The latest in-earphones from Beats bring the sound of the $399 Powerbeats Pro, but for almost half the cost. Are the 2020 Powerbeats worth your time and your ears?
Much like how buying a phone can be a complex choice, so too can buying a pair of wireless earphones.
If you’re looking to dive into the world of sound to go, you typically need to cater for needs, and needs that are specific to your situation.
Do you want a big pair of headphones with noise cancellation? There are a bunch for that, including options from Sony, Bose, and Beats. How about a pair of tiny wireless in-ears that are very pocketable and let you take great sound to go? We can suggest an option here and there, perhaps from Jabra or Apple. And what if you want the best of both worlds? Apple and Sony could have you catered for.
But if you want to go for a run, typically none of these options will suit. The reality of looking for earphones to go running with is that you need decent battery life and water resistance, and ideally you want to marry it with great sound. Because seriously, what’s the point in buying a pair of earphones if the sound isn’t worth listening to?
Beats has long been dabbling in wireless sound for runners, amongst other categories, and it’s reviving one of its products for folks who are keen to run, but also happy to save a quid. Like their siblings in the totally wireless and cordless 2019 Powerbeats Pro, the 2020 Powerbeats aim to offer strong sound and a big battery, but without the massive spend. Do they succeed, and at what cost?
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Design and features
What a difference a year makes. While last year around this time saw a different take on Beats’ long-running fitness-focused activity earphones with the company cutting the cords, this year, Beats is bringing it back, almost as if Moloko had commanded it.
It’s a similar style, complete with ear hooks that help hold the Beats Powerbeats earpieces in place on the ears, though with a cord connecting each earpiece.
Beats has kept the water resistance, sporting IPX4 for sweat and light water resistance, with up to 15 hours of battery life, an Apple H1 wireless chip, and a few buttons to have you control the earphones.
You’ll charge the 2020 Powerbeats with an Apple Lightning cable, but fortunately there’s one included in the box, as well as a little pouch for you to store the earphones in, with the whole thing retailing in Australia for $219.95.
Wearing the 2020 Powerbeats is largely a lot like any of the other Powerbeats models, which means it’s an open-ear style that you hang over your lobes to hold them in place, and keep the earpiece loosely in your ear canals.
It’s a design that sits comfortably in the ears, though may tickle them depending on what tip you use. Beats includes both standard silicone tips and the bi-flange type to hold a little bit better, so you at least have options there.
Controlling the Powerbeats corded variety is a little different from what we experienced in the cordless Powerbeats Pro. While the Pro model offered controls on either side — for left -or right-handed individuals — the corded Powerbeats offers most of the controls on the right, with a clickable “b” button for pause and playback, while a volume rocker sits above. The power button is found on the left, though it seems to be a little less responsive than we’d like, and doesn’t always switch the earphones on and off as quickly as other Beats earphones.
That change in controls is one of the things that separates the corded Powerbeats earphones from the cordless Powerbeats Pro variety, but there are similarities, such as the sound.
Perhaps rather unsurprisingly, the 2020 edition of the Beats Powerbeats use the same approach to sound as the 2019 reinvention of the Powerbeats, the truly wireless and cordless Powerbeats Pro. Basically, the 2020 Powerbeats are corded Powerbeats Pro, and they sound it.
That’s not a bad thing, mind you, it’s just a thing: the Powerbeats Pro were nice sounding bright in-earphones that just so happened to not have a cord between the earpieces.
In the 2020 take, Beats returns the cord to the line-up, more or less just continuing what it has delivered in the Beats Powerbeats in years past, except with a change: the technology driving the sound in the Pro model is here in the standard model.
And really, it is very much the same, with a reasonable balance and decent punch, though we felt the highs were where most of the actions was.
For instance, there’s a good sound to the vocals and keys in Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Cut To The Feeling”, a bright sound that pops in your eardrums while keeping the sound from the outside world clear. The bass is there, a noticeable delivery that lacks a major punch, but still delivers.
Granted, it’s not quite the same bottom end punch Beats is known for, but we count that as a good thing. Indeed, the Beats name has changed in recent years, and while you might expect more bottom end and bass in the Charlie Puth’s “Done For Me” or Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk”, the result is something that is comfortable, but with a lighter touch in those lows. The snap is still there, but the warmth Beats has been delivering in recent years isn’t as noticeably vibrant in this pair.
It’s a nice sound for sure, but one could do with a touch more oomph overall, evident across the variety of sounds in both our standard sound test and the bass test.
In fact, it was only when we pushed the bass that little bit more in the second test, we could see the Powerbeats take note and wake up a little. If what you play has a solid punch, you’ll hear it, though lighter track such as those in jazz and classical can feel a touch lighter overall.
They still sound quite nice, and will make a lot of sense for folks who love the Beats style and ease of connection with Apple devices like the iPhone and iPad, but there’s definitely room for improvement, with highs leading the charge on the corded 2020 Beats Powerbeats, much like they did on the cordless variety, the Powerbeats Pro. These are just a variation on the same with a cord.
And what does a cord bring you? Well it means you have a way of keeping the earphones around you when you’re not wearing them, a handy inclusion for runners, particularly those stopping to talk to someone.
The cord also has another purpose: by going tethered, the battery life can be pushed up a bit, and you get that in the 2020 Beats Powerbeats earphones.
Supporting as much as 15 hours, the Powerbeats will keep going as you walk or run with them, not needing a charge until you’ve hit more or less close to that time.
It’s a different type of runtime compared to the wireless and cordless, which went for an admirable nine hours before needing a charge in the battery case.
In contrast, the Beats Powerbeats for 2020 go for 15 hours, but don’t have a charging case. We found they handled much of the day, and regardless, that’ll be a handy battery life for folks who plan on taking them out for most of the day, and who want to run, jump, and play.
But we’re on the fence about the use of Lightning to charge from. Apple’s Lightning port is fairly ubiquitous, though mostly for owners of an iPhone or iPad. Meanwhile, Type C USB is considered the universal connection these days, so we’d like to have seen that over the Apple port.
Pricing, however, is quite acceptable for what’s on offer, with the same sound quality in the Powerbeats Pro adding the cord for $219.95.
Granted, you can begin to get nestled into truly wireless options for less than this, so the $220 price tag can still seem a little up there for what you get.
But what you get is decent audio, a modicum of water resistance (IPX4), and easy and fairly seamless connectivity for iPhone owners, thanks to the Apple H1 chip inside.
What needs work?
So what needs fixing, and what would we address?
We’d love a little more bass if we could, and definitely support for auto-pause, which feels like a missed opportunity here.
Instead, it becomes a bit of a minor annoyance, with the audio just continuing even when you’re, you know, done. This omission means if you do take the earphones out, the music keeps on playing, and your phone keeps on sending music to the earphones even when you’re not using them.
It’s at this moment you’ll hit the power button and hope they turn off, though you may want to hold your finger to the button for a second, rather than go with a passing press, as that doesn’t work. We didn’t even hear a sound as the earphones shut down, which can be a bit misleading, and may mean you’ll feel forced to disconnect the earphones manually from your phone simply by disconnecting. Minor issues, but issues all the same.
Final thoughts (TLDR)
Despite this flaw, which definitely feels like it could do with a fix, the 2020 Beats Powerbeats are easy to like, particularly if you’re an iPhone owner that wants to run.
There are plenty of great wireless earphones out there, mind you, many of which come in at a more wallet-friendly price tag than the corded $220 Beats Powerbeats.
But few of those connect as easily as these do with an iPhone, thanks to the Apple H1 chip, which not only keeps the connection solid, but also makes for easy pairing. Android users aren’t left out in the cold, either, with pairing working here and an app to let you control the earphones.
Or to put it simply, these are tried and trusted and tested and true, even if they’re not truly wireless. The 2020 Beats Powerbeats are reliable and easy, especially if you’re running with an iPhone. Worth checking out if this is you.