Apple's AirPods (2019) are the most popular wireless earbuds in the world. Step onto a train or bus and chances are, you'll see at least one person sporting a pair of the distinctive, high-tech white 'Pods.
It's hardly surprising. The AirPods offer a superb combination of excellent battery life, simple-to-use controls and good sound quality.
But wait, don't buy a pair just yet. The AirPods face some serious competition in the shape of the Beats Powerbeats Pro true wireless earbuds. As you might know, Apple acquired Beats Electronics for $3billion back in 2014. Since then, Beats' signature sound profile has benefited from Cupertino's state-of-the-art technology.
As a result, the Powerbeats Pro wireless earbuds feature Apple's H1 chip (also in the AirPods), which uses the latest version of Bluetooth for better, faster connections, Audio Sharing and Siri voice controls.
While both these products offer basic compatibility with any Bluetooth device, they're tailored for iOS smartphones and tablets. For example, both buds have the ability to seamlessly pair with an iPhone when you open their charging case.
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Design and build
At first glance, the new AirPods (2019) look identical to the original 2017 version: a long-stem design constructed from glossy white plastic. They're almost impossibly small and light, too.
Their "one-size-fits-all" design is laudable, but while some find they fit snugly, others have trouble getting them to stay in. It really depends on the shape of your ears.
The AirPods are not sweat-proof, either, so they're not ideal for exercise.
The Beats Powerbeats manage to walk the fine line between being sporty and luxurious. They're chunkier and heavier than the AirPods, but they come with ear hooks and a four pairs of removable silicone ear tips, meaning you're pretty much guarantee a snug, secure fit at all times. They're also sweat and water-resistant, with an IPX4 rating.
Style-wise, the AirPods come in white (quelle surprise). The Powerbeats Pro come in a range colours: black navy, green and ivory.
The Powerbeats Pro use the same H1 chip that's in the AirPods (2019), so expect faster switching between devices, lower latency (good for watching video), and support for hands-free "Hey Siri" activation.
Both products offer consistent playback. In fact, we didn't experience any dropouts during testing.
Both products also share many of the same sensors, including ear detection that plays/pauses music when you pop them in and out of your ears. There's also the option to use one bud or both at the same time.
One extra tick in the Powerbeats Pro column is that they feature "beam-forming" microphones on each earbud to filter out ambient noise. Essentially, they pick up your voice better when giving voice commands or making voice calls.
Both the AirPods (2019) and the Powerbeats Pro can be controlled by Siri voice commands and simple touch controls.
In the case of the AirPods (2019), users can assign one double-tap control to each earbud. Problem is, you have to remember which earbud does what. And while the lack of physical buttons looks super-sleek, it does limit the scope of the controls – especially for those who don't want look like they're talking to themselves.
The Powerbeats Pro offer a far more comprehensive suite of controls (including physical buttons). There's a volume rocker switch and the Beats symbol itself is a button. You can use it to take calls and play/pause music with a tap. A double-tap skips forward a track; a triple tap goes back. You can even fast-forward and rewind by holding on to the last of these taps.
Best of all, the controls are duplicated on each earpiece, so there’s no need to remember which earbud does what.
Beats is known for producing bass-heavy headphones, and the Powerbeats Pro are certainly 'on message' in that regard. The good news is that the Beats sound profile makes the best of lower-quality music streaming services. Presentation is smooth and clear at normal volume, and there's a decent amount of detail, extracting plenty of emotion from vocals and guitar riffs.
The thundering bass is clearly aimed at gym-goers. But while it makes total sense for those who love to pound the pavement or pump iron, it's fair to say that audiophiles will find the lack of dynamic range disappointing. If sound quality is your number one priority, consider making a beeline for the award-winning Sony WF-1000X true wireless earbuds.
The new Apple AirPods (2019) are a marked improvement over the (dull-sounding) first generation version. There's no artificial bass boost, but they're louder and more composed. Sound is neutral and low-level dynamic shifts are handled with admirable subtly. Presentation is open and spacious, delivering an engaging performance.
Since the AirPods offer little in the way of noise isolation, you'll need to crank up the volume more than you would with the Powerbeats Pro. Sometimes, the sound can veer into harshness. But overall, the AirPods offer great, all-round performance underpinned by a good sense of timing.
The Powerbeats Pro provide an impressive nine hours playback per charge. But when combined with the charging case, that stretches it out to 24 hours of playback. On the downside, the Powerbeats Pro case doesn't support Qi-based wireless charging, and must be charged with a Lightning cable.
The AirPods (2019) provide just five hours of listening, with another 19 hours available via the standard charging case.
Apple also offers the option to upgrade to a wireless charging case, either in a £199 bundle with the new AirPods (a £40 premium over the standard charging case) or as a separate, £79 purchase. This new case works with all Qi-compatible charging mats and has the battery level-indicating LED on the front for easier reference.
One other thing worth noting is that the Powerbeats Pro charging case is a chunky affair, whereas the standard AirPods charging case is svelte enough to fit in a jeans pocket.
So which is better? That's a tricky one, since the AirPods and the Powerbeats Pro are aimed at very different audiences. The AirPods are lighter, more portable and perfect for casual day-to-day listening. However, if you have a passion for exercise, the Powerbeats Pro make a whole lot of sense. They're waterproof and offer a better fit that's ideally suited to strenuous workouts.