able to capture voices a bit more naturally than the AirPods Pro. While neither option is bad here, we recommend the Powerbeats Pro if you use a VoLTE chat service or need to record your voice.
Apple AirPods Pro microphone demo:
Beats Powerbeats Pro microphone demo:
Which has a better connection?
One of the biggest concerns with true wireless earbuds is how well they stay connected to each other and to your source device. Constant skipping and stutters can just be super annoying, but thankfully both the Powerbeats Pro and the AirPods Pro have Apple’s H1 chip which helps to make that a thing of the past. It’s a dedicated chip that works alongside the Bluetooth 5 chip in order to provide a more stable, lag-free connection, and it works pretty well.
In our testing, skips were minimal with both of these pairs of buds and because of the H1 chip, pairing is super simple as well. All you have to do is hit the “Connect” button that pops up on your iOS device in order to automatically pair them with all the devices on your iCloud. If you’re an Android user then you’ll still have to go through Bluetooth settings and you’ll likely experience a few more stutters than iOS users, but even then they’re few and far between.
As far as Bluetooth codecs go, both of these use AAC which is great, unless you’re on Android. Our testing shows that the codec just doesn’t play as nice with Android as others do, but if you’re on iOS you need not worry as the only codec Apple supports (other than the universal default SBC) is AAC anyway.
So should you buy the AirPods Pro or the Powerbeats Pro?
For those keeping score at home, this means that when you pin these two “pro” true wireless earbuds head-to-head, what’s “best” depends entirely upon what you value in a set of true wireless earphones. And that isn’t to say that the models discussed here aren’t great pairs of buds in their own right, especially if you’re the kind of person who is going to make use of taking them to the gym. Most people, however, will get the most bang for their buck out of the AirPods Pro for its noise canceling and portability.
What about the Apple AirPods Max?
For those who want a pair of over-ear headphones, and don’t want to step outside the Apple ecosystem, you may want to get the Apple AirPods Max. This pair of premium noise cancelling headphones outcompetes the ANC performance of the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose QuietComfort 35 II, and its sound quality is just as sweet.
The AirPods Max inherits a lot of features from the AirPods Pro, including the use of hybrid noise cancelling technology, Transparency Mode, Apple’s H1 Chip, Adaptive EQ, and Spatial Audio. It also boasts a 20-hour battery life with fast charging, giving you 90 minutes of playtime after just 5 minutes of charging.
If you have enough cash to cover the Apple tax, which in this case brings this product’s total up to $549, the AirPods Max could be your next—and probably only—pair of headphones.