FOX11, Los Angeles - So, you’ve made it past the initial push! Good on ya'. You’re still in the gym, or on the trail, or sweating out that workout routine to a DVD or app. You’re feeling committed and every little bit you can do to help you stay motivated helps! With that in mind, maybe it’s time to upgrade from the wired earbuds that came with your phone, to something which may help you stay focused during your workouts. You know, something wireless. To that end we’re going to take a look at three different earpieces over my next three reviews, this is number two of three. In this review, we’re taking a look at Apple’s Beats by Dre Powerbeats3 Wireless headphones.
Watch the video review:
After reviewing the previous generation Powerbeats 2 Wireless, they quickly became one of the pairs of workout headphones I liked most. For their sound, their comfort and carrying case, I recommended them to more than a few people, always with one caveat: they’re expensive! Very expensive when compared to competing products, but if you’re a gymrat, or casual gym regular, the gains in comfort over competing products may just be worth it for you. While the Powerbeats 3 don’t make huge strides in what was already a solid sounding pair of earbuds, they make huge strides in some other areas which are more important. Namely battery life.
Externally, the Powerbeats 3 are no great departure from the 2’s and that isn't a bad thing at all. These are earbuds which don’t fit fully inside the ear canal but sit just outside of it, attached to your ears by way of hooks. Those hooks are what make wear so comfortable for me. No need to worry about the audio tubes and whether or not they’re going to be too big for my ear canals, producing soreness after extended wear.
The left ear hook is where you’ll find all of the “hardware.” On the left is the power button, LED power/charging indicator, and on the line that attaches left and right, just below the left earpiece is where you’ll find the dongle that controls volume, track playback, phone call functions and voice-activation for your phone. On the left side, you’ll also find the charge port, which has changed from the last generation. On the Powerbeats 2, the charge port was protected by a rubbery flap and though mine never fell off, it was the one component which felt like it may give out (ie, break off) at some point. It never did. On the other hand, I must not have been the only person feeling that because the latest iteration of the Powerbeats forgoes the flap for an unprotected charge port. Granted, the charge port is on the underside of the earpiece, but I have to wonder if those who sweat profusely may see some moisture damage to that port after a year or two of use and you should be mindful that the manufacturer's warranty only covers you for one year. That said, Beats’ product literature states the headphones are water and sweat resistant so I’m hoping that’s enough to keep your tunes flowing for however long you own a pair.
Internally is where you’ll find the big difference in the latest gen wireless workout headphones from Apple. The Powerbeats3 feature Apple’s new W1 chip which brings with it greater range, longer battery life, and super simple connection with all of your Apple devices. Traditional Bluetooth headphones have a range of around 10 meters/30 feet but the Class 1 Bluetooth spec is a higher power iteration and in some cases will get you up to 300 feet of range from your device. In this case, you’re not going to see that kind of distance, but when I used these in the gym, I was able to walk form the weight bench I was using to clear across the gym for a drink at the water fountain before they cut out. That would be across the whole free weight section and the section with the multiple rows of treadmills, ellipticals and stair steppers, so though I can’t give you an exact distance I’d guess it to be approximately 30 to 40 yards (90-120 feet). The other benefit to the W1 chip is increased battery life. In this case, 12 hours of it. In my testing, I was able to get through a week of workouts and driving around with it as my earpiece for taking phone calls. And, if you happen to wear that battery down and need juice in a pinch, using the Fast Fuel feature, you can plug the headphones up for 5 minutes to get an hour’s charge.
FIT, FEEL, AND SOUND
In terms of sound, like I said, not leaps and bounds above last year but that’s ok. As with the second generation of Beats’ line of products, the sound quality was much improved. Muddy bass gave way to a more mature tuning which still features bass rich sonic reproduction but not at the expense of the highs and mids. I’m also quite a bit more forgiving with my analysis of gym/workout headphones as I’m listening for different things. For recreational listening, I prefer over-ear (circumaural) headphones which have solid passive noise cancelling but for workout headphones, I prefer a pair which can go anywhere.
With regard to sound fidelity, it's a tough task to produce headphones which I can use in the gym or out on the street, running or riding my bike and let a decent amount of sound in. That sound they reproduce is going to “suffer” from an audiophile perspective. Jaybird’s workout headphones, for example are a great example of in-ear headphones which reproduce awesome sound, but they feature foam eartips which insert into the auditory canal of your ears, thus cutting out pretty much all background noise. This is ok if you’re in a gym, but I’m a bit nuts and have an issue being out in public and losing all situational awareness. All of that said, the sound quality you’ll get from the Powerbeats3 is one of the best in this space for a set of earbuds which aren’t inserted into your canals. Sound is clear with a solid reproduction of highs, vocals, mids and, of course bass. Now you’re not going to get the thumping bass Beats is known for because of their positioning but they aren’t weak either.
The greatest stumbling block for some users will be price. At $200, the Powerbeats3 aren’t a cheap investment, but they are indeed a solid investment in comfort and being that I’d primarily use these for workouts, ie, intentionally placing myself in a state of discomfort, comfortable attire and workout accessories become all the more important. Couple comfort with long battery life and great range and for people who workout regularly, you’re going to get a solid device that may well be worth it.
Disclosure: Apple provided me with a demo unit for the purpose of this review.