The PowerBeats 3 offer an unprecedented sound quality for wireless earbuds, but it’s hard for us to get too hyped about this because sound quality isn’t that much more important in sports earbuds than, say, durability and comfort, both of which are iffy with this model.
While Beats has come a long way since their ‘style-over-substance’ days, especially since the Apple acquisition and the release of the Solo 2 headphones, many would still not consider their products audiophile grade. But the PowerBeats line of earbuds is specifically made for sports use, where audio quality is not the be-all-end-all aspect you’ll be looking at.
The PowerBeats 2 were very well the most popular sports earbuds of all time, so let’s see how the sequel fares against them and whether it’s an improvement.
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|Chip||Apple W1 Chip|
|Driver size||10 mm|
|Weight||1 oz (29 grams)|
Durability really is key here. It’s not as if audio quality isn’t important when dealing with sports earbuds, but it does give other aspects more time to shine than it otherwise would and this may very well be the most important one.
No matter how secure a fit they have, sports earbuds ought to be able to take a hit or two. And at first glance, the PowerBeats 3 really look like they have a lot going for them. Yes, they’re made of plastic, but the plastic here definitely doesn’t feel like it’s too afraid of heights. And they’re water and sweatproof to boot… allegedly…
Here’s where things begin to feel murky. For some reason, the PowerBeats 3 don’t have an IPX rating, so it would be an understatement to say that you should take these durability claims with a grain of salt.
Sure, you can find videos on YouTube of people splashing these earbuds with water without damaging them. But if you look at user reviews you’ll start to get a bit more hesitant. Overall, these earbuds have a 3/5 rating on Amazon (with mostly ratings of 1 and 5 and nothing in between). According to multiple negative reviews, these earbuds have a lifespan of approximately 6 months, which you wouldn’t want even in your budget headphones.
As for comfort and stability, it’s great, but it’s not for everyone.
We very much like that Beats opted to keep the ear hook design that so many manufacturers have dropped. It may not be the most elegant solution, but it’s simple and, most importantly, it’s effective. And the hooks on this model are bendable and they’ll keep the shape you put them in so it shouldn’t take you too long to find a good position.
But this does come with some drawbacks.
Because a big part of them is sticking out of your ear, getting a perfect seal is by no means a guarantee. Especially seeing how the ear tips actually aren’t designed to go inside the ear canal. And here’s what happens if you don’t manage to get a good seal:
The overall sound will become thin and the bass response will suffer heavily. Also, the ear tips will start wiggling around in your ear and try their hardest to fall off once you get sweat on them. The hooks will still keep them in place, but it’s not a great feeling.
Of course, if you can get a perfect seal then none of this will matter, but that seems like a very high-risk high-reward gamble. They come with 4 pairs of silicone ear tips that vary in size. This can help, but we feel that Comply foam tips would have also been a great addition, especially given the exorbitant price.
One of the biggest selling points of the PowerBeats 3 has got to be the inclusion of the Apple W1 chip. Not only does this make pairing these earbuds with any Apple device a breeze, but it’ll also do wonders for the signal (and this last part goes for Android as well). The new chip increases the range of your signal quite substantially and it also seems to not care at all about walls. You’d have to live in a mansion to worry about losing signal while using them in your home.
Now the battery in these earbuds is simply phenomenal, especially given that these are earbuds and that the battery has to be pretty small to fit. How quickly the battery depletes will vary depending on how loudly your music is playing, but unless you’re rocking it out at dangerous levels of volume you should expect them to last you the full 12 hours as advertised.
This is pretty great in and of itself, but it gets even better.
The PowerBeats 3 feature something called ‘Fast Fuel Charging’, which basically means that 5 minutes of charging will get you’re an hour worth of playback. This means that you can charge them from zero to full in just an hour, but it’s probably even handier for when you’re just about to head out to the gym and remember that your battery is empty. You’ll just need to wait around for five to ten minutes and be good for a full workout session.
And finally, they use a standard micro USB port for charging instead of Apple’s proprietary Lightning port. This may change with the next iteration, but we’ll certainly enjoy it while we have the chance.
The PowerBeats 3 earbuds aren’t what some would call ‘true wireless earbuds’. Technically this is true because they do have a cable connecting one earbud to the other, but the problem with this ‘true’ label is that it implies superiority. True wireless earbuds are generally more expensive and much easier to lose.
The PowerBeats 3, on the other hand, do have a cable, but they make the best of it. First of all, there is a clip that you can use to get rid of the excess cable that’s just dangling around, which is arguably the worse part about ‘false wireless earbuds’. And then it also features an in-line remote with a microphone.
The remote is lets you do everything from controlling volume to pausing and playing, changing songs and taking calls. The remote is a bit high if we’re being nit-picky, meaning that you’ll always have to operate it by feel, but the same could be said for the power and Bluetooth pairing button on the left earbud. It’s hard to criticize this when there really isn’t a more convenient place to put these in. And it helps that the buttons have good feedback.
Just because the sound isn’t the most important aspect in sports earbuds doesn’t mean it’s still not pretty damn important; especially when you’re paying top dollar. Provided that you can get a proper seal (which we’ll assume you can for the purposes of this review) the sound really doesn’t disappoint.
In many ways, they’re just what you’d expect Beats earbuds to be. They’re very bass-heavy, but the bass is very tight instead of just being boomy. The midbass is excellent as well. The mids can get overshadowed but they ‘re clear most of the time. In fact, if we had to name a weak link here it would have to be the highs rather than the mids, as they can sound sharp and you may have to turn down the volume just to avoid this.
There’s some distortion at louder volumes and they’re generally a bit quieter than the PowerBeats 2, although whether this is a good thing or a bad thing will depend on your preferences. We didn’t mind this change because we’d like our hearing to last.
What’s more, the soundstage is incredible, especially for earbuds where it’s not really expected. You get a good sense of depth and width. But what impressed us the most has got to be how rich the sound is. It’s not out of this world, headphones still sound better and many wired earbuds sound better, but we’ve never seen wireless earbuds retain this level of detail. They sound full and rich, no doubt thanks to the new W1 chip.
Who Are They For?
But for all their merits we still have to ask ourselves: Are they worth it?
And more importantly: Who are they worth it for?
One thing that we didn’t mention is that they don’t have the best isolation. Now, this is fine, some people prefer it this way, but not everyone will. If you’re a runner you’ll definitely appreciate this for the extra safety, but if you’re frequenting a rather loud gym you can throw the rich, detailed sound out the window because you won’t really hear it as well.
Also, while the bass isn’t boomy, it still might be a bit too loud for casual listening. It’s great for putting in that extra set, but it can be too much for casual listening and commutes. So if you want to use your $200 earbuds outside the gym, these may not be your best option.
And the asking price of $200 itself is a lot, especially given how many little things there are that can ruin them for you, like not finding a proper seal. And this is without even taking into consideration the dubious durability.
Overall, we’d say that they’re still a great pair of earbuds for running and hitting the gym if you can get them on a discount. If not, the PowerBeats 2 are still an excellent pick and even the X2 and X3 JayBirds have a lot to offer at significantly lower prices.