Wireless earbuds make people nervous, especially during workouts. Spend a few hundred bucks on tiny headphones, and it’s understandable you’d tense up a bit when jogging past a storm drain.
Of all the wirefree earbuds to sweat in, I feel the safest wearing Beats’ Powerbeats Pro (8/10, WIRED Recommends). They have cozy hooks that wrap around the ear, and though they look a bit wonky they keep the earbuds firmly clutching your head. Still, when doing anything really strenuous, I can’t help but prefer earbuds like the recently redesigned Powerbeats, which are wireless in that they connect to your phone via Bluetooth, but there’s a cable between each earbud.
For one thing, I like the security: If one of the “banded” earbuds comes off, the other keeps it on. I also like how you don’t have to search for a pocket to put one in when you have a (socially distanced) conversation with a neighbor—they can simply hang around your neck.
In fact, day by day I’m liking the regular Powerbeats more than the Pro model. They’ve got the same sound, better battery life, and cost $50 less. As far as I’m concerned, these are the best workout headphones for people with an iPhone.
Same Design, New Cable
The Powerbeats will seem familiar to anyone who’s seen the wirefree Pro model; other than the cable, they’re essentially doppelgangers. That’s OK—the Powerbeats Pro are a relatively new design, and form follows function. I love the sleek, rounded edges, the big easy-to-find multifunction button on the outside, and the comfortable around-ear design. They feel weightless.
Even the added cable doesn’t feel annoying or lopsided when moving around, which is a problem on many other earbuds. In this case, the light, rounded cable stays perfectly in place during runs and at-home workouts, even when I was doing exercises with lots of movement like crunches.
In both comfort and performance, the addition of the cable isn’t much of a compromise; it allows for more room inside the headphones for bigger batteries. These Powerbeats will do 15 hours between trips to the charger, which is awesome for the forgetful. But they’re annoying in how they charge: Apple’s Lightning cable, the same one used for iPhones. I wish it had a USB-C port, which is used in so many more devices, from Android phones to laptops (including Apple’s MacBooks!).
I also wish they worked a little better with Android. You can summon Siri using your voice and you can pair two sets of Beats or Apple headphones to one iPhone for simultaneous listening, but none of that works on Android. You can still listen to music, but I wish I could also call up Google Assistant on my OnePlus 7 Pro.
The good news is that the Powerbeats come with an IPX4 rating—which makes them good for any kind of workout that doesn’t involve a pool. Even beyond the water resistance, the seamless construction and rubbery exterior make them super durable. I left them in my junk drawer between workouts, and the black exterior still looks brand new after a few weeks. I’d have no problem throwing them in my gym bag and forgetting about them, if I could actually go to the gym right now.
A Symphony in Your Gym Bag
Wherever you are, the Powerbeats are damn enjoyable to listen to when breaking a sweat.
Those who only know older Beats products might not be familiar with how much Apple (which owns the brand) has done to improve the sound quality. Beats has gone from making muddy and bass-heavy monstrosities to truly great-sounding headphones, and the Powerbeats are no exception.
They’ve got just enough oomph down low that they power you through each step, but the bass never puts the music over the top. There’s also a particularly nice boost in the upper mids that brings definition to distorted guitars, synths, and vocals.
In fact, they’re surprisingly nuanced. I mostly blasted Dad rock and hip-hop when I worked out in them—something much cheaper headphones are capable of doing adequately—but on a recent grief-driven John Prine listening session, I was impressed with how clearly I could hear his fingers on the acoustic guitar. They have a sort of 3-D depth to the frequency spectrum, with bass sitting right behind your ears in my mind's eye.
That focused low-end makes them really fun to listen with. These are some of the most energetic earbuds I’ve ever heard, cabled or otherwise.
Apple-owned Beats has made another great pair of headphones, but it also might have mothballed our previous favorites, the Powerbeats Pro, in the process. Don’t forget, Apple’s AirPods Pro are a great wirefree option if you don’t want a cord, and you get some non-workout features like noise-canceling and better call quality. The cheaper Powerbeats are just as good as the Powerbeats Pro, with even better battery life, which to me makes them Apple's new workout headphones to beat.
Savor it, readers: the Cupertino company doesn't make a great thing better and cheaper very often.
More Great WIRED Stories