I've been switching between the Powerbeats Pro and Apple's new AirPods for weeks, and these are the most important differences between them (AAPL)


AirPods vs. Powerbeats

  • The Powerbeats Pro function a lot like Apple’s AirPods, but there are some key differences in terms of how they fit and the sound quality they offer.
  • They both run on Apple’s H1 chip, but the Powerbeats Pro offer slightly better sound quality, while the AirPods are more convenient.
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There are few devices that are as cherished as our headphones: we commute with them, take them to the gym, use them throughout our work day, and sometimes even sleep with them. That makes finding the right pair all the more important.

And as of earlier this month, iPhone owners have yet another option to consider. Beats, the Apple-owned headphone maker, launched its first pair of truly wireless headphones, the $250 Powerbeats Pro, on May 3. 

The new Powerbeats Pro have a lot in common with Apple’s latest AirPods, which cost $159 or $199 if you opt for the wireless charging case. They both run on Apple’s H1 chip, meaning you can access Siri hands-free when wearing them, and they can both detect whether they’re in your ear so that they can pause and play music automatically. They’re compatible with Android devices as well, but you won’t be able to access the aforementioned features that separate them from other wireless headphones.

While they do share many characteristics, there are some important differences between the two, particularly when it comes to customization, comfort, and sound quality. I’ve spent the past several weeks switching between Apple’s second-generation AirPods and the Powerbeats Pro, and here are some of the biggest differences I noticed.

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Noise isolation

When it comes to the audio experience, the Powerbeats Pro headphones boast one important difference over Apple’s AirPods: noise isolation.

During my time wearing the Powerbeats Pro, I noticed they were able to significantly subdue  the myriad sounds on the subway during my commute, whether it was just idle chatter or the screeching of trains coming to a halt. I could barely hear the clacking of my keyboard as I typed away at work, whereas these sounds were still audible when wearing AirPods.

If drowning out distractions is an important quality you look for when shopping for headphones, the Powerbeats Pro are a better choice than Apple’s AirPods. But that’s based on your preference, of course — those who don’t want to feel as disconnected from their surroundings, or simply don’t care, should consider Apple’s less expensive AirPods. 


Sound quality

Both headphones offer rich, clear sound quality, but that doesn’t mean they’re the same.

In addition to noise isolation, the Powerbeats Pro offer dynamic range — an audio term that refers to the difference and distance between the loudest and quietest sounds in a track.

Overall, I found the Powerbeats Pro to sound louder, clearer, and more all-encompassing than the AirPods. While Apple’s AirPods generally offer high sound quality, especially for the price, they almost sounded a bit muted in comparison to the Powerbeats Pro.  

Comfort, fit, and convenience

For a product that’s meant to be worn for long periods of time, comfort is just as important as sound quality — if not more so. This, too, is another critical area where the Powerbeats Pro and AirPods differ depending on your preference. 

That’s because the Powerbeats Pro have a completely different design than Apple’s Airpods; they have hooks that are designed to wrap around the ear to firmly keep them in place. This can make them a more ideal choice for those looking for a reliable pair of wireless earbuds that will feel snug and secure while running. 

AirPods, meanwhile, mostly resemble Apple’s old-fashioned wired EarPods but without the cords. There aren’t any ear hooks or winged tips — they just slip right into your ear.

I generally preferred the AirPods design over the Powerbeats Pro, mostly for the convenience factor. AirPods were easier to pop in my ear as I was waiting for the subway or about to embark on a run, whereas getting the Powerbeats Pro to fit just right often took a decent amount of adjusting.

I also find the AirPods form factor to be more comfortable overall; they feel so light and airy, I often forget they’re even in my ears at all. It’s also worth noting that the case for the Powerbeats Pro is considerably larger than that of the AirPods, which could make it difficult to fit in a small pocket or purse.

Avid runners and athletes who need a pair of wireless headphones for outdoor use should more heavily consider the Powerbeats Pro since they’re water and sweat resistant, unlike the AirPods. However,  I regularly use AirPods while working out and have never encountered an issue. 

Special features

Being an Apple-owned company, the Powerbeats Pro come with all of the hallmark features found on the AirPods.

Like the AirPods, you can summon Siri hands-free with the Powerbeats Pro and take phone calls. Both pairs of wireless earbuds also have sensors that can detect when they’re in your ears, meaning they can automatically play and pause music when you take them out. And of course, both headphones come with charging cases that can automatically pair with your iPhone when the lid is opened. 

But the Powerbeats Pro and AirPods also have specific features that differentiate them from one another. The Powerbeats Pro, for the most part, offer more customization — they come with multiple ear tips to accommodate different sizes, unlike the AirPods, and Beats will be launching them in different colors later this summer. Right now, you can purchase them in black, but they’ll be available in olive green, navy blue, and white as well. AirPods, meanwhile, are only sold in white and do not come with multiple ear tips.

Each Powerbeats Pro earbud is also outfitted with physical buttons for skipping tracks and controlling the volume, whereas the AirPods can play or pause music, skip tracks, and launch Siri when the buds are double-tapped. However, you can customize what this double-tap gesture does on the AirPods, while the buttons on the Powerbeats Pro are not programmable.

The Powerbeats Pro do have dedicated volume keys, unlike the AirPods, which can be convenient for adjusting sound levels without reaching for your phone.

Unlike the second-generation AirPods, the Powerbeats Pro headphones do not have an optional wireless charging case, so you’ll have to plug them in with a Lightning cable to power them up.

But unless you already own a wireless charger, it’s probably not worth the extra money unless being able to rest your headphones down on a surface instead of plugging them in is a game-changer. Apple charges an additional $40 for its second-generation AirPods with the wireless charging case, and wireless charging mats can cost between $30- $60. 

Overall, the Powerbeats Pro should offer longer battery life; Apple says the AirPods offer up to five hours of listening time, while the Powerbeats Pro are said to last for nine hours. 

Overall thoughts

If you’re deciding between the AirPods and Powerbeats Pro, the choice will depend on your preferences and how you plan to use them.

The Powerbeats Pro are probably the right choice if:

  • You don’t mind spending a little more money for better sound quality.
  • Noise isolation is a priority.
  • You feel uneasy about AirPods potentially falling out of your ears since they don’t have ear hooks.
  • You want more than one color option.

You would probably like AirPods better if:

  • Convenience and portability matter to you the most when it comes to your headphone choice.
  • You want great sound, but it’s not your top priority.
  • You don’t care about noise isolation. 
  • You dislike headphones with ear hooks. 
  • You want to spend less money.