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Beats Powerbeats Pro review: A true wireless sports headphone with big sound and long battery life

The knock against Beats headphones used to be that they were too bass-heavy and that the bass was boomy and lacked definition. The Powerbeats Pro also accentuate the bass, but I didn't have a problem their bass performance. In fact, the bass is one of these reasons you'd buy this over something like the AirPods or Jabra's Elite 65t (or the Elite Active 65t). But I did notice some treble push -- sometimes referred to as presence boost -- that can make them sound a tad too bright with certain tracks. The BeatsX had the same issue, and while it may not be something regular people will be too perturbed about, audiophiles will probably take issue.

The Powerbeats Pro's sound is going compare favorably with most other premium true wireless models, which can sound quite decent but ultimately don't measure up to a good set of wired earphones. That said, I thought the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless, which retails for $50 more ($300), sounded better. It's just a little more detailed and smoother sounding. Likewise, the UA True Wireless Flash by JBL sound as good as the Powerbeats Pro for $80 less. However, the Powerbeats have some advantages over both, including much better battery life. 

Thanks to their larger design compared to the AirPods, Apple and Beats engineers have been able to incorporate a larger battery. The Powerbeats Pro are rated at 9 hours for music listening compared to 5 hours for the AirPods, and the charging case delivers 15 extra hours of juice. With the quick-charge feature, a 5-minute charge gets you an hour and a half of playback while a 15-minute charge will get you four and a half hours. The headphones automatically turn off when you drop them in the case and will go to sleep if you leave them sitting on a table.

Apple's H1 chip on board

Like the AirPods, these also have Apple's new H1 chip that supports Bluetooth 5. That means Apple users get the same fast-pairing feature and always-on Siri that allows you to activate Siri by just saying, "Hey, Siri," rather than touching a button. You can ask Siri to raise and lower the volume, and Apple Music users can tell Siri to skip tracks forward and back.

Needless to say, Siri features only work with Apple devices, but there's some good news for Android users: There are buttons on the earpieces that give you control of playback and volume levels. I thought they worked well during my two days of playing around with the product. Each earpiece has the same buttons, so you can control playback from either earpiece.

If you look closely, you'll see that there are optical sensors built into the buds. They detect whether you have the buds in your ears or have removed them, so your music will automatically pause and resume. Like the AirPods, each bud can be used independently of the other, so if you want to go with one bud -- left or right -- you can.


Sarah Tew/CNET

The AirPods are great for making calls, and Apple's engineers have brought some of the same technology to the Powerbeats Pro. There are two beam-forming microphones in each earpiece, along with a speech-detecting accelerometer that helps pick up your voice better -- whether it's for phone calls or talking to Siri. And like the second-generation AirPods, these are supposed to do a better job filtering out external sounds such as wind and ambient noise during calls.

I thought they worked as well and maybe even better than the AirPods for making calls because they don't have an open design that allows sound to leak in (that makes them better for noisier environments). Callers said I sounded clear and they didn't have trouble hearing me when I made calls from the streets of New York.

Worth the price?

People have gotten used to spending $300-$350 on a pair of full-size noise-cancelling headphones, but $250 seems like a lot to spend on a set of true-wireless earbuds, particularly with the second-generation AirPods starting at $160 for the version with the standard charging case. However, as I said, if the Powerbeats Pro fit you well, you're going to be quite happy with them.

Yes, their large charging case is a notable drawback. But the combination of incorporating all the features that make the AirPods great while delivering richer sound and better battery life, in a design that won't fall out of your ears, is ultimately a winning proposition. Just make sure you buy them somewhere that has a good return policy in case you're in the small minority that has ears that aren't quite a match for them.    

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