Beats Powerbeats2 Wireless review: No bargain, but still among the top wireless sports earphones
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 (equivalent to around £120 and AU$210, with official UK and Australian prices yet to be announced), the Powerbeats2 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.
These new hooks have some bend to them (they're pliable) and you can customize the shape to fit around your ear better. While it took a little tinkering (bending the hooks), I got the headphones to fit pretty snugly -- overall I liked the way they fit, and you can adjust the cord length with the little crimp that's included.
The headphones come with a few different sizes 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. (For the record, Beats marketing material says, "Powerbeats earphones are specially designed to pump clear bass at any volume while letting in ambient noise, making sure athletes stay safe while training," so it seems that they aren't meant to be jammed in your ears like many in-ear models).
Personally, I wasn't able to get a tight seal with any of the eartips, so I was always left with a more open fit. When that happens, you do lose a little bass, but the only time I found the looser fit to be a real problem was when I was in an environment where there was a lot of noise -- the New York City subway, for example.
As you might expect, the headphone also doubles as a headset. A three-button inline remote and microphone are built into the cord for making hands-free calls. If you have an iOS device such as an iPhone or iPad, you can skip tracks forward and back and adjust volume. However, if you have a Windows or Android phone, you can only adjust the volume and use the middle button to answer and end calls. (In other words, this is a "Made for iPhone" headphone.)
This is a Bluetooth 4.0 headphone that's firmware upgradeable and charges via Micro-USB. It gets about six 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 think it should, particularly at this price point.
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 loudly and has relatively clean, aggressive sound that's filled out with rich bass that isn't overpowering, thankfully. 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.
I spent some time with the headphones in the gym and also did some runs with them outside. In the process, I compared them to Plantronics' BackBeat Fit Bluetooth sports headphones, which cost $70 less. The BackBeat Fits are a little lighter and arguably a bit more comfortable, but both stay on your ears securely and have similar "open" fits (they let some ambient noise in).
I like the sound of the Plantronics, but the Beats do play louder and have a little more bass kick to them. Of course, when you're running around outside with lots of ambient noise around you, it's not the ideal listening venue, and I'm just looking for headphones that are comfortable and sound decent.
For fans of Jaybirds X headphones, I like those as well, but they're all about getting a tight seal and jamming the tips into your ears (it can be hard to maintain a tight seal). I don't find the Jaybirds as comfortable as either the Plantronics or the Beats.
In-ear wireless sports headphones are hard to do right, and Beats has gotten it mostly right with the Powerbeats2 Wireless. It combine strong sound (except in noisy environments) with a design 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.
The only problem, of course, is that they're expensive. At $200, you'd like to see an automatic shutoff feature and perhaps full waterproofing rather than just sweatproofing. On the plus side, the headphone is firmware upgradeable, which should help keep them up to date as new smartphones and Bluetooth chips arrive (the headphones seem pretty durable, but I only tested them for a couple of weeks, so I can't tell you whether they'll hold up for years or not).
In the end, I don't have any problem recommending the Beats Powerbeats2 Wireless, particularly if you're looking for a workout headphone. You just have to be comfortable paying a little extra for the Beats brand -- or as I like to call it, the LeBron Tax.
It's a very good Bluetooth headphone; it should just cost about $50 less.