Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

New Powerbeats Pro Wireless Headphones Announced, and Some General Thoughts on Bluetooth Headphones

I’m really picky about what headphones I use. For the past several years, I’ve used various neutrally-equalized in-ear monitors. I like them because they sit inside the ear canal, so they isolate what I’m listening to and effectively mute ambient sounds. I also like that frequencies are balanced across the spectrum: they’re not tinny, but they also don’t overemphasize lower frequencies.

I’ve mentioned previously that Apple’s headphones haven’t ever felt great in my ears. The AirPods seem to fit better, but I’m still adjusting to them. A complaint I’ve seen from others about the AirPods is that bass frequencies sound tinny, but I haven’t noticed that problem at all. Lower frequencies sound rich and full to me; if anything, I’ve found the AirPods a little too bass-heavy for my tastes. This is one of the factors that has helped me realize that my complaints about fit have less to do with the size and shape of Apple’s earbuds in my ears, and more to do with their placement.

All of this is to say that the Powerbeats Pro, introduced today and shipping next month, are enticing to me. They feature the same technology as the AirPods: Apple’s H1 chip that improves connection reliability and allows fast device switching, in-ear detection, and great battery life with automatic charging in their case. But instead of sitting just inside the ear, they burrow their way into the ear canal for better noise isolation and fit. They’re also more subtle than a pair of AirPods, especially if you get them in navy, olive green, or black.

The case is much larger than the dental floss-like case of the AirPods, however, and it doesn’t support Qi charging. The latter point isn’t a concern for me — I exchanged my wirelessly-charging AirPods for a standard wired case because, hey, fifty bucks is fifty bucks — but that may be something that tips the scales for you. If it isn’t that, it’s this: these are nearly $100 more than a set of AirPods in the United States.

There’s also the question of lifespan. The batteries in most of these wireless headphones aren’t exactly replaceable so, even though the electronics inside may be completely functional, there’s no way to power them; you need to recycle them or throw them away when the batteries have expired. Apple offers a battery replacement program, but that’s more of an AirPods replacement program; the fee is the same for lost AirPods as it is for a battery swap.

For what it’s worth, I generally get only a couple of years of life out of the wired headphones I’ve owned — even some of the nicer ones. AirPods are more expensive than any headphones I’ve owned so far — and I would wager that it’s the same story for most AirPods owners — while the Powerbeats Pro model is pricier still. One would hope that they would get a longer life than just a couple of years for financial and environmental reasons. It feels a little silly tossing away a perfectly good set of earbuds because a known consumable item within them cannot really be replaced.