I’ve known in the back of my head that I was going to switch to bluetooth earbuds ever since I started running regularly. That was back in April, and since then I’ve done a good deal of running with regular earbuds. Up until last month, I hadn’t yet made the switch.
When I did end up buying a pair, I chose the Powerbeats 2 Wireless set of ‘buds. And now that I’ve had some solid time with them, I’m ready to dig in and explain my experience. Overall, they’re good, everyday earbuds which are even better when you’re active.
That active-lifestyle focus transcends through the Powerbeats 2’s design, and while that has both positives and negatives in real-world use, they still manage to be an attractive and well made pair of earbuds.
At a glance, the Powerbeat’s design is made up of the pair’s main two earbuds, their “earhooks”, and the single, short cable connecting it all together.
The buds themselves are made from a sturdy but light plastic, and are larger than more traditional pairs of earbuds due to their need to house batteries and bluetooth internals. Despite their size, the Powerbeats cut an attractive design, which can come across as quite bold with some of the more flamboyant color choices. But, the Powerbeats manage to be somewhat minimal in the white and grey colorway — no small feat for a product from Beats.
Notably, you’ll find a power button and a small flap on the left of the two earbuds which are used to control and charge the Powerbeats. A quick press on the power button will turn the pair on or off, and a 4-second-plus press from an off state will put the Beats in a pairing mode, which is the primary way of switching input sources.
That small flap keeps the Powerbeats’ micro-USB charging port safe from splashes of water, sweat, or rain, and enable the Powerbeats to sport a rating of “sweat and water resistance.” Don’t take these guys in the pool or a torrential downpour, but aside from that, the Powerbeats should be able to handle what you throw at them.
Also on the main casings you’ll find the rubber ear-tips which can be swapped out for several sizes and fits based on your preferences. The Powerbeats rely on the over-ear “earhooks” to hold themselves in your ear rather than a more traditional suction-based seal design. This means you won’t get the same tight seal and passive noise cancellation that you might be used to from other earbuds, but as I’ll go into more later, that’s actually a good thing in this case.
You’ll find a set of slightly-adjustable earhooks made from a soft-touch rubber, which will be the primary thing holding the Powerbeats to your ears when in use. They go up above and then back around the large outer auricle of your ear. This takes a bit of getting used to, but I’ve never had the Powerbeats 2 come out of my ears when I didn’t want them to. In my eyes, it’s well worth the extra second or two it takes to put the Powerbeats on.
Made from a similar soft-touch rubber and sporting a flat design, the Powerbeats’ cable has also proven to be made of durable stuff in the time I’ve spent with the buds. It’s been tangle-free the whole time, and is just long enough to drape one bud over a shoulder while using the other, without being long enough to be obnoxious when you really get moving around.
The in-line remote and mic aren’t the sveltest I’ve used – they’re rather bulbous. Thankfully, they work well and I’ve had zero issues with hitting the right buttons or knowing I’ve registered an input. Once I’d trained my hand to reach up past my left shoulder to get at the remote, that is.
Without hesitation I can say that the Powerbeats 2’s build checks all the boxes for me. They’re attractive, simple, and thus far seem to be well made. I have no reason to believe they won’t continue to be in the future, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the Beats’ high level of quality.
Another pleasant surprise I’ve found in my time with the Powerbeats has been their overall sound quality. Beats products have had a storied history of focusing much more on style and brand-image than on sound quality, but I’m happy to report that the Powerbeats 2 don’t fall into this trend.
Before I dig into the sound, I’d just like to point out both that I’m not a professional sound worker or what you’d call an “Audiophile”, and that these are bluetooth earbuds. Regardless of both these facts, I have to say that the Beats sounded pretty good to me.
Up in the high and mid ranges, the Beats surprised me with their detail. Snares, cymbals, and synths are crisp and detailed, and everything above the low end sounds really well put together. If I’m nitpicking, the very top of the high-end could probably be a bit more well-defined, but I’m really digging deep there.
In the low end things don’t hold up quite as well, with the bass being boomy and muddy where I look for a more tight and controlled sound. With that being said though, the bass isn’t nearly as bad as I’ve heard on other Beats products from the past, and it stops short of blowing out or ruining the rest of the sound. It could be better, but I’ve also heard much worse performance than the Powerbeats.
The only other part of the sound experience that had me worried going into using the Powerbeats was the latency that bluetooth earbuds like these can be prone to. That delay from the input source can be obnoxious, especially if you plan on doing any sort of video consumption. Thankfully those issues aren’t present here on the Beats. Any delay from the Bluetooth connection is negligible, and I’ve watched both YouTube videos as well as full movies using the Powerbeats without noticing any delay whatsoever.
In truth, I was happily surprised with the Powerbeats 2’s sound. From a pair of bluetooth earbuds – and Beats no less – I was expecting a listening experience that I would call only passable. Instead, I’ve found the Powerbeats to be much better than that. They’re really not a bad pair of earbuds, and while there are other options in and around the same price range that will have better sound, those definitely won’t be wireless or have the same focus on an active lifestyle that the Powerbeats do.
Now, if I was the one reading this review a month or so ago, this “In-Use” section would’ve been the most important part for me. I’d never owned a pair of Bluetooth earbuds before, and I was interested and concerned about how they’d end up working both when I was being active, and the rest of the time when they’d have to replace the role of my traditional earbuds.
So I’ll touch on things from those points of view.
When using the Powerbeats on a day-to-day basis, I was most concerned about them fitting into my life. They’ve ended up doing so without issue.
Using them while commuting or rushing around campus is a major boon as there are no wires to get tangled up in layers of clothing or backpack straps. And knowing that I’ll never be subject to the terror that is the second after your earbuds catch and come ripping out of your ears is something I’ll probably never stop being grateful for.
Using the Powerbeats while working in class or sitting in a café can be a bit more of a challenge due to the seal-less design of the earhooks, but boosting the volume has usually worked just fine for me in drowning out background noise.
Being able to stand up and get something from across the room without unplugging your music never stops being awesome, and not having to worry about yanking your phone or computer off a desk is another thing I won’t miss about wired ‘buds.
With that being said, everyday use is also where you’ll usually run into the only two real issues inherent with bluetooth earbuds: pairing and battery life.
Pairing in and of itself works great, and I’ve never had any issues getting a connection when I wanted to. The only real issue I had was with switching between devices. I use both my iPhone and iPad regularly for audio playback, and having to first power down the Powerbeats before then starting them back up and connecting them with iOS got to be a bit of a drag. It always worked well, and it never took too long, but it took just long enough that it was noticeable compared to the ease of just plugging in a wired pair of earbuds.
Battery life hasn’t been all that bad either. The Powerbeats are rated for six hours of playback on a charge, and in my usage they’ve hit that mark consistently and sometimes even surpassed it.
Six hours is more than enough to last me several days usually, but those few marathon study sessions or writing sprees that start running up against that Powerbeats’ limits will also be the times when you’ll be especially bummed to have to pause playback in order to top-up. When the Powerbeats 2 are charging they thankfully do so quickly — going from empty to a full charge in around 1.5 to 2 hours. This is plenty fast, and it’s rare that I have any issues with the Powerbeats’ endurance. It’s a shame when I do, and I wish they’d managed to make the Beats last slightly longer on a charge.
Thankfully, neither of these issues are dealbreakers for me, and the Powerbeats work so well the vast majority of the time that I definitely view them as a net-gain in my everyday use. Their convenience and added freedom of movement well outweigh any issues with their wireless nature, and I doubt I’ll ever want to go back to a wired pair of earbuds.
You can tell from your first bit of exercise that this is what these earbuds were meant to be used for.
I mainly run for exercise, and once I’ve slipped on the Beats, synched up their cable, and turned on some tunes or podcasts, I can basically forget they’re there at all. There’s no cable flopping around or getting caught on things as I move, and due to the Powerbeat’s earhooks I’ve never had the Beats come out of my ears accidentally, even on the most intense or jolting of sprints.
Also, because of those earhooks, the Powerbeats manage to keep me a little safer while running. Due to that lack of seal and noise cancellation, I’m in much less danger of being hit by a car that I couldn’t hear coming – a real threat if you like to run at night like I do. Basic background noise is still covered up with no issue by whatever media you have playing, but you’ll be able to hear an approaching car for a couple-hundred feet.
I’ve really appreciated this about the Powerbeats, and that bit of safety along with the freedom of movement and convenience has made my workouts that much more fun and problem-free.
Value and Wrap-Up
The final thing that’ll play a part in any potential Powerbeats owner’s decision is their value. You can get the Powerbeats 2 officially from Apple for an MSRP of $200, but recently – and at the time of writing – you can find the Powerbeats 2 as cheap as $142 on Amazon.
The $200 earbud market is a crowded one, including many different options that could beat the Powerbeats 2 out on sound quality alone. With that being said though, I don’t think there are any other offerings that can match the Beats blow-for-blow on their design, wireless capabilities, and major focus on being active — especially at around that $150 discounted price.
The bottom line is that the Powerbeats 2 Wireless are a really solid pair of headphones. They’re nice looking, wireless, work pretty well in average use, and are great for exercise. There will be people for who these earbuds wouldn’t fit as well for, especially those looking for higher quality sound at this price point. But for the vast majority of people, I’d say the Beats are an awesome pair of wireless earbuds to buy.
They work pretty well on the daily, excel for use during exercise, and have managed to do both those things and fit into my life without a hitch.