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The new Powerbeats 4 are old-school wireless headphones that cost $150

As true-wireless earbuds dominate the market, Beats has added a cord to its Powerbeats Pro to create the more affordable Powerbeats 4. Is it a good value?

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Kobo e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Headphones, Bluetooth speakers, mobile accessories, Apple, Sony, Bose, e-readers, Amazon, glasses, ski gear, iPhone cases, gaming accessories, sports tech, portable audio, interviews, audiophile gear, PC speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
5 min read
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Available March 18, the new Powerbeats cost $150.

David Carnoy/CNET

When Beats released the truly wireless Powerbeats Pro last year, it was a kind of dream product for Beats fans. Except for the downside of its bulky charging case, the Powerbeats Pro were essentially AirPods on steroids, with richer, more dynamic sound and better battery life -- and they stayed in your ears more securely, particularly during athletic activities. 

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Now Beats is going retro on us and bringing back the standard "wired/wireless" Powerbeats. These are basically the Powerbeats Pro but there's a cord between the buds, which are still wireless to the phone. They run $150, or $100 less than the list price of the Powerbeats Pro. These are technically the fourth generation of the Powerbeats, so I'll call them Powerbeats 4. While they're perfectly competent, they're unfortunately just not terribly exciting. They hit stores on March 18 in white, black and red.

If all this sounds like old news, that's not your imagination. The Powerbeats 4 have been widely leaked online, and have apparently already hit shelves at least one Walmart.

Powerbeats 4 return with a cord

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The problem -- for me, anyway -- is that once you go truly wireless it's hard to go back, and there are plenty of excellent true wireless earbuds in this price range. Samsung's Galaxy Buds Plus, for example. Or the Anker Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro. Heck, you can even pick up a Geek Squad-recertified Powerbeats Pro from Best Buy for $140. And don't forget that the standard AirPods are on sale for $140.

Read moreBest true wireless earbuds of 2020

But let's pretend you don't mind the cord, which is rounder and thicker than the Powerbeats 3's cord, making it more durable and reducing the snag factor. In fact, you might even like it: It means you can leave your buds dangling around your neck when you're not using them and you don't have to worry about dropping one and losing it. In that case, you'll be pleased to note that the new Powerbeats 4 deliver up to 15 hours of battery life at moderate volume levels. That's six hours more than the Powerbeats Pro give you.

Read more: Best cheap wireless noise-canceling headphones to buy in 2020 for under $100

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They look the same as the Powerbeats Pro -- except they have a cord.

David Carnoy/CNET

Otherwise, they're essentially the same. They're IPX4 sweat-resistant and splashproof. They have the identical piston drivers and digital signal processing that Beats says deliver the same balanced audio as the Powerbeats Pro, with "pure sound reproduction, enhanced clarity, low total harmonic distortion, and dynamic range." The same Apple H1 chip that makes it simple to pair and switch between all your iCloud-linked Apple devices is on board. These also have the same dual beamforming microphones and a speech-detecting accelerometer that Beats says targets your voice and filters out external noise for "enhanced call quality and improved voice pick-up" while using your voice assistant. And yes, these have hands-free Siri, so if you have an iOS device, you can just say, "Hey, Siri," to activate Apple's voice assistant. (There's no equivalent feature available on Android.) 

Aside from the cable between the buds, there are a couple of small design differences. These have a power/Bluetooth button on the left bud because you have to physically turn them on. (The Powerbeats Pro earbuds automatically turn on when you take them out of their charging case.) The right bud has the volume control rocker and the "b" button. And instead of having charging contacts on each bud, these have a Lightning port in the right earbud for charging. A short USB-A to Lightning cable is included -- I like that it's short -- and you get a cheap nylon carrying pouch for storing the buds.

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The headphones in red.

Beats by Dre

These sound decent if you can get a tight seal. I had the same problem I had with the Powerbeats Pro: Even with the "double-flange" or largest ear tips (yes, they're large but not quite large enough), my ear canal wasn't completely sealed off, so more ambient noise leaked in than I would have liked and sound quality was impacted in noisier environments. I have my own set of wider XL tips and was able to get a better fit. To be clear, I'm in the minority -- most people are able to get a good seal with the included tips -- but if you are in my cohort, you will either have to bring your own tips to the listening party or you'll be disappointed and want to return these.

Like the Powerbeats Pro, these are definitely dynamic-sounding headphones, with powerful bass, natural-sounding mids and good clarity. Not surprisingly, they have an exciting sound profile that's geared to today's pop and hip-hop music. I swapped back and forth between these and Samsung's Galaxy Buds Plus and found that the Powerbeats have more energy in the bass and more forward sounding mids (vocals). The Galaxy Buds Plus is a little more laid back and nuanced. I preferred its sound (and definitely preferred the lack of wires) but, as I said, if you get a good fit with the Beats, you won't be disappointed by the sound. 

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A tight seal is crucial to getting optimal sound.

David Carnoy/CNET

I also thought headset performance was good. The noise reduction is fairly effective and callers said they could hear my voice well, even in noisy environments. As far as I could tell, the headset performance was on par with that of the Powerbeats Pro, which also works well for making calls. Maybe not quite as good as the AirPods Pro, but still well above average.

After only using them for a day, I'm going to spend a little more time with them before passing final judgment. But I think the biggest issue is that with everybody switching to true wireless, it's hard to sell a pair of old-school wireless earbuds at this price, even if it is Beats.

The Powerbeats 3 Wireless initially cost $200, which seemed like too much. They're down to as low as $70 now in certain colors. And the Powerbeats 4, despite having most of the goodness of the Powerbeats Pro, probably shouldn't cost much more than $100. Now that we've seen the future, it's hard to go back, even if it costs less.