Beats Fit Pro review: The sportier AirPods I've always wanted
The Beats Fit Pro are real and they're pretty spectacular.
David CarnoyExecutive 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.
ExpertiseMobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakersCredentials
Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
Editor's note, Dec. 8: This review has been updated to note that the Beats Fit Pro earbuds have been awarded a CNET Editors' Choice Award. The review is otherwise largely unchanged from the version originally published Nov. 1, 2021.
Released just a few days after the debut of the third-gen AirPods, Apple has another new set of earbuds, this time from its subsidiary audio company, Beats. Technically, the new Beats Fit Pro ($200) aren't AirPods, but they're built on the same tech platform as Apple's 2019 true-wireless model. Unlike Beats' earlier and less expensive Studio Buds, the Beats Fit Pro include Apple's H1 chip and have most of the AirPods Pro's features, including active noise canceling, spatial audio and Adaptive EQ. I'd venture to call them the sports AirPods you've always wanted. And for some people, they might just be better than the AirPods Pro -- which is why we've awarded them the CNET Editors' Choice Award in 2021.
The concept behind the Fit Pro is pretty simple. Take Beats iconic Powerbeats Pro sports buds with its big ear hook and shrink it down. I can't say I ever loved the Powerbeats Pro's design but a lot of people do because the ear hook gives you a feeling of security that your buds aren't going to fall off your head. I personally prefer my sports buds to have a wingtip that fits into the inside of your ear rather than wrap around the outside of it. And that's what we have here.
Most of the time those wingtips -- or sports fins as they're sometimes called -- are removable and often come in different sizes. But what's interesting with the Fit Pro is that it's a one-size-fits-all wingtip that's been integrated into the design. You can't replace it as far as I can tell but it does seem durable and it's made of firm but pliable silicone rubber that's soft to the touch. The buds fit comfortably and securely in my ears and never felt like they would slip out, even when I ran with them (I never lost the good seal I had with the ear tips). I much prefer this design to that of the Powerbeats Pro.
Beats earbuds have always had a physical control button -- which I like -- and the Fit Pros also have one. What's nice about it is that because it's an extension of the wingtip, it has a soft-to-the-touch finish and a little bit of grip to it.
You use it to control music playback and answer and end calls -- and a long press switches between noise-canceling and transparency modes. You can also program the long press to be volume controls on the buds themselves, a feature a lot of people have been asking for on the AirPods -- and maybe one we'll see migrating to those models now that Beats has debuted it to the Appleverse. These also have always-on Hey Siri so you can raise and lower volume just by asking Apple's voice assistant. You can also issue other voice commands without touching a button.
The buds are lightweight, weighing 5.6 grams each and are IPX4 water-resistant, which means they're splash-proof (same as the AirPods Pro and AirPods 3). They fit my ears really well and come in four color options -- white, lavender, gray and black. I'm a little surprised Beats didn't do red for launch, but I'm sure you'll see more colors next year.
Watch this: Beats Fit Pro are the sports AirPods you've always wanted
Before I get into features and performance, I just have a few more comments about the design. The one big complaint about the Powerbeats Pro is their huge case. The case for the Fit Pro isn't quite as small as the one for the AirPods Pro or even the Beats Studio Buds, but it's still compact and much smaller than Powerbeats Pro's case. In a bit of a nod to Android users, the case charges via USB-C not Lightning. However, it's missing the wireless or MagSafe charging found in AirPods Pro and AirPods 3 cases. That's not a big deal in my opinion, but you might disagree.
Battery life is rated at up to 6 hours with noise canceling on and 7 hours with it off at moderate volume levels. That's compared to around 4.5 hours for the AirPods Pro with noise canceling on and 5 with it off (the AirPods 3 also are rated for up to 6 hours but they don't have active noise canceling). You can get an extra 21 hours of juice or around 3.5 charge cycles when the case is fully charged.
Virtually the same features as the AirPods Pro
Aside from the lack of wireless charging and MagSafe compatibility, the only other notable feature currently missing from the the Beats Fit Pro compared to the AirPods Pro is enhanced Find My with proximity view that allows you to precisely locate your AirPods within a few feet of where they might be hiding. The Beats Fit Pro currently have standard Find My, but Beats has confirmed that it's working to add enhanced Find My and the additional AirPods updates that were part of iOS 15.1 in a future firmware update. But that won't include wireless charging, which would require a hardware upgrade.
One of the big downsides of the Beats Studio Buds is that they don't have Apple's H1 chip, so they're missing things like Apple's Adaptive EQ feature that detects how the earbuds are sitting in your ears and optimizes sound on the fly along, as well as spatial audio and auto switching between devices on your iCloud account. But as noted, these new Beats Fit Pro have the H1 chip on board, so you're getting an AirPods Pro-like experience with better sound and noise canceling than the Studio Buds, as well as a top-notch transparency mode that lets you hear the outside world in a natural way. As far as I can tell the noise canceling and transparency are at the same level as the AirPods Pro or very close to it. The noise canceling isn't quite as good as that of the Sony WF-1000XM4 or Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, but it's effective at muffling external noise. It's not adjustable, however -- the modes are noise canceling on, noise canceling off and transparency mode. And there are no EQ settings to customize the sound profile.
To my ears, these actually appear to sound slightly better than the AirPods Pro (which, admittedly, are two years old). Beats says they have custom 9.5mm drivers and I think they have a touch more clarity and the bass packs a little more punch and goes a little deeper. Subtle differences in fit can change sound quality -- more on that in a minute -- but I got a tight seal with both sets of buds and I came away thinking the Beats Fit had a slight advantage. Using the Qobuz streaming service, which sounds better than Spotify, I run tracks such as Imagine Dragon's Monday, Spoon's Knock Knock Knock and The Hardest Cut, Foo Fighter's Everlong, Holly Humberstone's The Walls Are Way to Thin and Silk Sonic's Leave The Door Open through the buds and make comparisons. The Beats are a little bit more dynamic. They deliver plenty of bass but it's not overemphasized.
The Fit Pro have wide soundstage but they don't offer quite as expansive or refined sound as the more expensive Sony WF-1000XM4 buds. While I'm not talking about a big difference in sound quality, the Sony just sounds slightly more natural and has a touch more detail that can better bring out the nuances in music tracks. But I think the Beats' sound will impress a lot of you. It's good. And these avoid distorting at higher volumes, which probably has as much to do with the Adaptive EQ digital processing as the drivers.
Tight seal is crucial
Of course, just how good a noise-isolating earbud sounds is dependent on how good a fit you get. And I'll just point out that I got a decent seal with the largest size of the included tips (like with the AirPods Pro, these have an ear tip test that tells you if you have good seal). But I ended up switching them out for my go-to Sennheiser tips that tend to fit my ears best with a lot of buds, including the Sonys.
This is a little wonky, but a of companies include tips with a slightly recessed tube -- that's the part that attaches to the earbuds post (see photo below). But the Sennheiser's tube is flush with the outer rim of the tip so once you put it on the post, the tip extends out from the bud a few millimeters more. Those few millimeters and the shape of the Sennheiser tips created a perfect seal in my ears.
To be clear, the Beats tips fit my ears well -- and they should most people's ears well -- but I'm looking for the perfect fit when I test buds so I get the optimal performance for sound quality as well as noise-canceling, which can suffer if you don't get a tight seal. I can't tell how important ear tips are -- they can make or break an earbud -- and I just wanted to mention how a subtle design difference can make an impact. And unlike with the AirPods Pro, which have a custom tip design, you can basically swap any tips in. (Note that I tend to use third-party foam tips with the AirPods Pro to get a better seal. Foam tips offer a little more grip and I have no problems running with the AirPods Pro.)
Apple-only extras meet Android appeal
Like the AirPods Pro, these Beats have ear-detection sensors with skin detection so they can tell when the buds are actually in your ears and not in a pocket, for example. They automatically pause your music when you take your earbuds out and resume playback when you put them back in (there is way to turn this feature off).
I'm not going to talk much about Apple's new spatial audio feature with head tracking other than to say it's a nice bonus feature that allows you to get virtual surround sound when you're watching movies and TV shows on various Apple devices. Like I said in my AirPods 3 review, it's a neat effect with video watching but a bit more hit or miss with Apple music tracks with Dolby Atmos. It also now works with group FaceTime calls, which is kind of cool.
The Beats Fit Pro will pair with most other Bluetooth audio devices, but you lose all the extra features like spatial audio and always-on Hey Siri and audio sharing with other people who have AirPods. However, unlike the AirPods, Beats has an app for Android devices that makes their buds slightly more friendly to Android users. At least it's making some effort to appeal to the other side of aisle.
From an Android perspective, the good thing about the Beats Studio Buds not having an H1 chip was that except for always-on Hey Siri, it didn't have those extra Apple-only features, so you didn't feel like you were missing out on anything. In this case you are, but Android users still might consider these anyway, thanks to their design, strong sound, good noise canceling and transparency modes and mostly good voice-calling performance.
Slight step behind AirPods for calls -- for now
Yes, they are better than the Studio Buds and Powerbeats Pro for making calls but arguably not quite as good as the AirPods or AirPods Pro -- at least for the moment. According to Beats, they have 6 microphones, up to 5 of which are used during calls, a voice accelerometer helps isolate your voice and there's a wind-mitigation system.
In my torture tests in the streets of New York, they did a decent job reducing background noise but there were some subtle differences between these and the AirPods Pro and AirPods 3. Some people said they heard slightly more background noise with the Beats and didn't think my voice came across quite as clearly (perhaps that's due to the AirPods' stems being a little closer to your mouth). With the noise canceling on, I could hear everyone quite well, so no complaints on my end.
It's quite possible we get some improvements with firmware upgrades, but for now I'd have to say these are good for voice calling but a slight step behind both the AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro -- at least in noisy environments.
Beats Fit Pro: Final thoughts
That said, for me, the Beats Fit Pro came out as the winner over the AirPods Pro. They're the sporty AirPods I've always wanted. I like the AirPods Pro a lot and have no problem keeping them in my ears. I can also see how some people like the familiar pipe design of the AirPods with their now shorter stems. And not everybody likes having the Beats "b" splashed across their earbuds. But the Fit Pro really do lock in your ears and if you get a tight seal they sound slightly better and have equally good noise canceling. Their battery life is also a little better and you're not stuck with the single "AirPods white" color.
For people who are a little worried about the size and fit of the Sony WF-1000XM4 and some the other top sounding buds, including those from Sennheiser, Master & Dynamic, Bowers & Wilkins and Bang & Olufsen (check out our full list of best-sounding wireless earbuds), the Fit Pro are a viable alternative that's a little more affordable and may be a more comfortable fit for your ears (I don't have a problem with the Sony's fit but some people do).
It will be interesting to see how much these hurt sales of the Beats Studio Buds and AirPods Pro. They're hard to compare to the AirPods 3 because if you're getting those, you're getting them for their open design. But I do think you'll see the $150 Studio Buds on sale more frequently. They've already been on sale for $20 to $30 off and I wouldn't be shocked if they head closer to the $100 mark.
While the AirPods Pro list for $250, they now generally sell for around $200 and sometimes less online. So they're basically the same price as the Beats Fit Pro. I guess Apple wins either way if you buy one or the other, but it's funny to see two models from the same company competing directly with each other. Maybe it will bring out the best in Apple and the AirPods Pro 2 will be that much better when they arrive, perhaps as soon as next year. But for now these may very well the best Apple earbuds you can buy, particularly if you're looking for buds that lock in your ears.