It's easy to see the appeal of wireless earbuds: they're completely cable-free and therefore provide total freedom of movement. Whether navigating a packed commuter train or working up a sweat in the gym, wireless earbuds are the most convenient way to enjoy music, podcasts and audiobooks on the go.
Apple latest entrant into the market – the AirPods Pro – is truly impressive. At £249 ($249) they're pricier than the standard AirPods, but you get better sound quality, improved comfort and Apple's own noise-cancelling technology.
Looking for the sportiest wireless earbuds? The popular Beats Powerbeats Pro (£219/$219) might be more your style. Like the AirPods Pros, they're super-simple to use and offer a host of premium features including voice control.
But which pair of earbuds is better? Read on and we'll break it down for you, delving into sound quality, comfort and overall performance.
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Apple AirPods Pro vs Beats Powerbeats Pro: Comfort and fit
Chances are, you'll be wearing these buds for extended periods, so a good fit is essential to long-term comfort.
Unlike the standard AirPods, which Apple claims are "one-size-fits-all", the AirPods Pro provide a customisable fit courtesy of interchangeable silicone tips. They come in three sizes; Apple will help you find the best fit using its built-in 'Ear Tip Fit Test', which you can run once the headphones are in place.
Both of these buds are sweat- and water-resistant, but the Beats Powerbeats are the sportier of the two. Primarily designed for use during exercise, they come with ear hooks to ensure a snug fit during the most strenuous of workouts. If you enjoy busting a gut, the Powerbeats Pro might make better gym buddies.
Apple AirPods Pro vs Beats Powerbeats Pro: Features
The Powerbeats use the same H1 chip that's in the AirPods, so expect fast switching between devices, lower latency (good for watching video), and support for hands-free "Hey Siri" activation.
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.
But while the AirPods will set you back around £30 more, they come with a major advantage: Apple's powerful noise cancelling tech.
It blocks out the world with ruthless efficiency. Sounds such as a rumbling train are almost completely eradicated, while office chatter is reduced to a mere whisper. They also have a 'transparency' mode, which allows sound in from the outside world when running or cycling.
**Winner: Apple AirPods Pro**
Apple AirPods Pro vs Beats Powerbeats Pro: Controls
The Powerbeats Pro offer a 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.
Apple's AirPods Pro are primarily designed to be voice-controlled via Siri (Apple's personal voice assistant). If you aren't keen on talking to yourself, Apple has included force sensors on both stems. Squeeze it to switch noise-cancelling modes, skip tracks, pause music and answer calls. We found it a bit fiddly when jogging or cycling, though. There's also no physical volume button – you'll have to ask Siri or dig your phone our of your pocket. Which is a bit of an oversight.
Apple AirPods Pro vs Beats Powerbeats Pro: Battery life
The added convenience of unrestricted movement isn't much use if your buds don't go the distance.
The AirPods Pros claim 4.5 hours battery life, plus another 19 hours from the included wireless charging case. However, if you're prepared to switch off the noise-cancelling tech, you can stretch playback to five hours.
They're not a patch on the performance of the Powerbeats Pros, which claim a marathon nine hours playback. When combined with the charging case, that figure jumps to an AirPods-equalling 24 hours of playback.
Both buds offer fast-charging, but Powerbeats Pros don't support Qi-based wireless charging, and must be charged with a Lightning cable. It's a downer, for sure, but not enough to cost Beats the round.
**Winner: Beats Powerbeats Pro**
Apple AirPods Pro vs Beats Powerbeats Pro: Sound quality
The AirPods Pro offer markedly better sound quality than the standard AirPods. Audio is rich and full, with plenty of detail and midrange sparkle. However, to hear them at their rhythmic best, you'll want to switch off noise-cancelling. Either way, though, the AirPods perform really well.
Sadly we can't say the same for the Powerbeats Pro. They deliver a decent amount of detail at normal volume, but crank things up and the cracks start to show. Even the bass, which is traditionally Beats' calling card, lacks punch. And while the tonal profile suits lower quality streaming services, we can't ignore the general lack of dynamic range.
There's no doubt that Apple's AirPods Pro are the clear winners, but if sound quality is your prime concern, it's worth considering the award-winning Sony WF-1000XM3 – they're still the best-sounding buds at this kind of money.
*Winner: Apple AirPods Pro*
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So, AirPods Pro vs Powerbeats Pro: which is better? We admire the Powerbeats Pro for their long battery life, practicality and – thanks to Apple's H1 Bluetooth chip technology – glitch-free delivery of wireless audio.
But while the Beats are some of the best sporty buds around, their musical performance is disappointing. Frankly, we'd rather be wearing the Apple AirPods Pro.
Why? Because they excel in almost every area, deliver far superior sound quality and seal the deal with the addition of Apple's impressive noise-cancelling tech. If you're an iPhone user, we'd urge you to splash out the extra money on the AirPods. Although, even if you're not, Apple's buds still offer far more state-of-the-art appeal.
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