Los Angeles, Calif. (FOX 11) - I often see people in the gym rocking full on-ear or over-ear headphones and wonder if I'm just a germophobe. I'm wondering about all the sweat that accumulates in the ear cans and on those ear pads but I generally hate ear buds, which are often purpose built for fitness use. Sure there are on-ears that are purpose built for fitness buffs but that still feels cumbersome for a good run, or high intensity interval training like Crossfit or tabata training. I had middling hopes when I was offered the opportunity to try out Beats By Dre's PowerBeats2 Wireless ear buds, again I hate ‘buds. That, and the sound quality. I don't like muddy. Fortunately, I was delightfully surprised on both fronts.
If you've read my previous review of the Beats Solo2 Wireless you know that I was quite impressed with how the folks at Beats appear to have listened to tech journalists and audiophiles and improved the quality of sound the headphones deliver. Gone is the almost muddy stereo image of the first gen Beats, replaced by a more refined, balanced stereo image. The product is still tuned for “urban ears” but with much better separation between the highs, mids and lows. You'll find that the PowerBeats2 are no exception to Beats' “new normal.” More on that in a moment!
Fit, Finish and Features
First things first, the Powerbeats2 are primed for the gym with sweat and water resistance. Thank you Beats for not using marketing hype and calling them “waterproof.” The actual rating on these wireless phones is IPx-4 which means that they're protected against water spray from any direction. So, they're not submersible but you'll be fine sweating all over them and running in light inclement weather. Under the water resistant shell you get dual-driver ear buds which are adjustable to , with the included silicone ear gels. You'll also benefit from the in-line remote and microphone for controlling music and taking phone calls. It's been covered in a non-slip molding which makes it easy to use when your hands are sweaty. Each ear bud is actually part of a unit which comprises of the bud, a flexible hook and on the left side, the power button and LED. Both are connected by a strap that goes around the back of your head and can be sized up by a toggle. Along with the PowerBeats2, in the box you'll get a pack of ear gels for custom sizing, a ridiculously short micro-USB charging cable and a hard case.
When you look at the contraptions that make up the ear hook combo, along with the protrusions the ear buds and hooks are connected to, you're looking at something that appears deceptively heavy but they're actually quite light! During high intensity workouts, or light runs, it's easy to forget that you're wearing them. At no time, during an hour-and-a-half workout, did I feel any fatigue from wearing them. They were actually delightful, given my particular disdain for ear buds and many of their associated “stay-in-ear” technologies. Often, I find those gimmicks which are supposed to enable a pair of ear buds to stay in your ears to be quite uncomfortable and require some time for adjustment.
One of the elements of fit I really like for these headphones is the toggle which cinches down the cord that wraps around the back of your head so that the fit is tighter, or looser, based on your need.
With regard to sound quality, you should like what you hear. These headphones are definitely well tuned for bass-heavy frequency response, but not at the loss of clarity in the mid and high range frequencies. Of course, as all ear buds go, the better they fit in your ear canal, the fuller the sound is. Beats includes different size ear gels to help you achieve your own Earvana. I chose the smallest size, and they fit wonderfully. That said, you should expect that as you sweat during intense workouts where you're moving around dynamically, you may need to reseat them from time-to-time. I didn't have to do that but maybe once during a workout, still its worth noting.
They're light, they're comfortable, they charge quickly in a pinch to get you through a quick workout -a quick 15 minute charge gets you an hour of playback- and they actually look great! I'd place these workout headphones in my top 5 if you're looking for a durable, good looking pair to power you through your next workout. At $200, you definitely pay a premium, but what you get in return is a premium experience when it comes to fit, finish and sound quality. Even the range on these headphones is excellent! On more than one occasion I walked a good distance away from my gym bag, where my phone was stored, to hit the water fountain and the music kept going. My only concern with any bluetooth device at this price point is battery longevity. At $200 a pair, I don't want to be buying new every year due to decreased battery life. I won't have the PowerBeats2 long enough to measure that particular variable, but should the battery remain strong on these headphones for at least a couple years use, they'd definitely be on my short list.
Full disclosure: Beats By Dre provided me with a demo unit for the purpose of this review.