Beats by Dre’s Powerbeats3 wireless earbuds are one of only a handful available today that includes Apple’s hassle-free-connection W1 chip. Out of those it’s the only one who’s design includes around the ear support, which is a godsend for those constantly battling with earbuds that never quite fit and for more active folk running or working out at the gym.
To look at the Powerbeats3 are almost identical to that of its predecessor the Powersbeats2. There are some subtle differences in colouring and shape here and there but you’d be hard pressed to notice.
Internally though, there’s little that remains the same. New twin drivers along with a vastly improved battery life going from six to twelve hours and of course the aforementioned W1 chip go a long way to seperate the Powerbeats3 from their past.
Can has Apple W1
If you’re a non Apple user you may as well just skip this entire section. The W1 chip does pretty much nothing for you except perhaps contribute to better battery life. The Powerbeats3 will work though, no worries there, you just have to pair them as you normally would any Bluetooth device.
Now for everyone else; if you’re unfamiliar Apple developed the W1 chip to allow wireless headphones to be quickly paired with your iOS 10+ or macOS Sierra device. Turning on the Powerbeats3 for the first time my iPhone 7 sprang to life with a slide asking if I wanted to connect them. A tap on the screen and the normal Bluetooth pairing process is all but obsolete. It worked amazingly well, but is it really that big of a deal to pair a set of headphones with a phone? No, not really.
Fortunately there’s a lot more to the W1 and it’s functionality. Where it becomes instantly more useful is when using the headphones with multiple devices. The link between your phone/computer and the Powerbeats3 is synced with iCloud making the un-pairing and re-pairing process much more streamlined and just a tap of a button instead of series of steps.
The chip also contributes to the Powerbeats3 new and stellar twelve hour battery life. A reduced power draw on the connection routed by the chip seems to work wonders and I can attest to the longevity from my testing.
Lastly the W1 seems to do a far better job at maintaining a connection, more so than any pair of Bluetooth headphones I’ve tried to date. Not that I’ve had a huge amount of issues but as anyone living and walking around the streets of Melbourne will know tram tracks prove a wonderful world of interference for wireless connections. The Powerbeats3 seem to handle them remarkably well and I’ve only had a single crackle once where my old pair of Jaybird X2s would barely recover the connection.
Designed for practicality, built for comfort?
The Powerbeats3 certainly aren’t the most minimalist when it comes to design but they are the most practical. The around the ear design offers a level of support that no other earbud headphone can compare to. They were the most comfortable, instantly well fitting pair of earbuds I’ve ever worn; until they weren’t.
They were the most comfortable, instantly well fitting pair of earbuds I’ve ever worn; until they weren’t.
Thirty minutes after my first wear the ear support and buds began to push into the cartilage of my ear from one side or the other. As I adjusted them the dull ache would shift from one to the other. Thankfully both the “around the ear” arms can be adjusted to better suit your ear shape. The arms themselves are largely no more than a piece of rubber covering a malleable piece of rigid wire. The inner ear is slightly more problematic, not being able to move at all fixed to the arm going over your ear. How the Powerbeats3 fit for you relies solely on the arms bending into a shape that’s best for you. The earpieces also feels to have a bigger diameter than most, my older Jaybirds certainly weren’t small but these easily trump those and use Comply’s largest series of buds the 400s.
Even before adjusting the arms and attaching Comply tips the Powerbeats3 provided a fantastic seal for my ears. Something that almost never happens out of the box for me. I was surprised by how well they seemed to rest, especially with the supplied rubber tips. In fact I’d go as far to say they almost fit better with Beats’ tips than Comply’s which is crazy.
Neither the supplied tips or Comply’s provided a perfect seal for me though. It was very close but environmental noise did play a factor in some scenarios and when running or in loud spaces some mid to high end ranges seemed washed away as you’d expect.
The on/off toggle and pairing button is on the left of ear piece and seems to need a fair push before its activated. Underneath you’ll find the Powerbeats3’s micro-USB charging port. A quick 15 minute charge will give you an hours worth of listening time but that already being up to twelve it’s likely you’ll just charge them overnight if you use them for long stretches each day.
There’s a mic hidden amongst the buttons too but it’s ultimately one of the most useless ones you’ll ever use.
On the connecting cord, which has a small toggle to adjust its length, are the volume and typical play/pause buttons that also allow you to skip or jump back tracks with double taps. There’s a mic hidden amongst the buttons too but it’s ultimately one of the most useless ones you’ll ever use. It’s quality is poor and made even worse by where it sits on the cord, which leaves it settling on your shoulder nowhere near your mouth and left to rub on clothing. It’s borderline incomprehensible on the other end and something I’d never use for taking an actual phone call.
How they sounded
Sound from the Powerbeats3 seems to almost pound into your skull at a volume higher than any other headset I’ve used with my phone. Bass in particular thuds through them like no other in-ear headphone I’ve worn before but sadly the effect on other ranges suffers as a result.
Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata for instance is one of the most well known classic piano pieces that emotes even the staunchest of its genre’s opposers yet when listened through the Powerbeats3 felt muffled and ultimately devoid of the “power” it denotes.
Compare that then to JayZ & Kanye in Ni**as In Paris or Childish Gambino’s Bonfire and it’s like listening to the track on a whole new level. The bass lines resonate perfectly whilst their vocals remain remarkably clear almost isolated in a different region of your skull as the bass booms away. The songs’ mid-tones are a pass at best largely lost amongst the competing low and high ranges. Not enough by any means to be a deal breaker especially if Hip Hop and R&B is a genre that is of particular interest to you.
Where this mid range deficiency becomes far more noticeable is in tracks that rely on them to support the vocals and not the bass line to tow the tune. Both Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams and Radiohead’s Paranoid Android were overtaken by their bass lines. What should be a subtle kick of a bass pedal or supporting harmony of bass guitar clearly overpower the track time and time again. Surprisingly in the predominantly acoustic Bluesy sounds of John Lee Hooker’s Annie Mae this same mid-range problem almost disappears for me going only to prove that the composition of the song will play a determining role in how badly they’re affected.
Pop too becomes bass heavy but that’s unsurprising with a heavy shift towards deeper more R&B-like lower ranges amongst most top 40 manufactured tracks today. Where things are the most surprising is with electronic or EDM music sounding probably the poorest of each genre listened to. The Prodigy’s Invaders Must Die which has a bass line slightly higher than that of both JayZ and more acoustic tracks like Fleetwood Mac’s sounds borderline bad in my opinion. It exists in a range that just does not suit the Powerbeats3 at all and if you’re a hardcore EDM fan – especially of the Brits like The Chemical Brothers and UNKLE – I’d go as far to say these could be a hard miss for you.
At A$259 the Powerbeats3 are one of the most expensive wireless earbuds out there. Even Apple’s own, touch controlled, AirPods retail for $30 less but require their dental floss case to get a remotely comparable battery life.
For the active folk out there I think the Powerbeats3 are definitely the better choice. However, you also need to be someone that enjoys the more rigid or bass emphatic style they’ll offer to truly get your money’s worth. Personally, it’s a tough decision, their support for activities like running make them really appealing but their quality of fine sound reproduction and lack of a perfect seal mean I’m leaning towards sticking with my two year old Jaybirds.
It would also be remiss of me not to mention the many, many reviews on both Apple’s store and Beat’s product page regarding the Powerbeats3’s reliability and quality of manufacture. My pair have had no problems over two weeks in of solid wear but for many they fail after a few hours or days and need replacing almost every time. Their “sweat resistant” but not water resistant construction often a point of contention.
And for those of you with non iOS devices, if you can find them, grab the older Powerbeats2 instead. Pretty much the exact same experience for half the price (and half the battery life).