The Powerbeats (4th Generation) Review (and Some “Beats by Apple” History)

PXL_20201214_215959075.NIGHT@0.5xSimilar packaging to the Powerbeats Pro

PXL_20201214_215400370.NIGHT@0.5xBlack Box Now

PXL_20201214_215438056.NIGHT@0.5xThe red Powerbeats looking good

PXL_20201214_215534910.NIGHT@0.5xEverything else in the box

PXL_20201214_215549240.NIGHT@0.5xOnly tips and a black Lightning cable

PXL_20201214_215629546.NIGHT@0.5xFlimsy fabric pouch

PXL_20201214_215714882.NIGHT@0.5xBeats sticker and literature

The AirPods Max came out today. But unless you already have a pair on the way, you will likely be waiting until March 2021 for a pair since both the online and retail are fully sold out. What should you buy if you need to find a pair of iOS friendly headphones for your loved one this Christmas?

Let me tell you a story.

Some history

A long time ago, there was a headphones brand by the name of Beats by Dre. They were very popular among the youth and those who value the looks of a headphone over the actual sound. Any self-respecting audiophile or wannabe stayed far away from them.

Then in May 2014, Beats by Dre became “Beats by Apple” (Apple purchased them).

For a long time since the purchase Beats just kept doing its own thing, as the Apple then was mainly interested in what is now Apple Music.

Then in 2016, with the release of the iPhone 7, Apple removed the 3.5mm headphone port from the iPhone. On top of the AirPods they introduced at the same iPhone 7 event, Apple also mentioned that a bunch of Beats headphones will be introduced and updated with their W1 chip that was powering the first generation AirPods.

Those Beats headphones were the Beats Solo 3, the Beats Studios 3, the Powerbeats 3, and something new in Beats’ lineup – the BeatsX.

The BeatsX

The Beats Solo 3, Beats Studio 3 and the Powerbeats 3 were, as far as anyone could tell, still tuned by Beats, and they, well, continued to sound like shit headphones muddy with too much bass. The BeatsX, however, was an entirely different animal. It sounded exciting, with a decent sound stage, and pretty well instrument separation. There was bass, but it was just the right amount, and the mids and highs were pretty balanced. As it was reviewed as a tech accessory, some in the tech world just dismissed it as another Beats headphone. To some others, the Beats X was the successor to the famous ADDIEM, the Apple Dual Driver In Ear Monitors, also known as the Apple In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic. Everything released by Beats after the Beats X eventually received the same high level of sound tuning.

What Apple is not

Many people are mistaken about Apple. The arseholes out there think that Apple is an arrogant company that makes overpriced lousy products that only people who were hypnotised by the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field bought. The PC die-hards think of Apple as another PC company that sold overpriced assembled PCs on commodity hardware and they only achieved the success they have because their computers are made of aluminium and/or white plastic.

What Apple is

Apple is an audio company. And they are one of the best audio companies. Apple did not just start making audio products in 2016. There were the iPods, the iPod hifi, and hell, remember the iSub (later part of Harmon Kardon Soundsticks)? People who were aware of this history were afraid that Apple’s audio quality would go down the drain through the Beats acquisition. In reality, the opposite happened. Beats by Dre is shit. “Beats by Apple” is genuinely a very good audio company.

That is a lot of words unrelated to the actual Powerbeats headphones review.

PXL_20201214_215823704.NIGHT@0.5x

The (new) Powerbeats

The Powerbeats (4th Generation), was released earlier this year, during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. It did not garner much attention, for the world today likes to focus on “true wireless”, whatever that means. Most people had other issues to deal with then too. The Powerbeats Pro, released one year before, was universally well received for having both passive sound cancellation and the best sound in Apple’s headphone lineup then (this was before the AirPods Pro existed).

The easiest way to describe the Powerbeats is that they are “Powerbeats Pro with a wire”.

PXL_20201214_215846805.NIGHT@0.5x

“Powerbeats Pro with a wire”

There are many in the audiophile world who will put the sound of the Powerbeats Pro above that of the AirPods Pro, so you know that the Powerbeats have really good sound. From my testing that sentiment is generally accurate, even if I prefer the AirPods Pro overall for various reasons (ANC, easier to seal).

Powerbeats, very affordable

The Powerbeats also happen to be the most affordable pair of headphones with the H1 chip in Apple’s line up (even cheaper than the AirPods second generation). This means that it has auto device switching with firmware 3A283, like the AirPods and AirPods Pro. If you have multiple iOS devices, you already know how magical this feature is. Beats branded products are also easily available with decent discounts, unlike the Apple branded AirPods. They are often on Amazon US for only 99.95USD, 50USD off their usual retail price. Plus they come in colours other than just white.

For the smaller price tag, the Powerbeats took features off the Powerbeats Pro. There is a wire across the two headphone pieces, so it is not “true wireless”. There is no wireless charging case to top up the battery charge when they run out of power. The “case” they come with is a cheap looking fabric pouch.

That is about it. And they are 100USD cheaper than the Powerbeats Pro’s retail price.

The potential issues

However, there are two points you must consider before you decide to purchase the Powerbeats. Like the Powerbeats Pro, it has the ear hooks, which makes wearing the Powerbeats uncomfortable for some people, especially over long periods. And like the Powerbeats Pro, the “buds” are angled at a specific angle that will make it difficult for some people to get a proper seal with the rubber tips. A bad seal results in bad sound. If you do not have a problem with the Pro’s fit, you will not have a problem with the Powerbeats either.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Powerbeats are a superb buy. If you have a loved one on iOS but who has yet to make the jump to wireless headphones, the Powerbeats will be a good choice of present this Christmas.

Pros
-Very good sound quality (way better than the cheap Beats Flex, which is just acceptable)
-Sweat-resistant
-Very affordable for Apple’s line up
-Comes in colours other than White (like the superb Red in this review)

Cons
-Earhooks are annoying
-Some ears might find it hard to get a decent seal on (resulting in bad sound)


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