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Beats Powerbeats 4 review: Big upgrade over its predecessor, but behind the times

The latest Powerbeats wireless sports headphone is essentially the Powerbeats Pro with a cord. But is it worth $150?

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, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
5 min read
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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 headphones 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. 


Beats Powerbeats 4


  • Better built than Powerbeats3 Wireless, with better sound quality
  • Thicker, rounded cord between buds
  • Charge via Lightning (cable included)
  • Better battery life than Powerbeats Pro -- up to 15 hours
  • Same features as the 2019 AirPods
  • Phone call quality is excellent

Don't like

  • Plenty of very good true wireless earbuds in this price range
  • May not fit some ears perfectly (tight seal is crucial to getting optimal sound)

Now Beats has gone retro on us and brought back the standard "wired/wireless" Powerbeats. (Yes, the name of the 2020 model is just "Powerbeats," but nearly everyone is calling these fourth-generation models the "Powerbeats 4.") These are basically the Powerbeats Pro, but there's a cord between the buds, which are still wirelessly connected to the phone. At $150 (£130, AU$220), or $100 less than the list price of the Powerbeats Pro, they're a solid sports headphone and a decent upgrade over their popular predecessor, the Powerbeats 3 Wireless. Their only issue is that they're a bit behind the times, which makes you question whether they're worth the price Beats is asking for them.

Powerbeats 4 return with a cord

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If you look closely, you'll see they're slightly bigger than the Powerbeats Pro. I got the white version, but they also come in black and red, and you'll probably see more colors in the future. I suspect they're a little bigger because instead of charging wirelessly in a charging case like the Powerbeats Pro, these charge via an included Lightning cable, which means Beats had to put a Lighting port in the right earbud. That takes up a certain amount of room.

Read moreBest true wireless earbuds of 2020

Aside from the lower price, one of the Powerbeats' main selling points over the Powerbeats Pro is better battery life -- 15 hours versus nine hours for the Powerbeats Pro. Some people also like to be able to leave their buds dangling around their neck when not using them -- it is convenient. And I did like that these fit into a compact nylon carrying pouch instead of a bulky charging case. I would have liked to have seen Beats include that same cheap pouch with the Powerbeats Pro.    

As it did with the Powerbeats Pro, Beats has improved the overall Powerbeats design so they fit more ears better. But I still had a hard time getting a tight seal with the included eartips -- I had to use my own extra large foam tips that were included with a set of Shure true wireless earbuds I was testing. But they should fit most people's ears well and if you do get a tight seal, they sound quite good.

These are certainly better built than the Powerbeats 3. Their cord is rounder and thicker than the Powerbeats 3's cord, making it more durable and reducing the snag factor (it doesn't catch as much on your clothes or skin). As far as the design goes, these are a significant upgrade. That said, the Powerbeats Pro do come across as slightly more premium and offer that extra sense of freedom you get from a true wireless model.

Read more: Best wireless noise-canceling headphones for under $100


The new Powerbeats are a little bigger than the truly wireless Powerbeats Pro. 

David Carnoy/CNET

You get mostly the same features as the Powerbeats Pro. These are 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 Lightning port, there are a couple of other small design differences from the true wireless versions. 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. 

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The headphones in red.

Beats by Dre

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.

If these came out a couple of years ago, I'd be a lot more enthusiastic about them. Now, as I said, they're a harder sell despite the fact their list price is $50 less than what the Powerbeats 3 cost when they came out. (Yes, people were paying $200 for those, although they're selling for less than $90 today.) While they're definitely a good upgrade over the Powerbeats 3 and a solid wireless sports headphone, 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. Those aforementioned Galaxy Buds Plus, for example. Heck, you can even pick up a Geek Squad-recertified Powerbeats Pro from Best Buy for $140. And don't forget that the street price of the standard AirPods is basically $140.


Beats Powerbeats 4

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Sound 8Value 7