Look, there are a lot of true wireless earbuds on the market right now. But if you’re looking for something Pro and also made (at least in part) by Apple, well, you have two choices: AirPods Pro and Powerbeats Pro. But which one should you choose?
That’s exactly what we’re going to talk about today. Because depending on what you want them for, there’s probably a clear winner for you to spend your hard-earned two-hundred-and-fifty dollars on. Together, we’re going to figure out which one that is.
Come along and ride. It’s going to be a fantastic voyage.
The Criteria: What Makes a Good Set of Earbuds?
When it comes to getting a good set of true wireless earbuds, there’s a lot to unpack—probably too much for the scope of this post—but we can at least pin it down to a few key points, right? Like what makes a set of true wireless earbuds worth your consideration in the first place, specifically when it comes to these two sets.
- Where are you going to wear them? Are you just going to wear them in the office all day? What about when you’re out jogging? Plan on hitting the gym? These are all things to take into consideration when picking between these two Pro-ass headphones.
- How important is sound quality? Look, it may seem silly because we’re literally talking about tiny speakers that you stuff in your earholes, but there are features more important than sound quality to some people!
- Where are you going to keep the case? So here’s a not-so-surprising fact: the AirPods Pro case is a lot smaller than the Powerbeats case. If you’re looking for something pocket-able, one of these will be a bad choice for you. I bet you already know which one.
- How long do they need to last? Battery life is a crucial thing here, and the Powerbeats get double the life of the Airpods Pro. But now I’m starting to get ahead of myself and give away all the good details before we even get into the meat and potatoes of the post.
There’s more to it than just that, of course, but that’s enough to get you started. Now, let’s break it all down.
Fit, Finish, and Form Factor
Side-by-side, these two sets of ‘buds couldn’t look more different (or differenter if you’re into that sort of language). In fact, just looking at them may make you wonder why we’d even compare them in the first place. That fact is pretty simple though: they’re both Pro.
I kid (mostly)—these are both Apple-owned headphones, so they have more in common than you might realize. For example, they both use the Apple H1 audio chip for instant pairing on iOS and iPadOS devices, always-on listening for “Hey Siri,” and more. They also both charge with Apple’s Lightning cable, which is a clear differentiator from other ‘buds on the market.
Outside of that, though, these are two very different sets of headphones. The AirPods Pro are very compact and minimal, like a set of wired earbuds without the wires. The Powerbeats are much larger because of the earhook and overall body size.
When you think about the intended use here, however, that makes sense: the Powerbeats are designed for active use. Running, cycling, in the gym, on the court, whatever. That’s where Powerbeats are at its best, because no matter how much you sweat, they’re not going anywhere.
The AirPods Pro, on the other hand, are much easier to jar loose as you move. If you run, they can slip a little bit with each step. As you sweat, the inside of your ear can get oily, causing them to wiggle out. They’re simply not as stable as the Powerbeats.
So, really, that’s a big factor: if you’re primarily looking for something you can wear while working out, the Powerbeats are damn near unbeatable. I’ve done some incredibly challenging intervals (indoor cycling) with these in, and they simply do not budge–even when I’m dripping with sweat.
Normally the cases of true wireless earbuds aren’t something I’d spend a significant amount of time talking about, but in the case of these two, it’s pretty clear that this is something to consider. As I mentioned earlier, the Powerbeats’ case is a lot bigger. It has to be close to twice the size of the AirPods Pro case, maybe even bigger.
It makes sense because the buds themselves are much bigger than the AirPods Pro. But that also means that these aren’t pocketable. Like, at all. (Unless you wear cargo pants 24/7 and want to stuff then in a side pocket, I guess.) Overall, if you want something you can toss in your pocket and take everywhere, the AirPods Pro is where it’s at.
The Powerbeats, on the other hand, are best in a backpack, gym bag, or somewhere else that isn’t a pocket. But that also brings up one big annoyance I have with the Powerbeats case: it doesn’t have wireless charging.
The AirPods Pro case is half the size (or less) and charges other either Lightning or a Qi wireless charger. The Powerbeats, despite being much larger, only charge over Lightning. I do not understand this choice, but given the size and form factor of the case, a wireless charging coil in the bottom of the case would be perfect. I guess that’s also something to consider if wireless charging is important to you.
This is where things start to get a little trickier. Both sets of Pro ‘buds sound really good. Maybe not quite the best on the market, but still excellent. That said, there are some differences between the two.
The Powerbeats, for example, have more pronounced bass response. Perhaps that’s because they create a better seal in my ears, but I’m inclined to believe that the larger profile allows for slightly bigger drivers, and thus, more bass.
The midrange and treble are more balanced between the two, though the lack of bass on the AirPods Pro (relative to the Powerbeats, that is) could easily lead one to believe that these ‘buds have a more defined treble range.
I don’t necessarily think that’s the case, as treble and mid response sound very similar between the two, at least to my ears. If you don’t care about bass, you’ll be plenty happy with the AirPods Pro. Honestly, even if you do care about bass, you may be just as happy with the AirPods—especially if you never get a chance to compare them to the Powerbeats (or others) for yourself.
It’s all relative.
To me, this is the big difference between these two sets of buds. Sure, the form factor, case size, and sound quality are all important things to consider, but the set of features between the two is the thing that can make the choice for many people.
So here’s the thing—the AirPods Pro has two features that literally change the game for true wireless earbuds: Transparency Mode (which lets you hear what’s going on around you) and Active Noice Canceling. Despite having the same H1 chip, the Powerbeats Pro are missing both of those features. It’s honestly sort of a head-scratcher.
So again, if you’re looking for ANC or Transparency Mode, then the AirPods Pro are the only choice. Now, that said, the Powerbeats have better noise isolation than the AirPods Pro—they create a better overall seal (at least in my ears) and do a better job of blocking outside noises. The AirPods Pro win overall when ANC is enabled, but that also cuts into the comparatively-short battery life. If you don’t absolutely need ANC and just want to block most outside noises, the Powerbeats Pro may be the better choice for you.
Because of the larger size, the Powerbeats Pro also offer more control, as they feature volume and track controls on both earbuds—the AirPods Pro can only control playback and tracks (no volume). That may or may not be enough to sway you from one to the other—-having track controls directly on the earbuds is a great feature to have.
One thing I was surprised to find is that, despite the Powerbeats Pro being designed for workouts, these two sets of buds both carry an IPX4 rating, so they’re both sweat- and water-resistance (not sweat- or water-proof, which is an important distinction). That means theoretically either one should be able to handle your sweaty head if you wear them in the gym.
So, Which One is Best Overall?
That’s the question, right? Honestly—and this may come as a huge shock it literally no one—there isn’t a clear winner. It’s all about where and when you want to use these things. In a perfect world, you’d have both: Powerbeats Pro for the gym, AirPods Pro for all other times. But that’s $500 worth of earbuds and good God who wants to pay that much for earbuds. Yeah, no.
So you have to pick one. I’ll try to make this as simple as possible.
If you want the most versatile buds—something you can wear literally anywhere and take everywhere—the AirPods Pro are almost impossible to beat. In my experience, they’re not the best during a workout (especially if you sweat a lot), but they get the job done.
But if you’re looking for a bombproof set of earbuds to wear in the gym or other situations where situational awareness isn’t important, the Powerbeats Pro are excellent. They sound great (better than the AirPods Pro) and the fit won’t budge. If that’s your criteria, then you have your winner.
Powerbeats Pro Wireless Earbuds - Apple H1 Headphone Chip, Class 1 Bluetooth Headphones, 9 Hours of Listening Time, Sweat Resistant, Built-in Microphone - Moss
Powerbeats Pro have excellent sound quality and a stay-in-place design for even the most intense workouts.