When Apple made their big iPhone 7 announcement in September, they managed to carve out the smallest sliver of time to introduce three new Beats products — the first set to directly benefit from the Apple’s acquisition of Beats. The Solo3 Wireless on-ears, Powerbeats3 in-ears, and the lighter BeatsX in-ears all have Apple’s new W1 chip, which enables them to connect to all of a user’s Apple devices seamlessly, intelligently switching between input sources as necessary. While Apple had other reasons to buy Beats, their headphones are still no joke — Beats remains a top selling audio brand. We reviewed the Solo3 headphones and found them to be a strong choice thanks to stellar battery life, and now we’ve had a chance to try out the latest version of Beats’ very popular exercise in-ears. The Powerbeats3, as it turns out, are more of the same — terrific battery life paired with better than average audio.
There’s not too much to report here if you’re familiar with the Powerbeats2 — the Powerbeats3 are differentiated by battery life, quick charging, and the W1 chip, not audio quality. They sound the same as the Powerbeats2, which isn’t a bad thing — despite their reputation (and name), Beats products have gotten a lot less bass-heavy over the years. That’s not to say the bass lacks punch — the Powerbeats3 have the tightest and most powerful bass performance of any wireless in-ear headphones I’ve tried, and if you want good sub-bass response in a pair of wireless in-ears, the Powerbeats3 are almost certainly your best option. But, Beats has done a better job lately of tuning for balance. The highs sound clear (the mids less so, but nothing too bad), and aren’t drowned out by the bass like they were with early Beats products. The only downside is that there isn’t much warmth to the sound. Like always with Beats, there is no concern about max volume not being loud enough.
Where the Powerbeats3 fall behind a bit is in Bluetooth connectivity, although this won’t necessarily be a problem for everyone. They’re made to be exercise headphones, and if you’ve got your phone in your pocket or an armband while working out, the Powerbeats3 won’t have any problems with skipping or dropped connections. That’s not surprising — they have a Class 1 Bluetooth connection, which means range should be anywhere between 66 and 100 feet. What was surprising is that I had a lot of connectivity problems when there was a wall separating me and my phone (leaving my phone in my room and going to the kitchen, for example). I’ve generally not had this problem with other Bluetooth in-ear headphones I’ve tested, so it’s something worth considering if you’d like to use your in-ears around the home, too.
Either way, pairing is simple. Apple users need only turn the Powerbeats3 on — thanks to the W1 chip, Apple products will auto-detect the headphones and prompt you to pair. It’s a seamless experience for iPhone 7 users that can’t be beat. Android users will need to pair them through their Bluetooth settings as usual, which was no problem. However, they wouldn’t always reconnect automatically with my Android phone when turned on.
The Powerbeats3 are stellar when it comes to battery life and charging. During my test (a mix of max volume and half volume playback), I got just shy of 12 hours, which is terrific for a pair of wireless in-ears. Usually we see between six and nine hours on competing products — when audio quality is taken into account (it takes power to get that level of bass), this leaves Beats in a class of their own in wireless in-ears. The battery life is backed up by the Powerbeats3’s new Fast Fuel charging, which provides an hour of playback with five minutes of charging (works as advertised) using the included Micro USB cable.
The Powerbeats3 have an in-line remote on the right side of the cable, which has play/pause and volume controls. It ends up resting pretty far down the neck — it’s not perfect for taking and making calls, although I thought it was good enough to meet expectations for a pair of wireless in-ear headphones.
With the large earhooks and the rectangular housings bearing the trademark b logo, Beats has done a great job of making the Powerbeats look distinctive when compared to similar products, which should remain a large part of their appeal (the large housings are functional, too, as they allow for more battery space). But, they’re not the most comfortable, nor are they the best-designed. The earhooks are rigid, and a lot of other headphone makers have been playing around with soft, flexible inner hooks that provide stability and far more comfort. The bigger problem is that the Powerbeats3 drivers don’t extend far enough out — it feels like they’re always hovering over your ears instead of securely in them. I couldn’t get a firm seal with any of the four sizes of silicone eartips, which detracted a bit from the audio quality. Fortunately, the Powerbeats3 can get loud enough to counter the background noise that leaks in.
For those who like a more premium build, you won’t find that here. Other in-ears like the Optoma NuForce BE Sport3 and the Jaybird X2 are also plastic, but feel a bit more hardy while staying lightweight. Powerbeats are heavier, but have always felt cheaper — that’s still true here. Apple says the Powerbeats3 are sweat- and water-resistant, and we can say we never experienced any connectivity problems during exercise. We can’t speak to durability, but as mentioned before, the Powerbeats3 don’t feel quite as sturdy as many other competing products. I also don’t like that the Micro USB charging port is exposed, instead of being covered with a silicone tab like with most other wireless in-ears.
Read on for the verdict…