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Powerbeats 2 Wireless: Beats' popular sports earphones cut the cord (hands-on)

At $200, it's not cheap, but the sweat-resistant Powerbeats 2 Wireless is both comfortable to wear and sounds good, particularly for a Bluetooth headphone.

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David Carnoy
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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.

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Hot on the heels of the Solo 2, the sequel to its uber-popular on-ear model, Beats has now introduced the Powerbeats 2 Wireless, a Bluetooth version of its Powerbeats sports earphones.

The original wired Powerbeats have been on the market for a while, but got a boost in recent years thanks to basketball star Lebron James promoting them in a memorable US television ad. Beats says the new model has been inspired by James, and he is credited as a "co-creator."

At $200 (around £120 and AU$210, with official UK and Australian prices yet to be announced), the Powerbeats 2 Wireless is a pretty pricey headphone. But that may not bother you if you're looking for a comfortable, lightweight Bluetooth sports headphone that performs well.

The earphones are sweatproof -- but not waterproof -- and come in white, red, and the black you see here. In many ways they're reminiscent of the earlier, corded Powerbeats, with the same ear hooks that help keep the headphones securely on your head.

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Here's what you get in the box. Sarah Tew/CNET

These new hooks have some bend to them (they're pliable) and you can customize the shape to fit around your ear better. A three-button inline remote and microphone are built into the cord for making hands-free calls and skipping tracks forward and back, as well as adjusting the volume.

The headphones come with a few different sized of silicone eartips. Beats reps told me that, depending on the eartips you choose, you can opt to go for a tighter seal or leave some breathing room to let ambient noise in for safety reasons. Many people like to be able to hear cars coming when they're running or biking.

That said, because of the way the headphones are shaped -- and the way my ears are shaped -- I wasn't able to get a really tight seal with any of the eartips, so I was always left with a slightly more open fit. When that happens, you do lose a little bass, but the only time I found the looser fit to be a problem was when I was in an environment where there was a lot of noise -- the New York City subway, for example.

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The headphones charge via micro USB. Sarah Tew/CNET

Overall, I liked the way the headphone fit and you can adjust the cord length with the little crimp that's included. From a sound standpoint, as I said, despite the inability to get a tight seal, I thought it performed well for a Bluetooth headphone.

It plays loud and has relatively clean, aggressive sound that's filled out with rich bass that thankfully isn't overpowering. That seems to be Beats' MO with its new headphones: scale back the bass a bit while punching up the treble detail. As with the Studio Wireless and Solo 2, I wouldn't call this a balanced headphone, but it is more balanced than last-generation Beats headphones.

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You can adjust the length of the cord. Sarah Tew/CNET

This is a Bluetooth 4.0 headphone that's firmware upgradeable and charges via micro-USB. It gets about 6 hours of playback from a single charge, which isn't great, but that's about what competing products like the Plantronics Backbeat Fit deliver. Beats says that a 15-minute "quick-charge" gives you an hour of non-stop playback. Unfortunately, the headphone doesn't automatically shut off when disconnected from your phone's Bluetooth.

I spent some time with the headphones in the gym, both lifting weights and running on a treadmill. In all, despite a few small shortcomings, I was fairly impressed and came away thinking that the Powerbeats 2 Wireless is one of the best wireless sports earphones, combining strong sound with a shape that should comfortably fit most people. That makes it a pretty safe pick in a category (wireless earphones in particular) that doesn't have a lot safe picks.

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The ear hooks are bendable, which allows you to customize the fit. Sarah Tew/CNET

The only problem, of course, is that it's expensive. Overall, this feels more like a $150 headphone, but hey, Beats has gotta pay Lebron and all those other celebrities, so $200 it is.

The Beats Powerbeats 2 Wireless is available this month (June), with broader distribution in July. I'll post a full review after I test it a little longer and we do some jury testing among other editors.

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