Sunday, June 2, 2019

Powerbeats Pro Thoughts

After a little internal debate back when they were first announced, I eventually decided to pre-order the latest, wireless earbud offering from Beats, or should we just say Apple at this point?

Having spent a few days with them, I'm suitably impressed, which is no small feat given the spotty track record of both companies in recent years, particularly where new, first-generation products are concerned. Of course, most technical aspects of the Powerbeats Pro have been thoroughly field tested, refined, and proven at this point, so it really shouldn't be a surprise that they work as well as they do.

Still, there was a nagging, little worry in my mind right up to the point when I first slipped the buds into my ears that they'd be somehow disappointing, or not quite as good as predicted. In truth, I was initially rather underwhelmed by the sound of them until I quickly realized that, like many other such devices, placement within the ear factors heavily into the overall audio experience. Ultimately, I developed a repeatable technique for inserting each speaker stem with the main body of the device horizontal to align it with my ear canal, then rotating said body about 30 degrees to "lock" the stem into place, simultaneously setting the ear hook. I suspect that each person's technique for getting the Powerbeats Pro comfortably situated will vary at least a bit given the subtle differences in ear size and shape between users but, with a little persistence, and experimentation with the variously-shaped and sized tips included, I imagine that most folks will find a satisfying solution without too much hassle.

 As with other earphones that sit deeply in the ear, there's a bit of an adjustment period with the Powerbeats Pro that some might find unpleasant as one's ears adjust to their regular insertion, presence, and removal. To be fair, that's more a function of the sort of device they are as opposed to any objective shortcoming in their design. I'd certainly say that they're the most comfortable earbuds of their type I've ever worn and consider myself fully accustomed to them after just a few days of use.

I primarily purchased the Powerbeats Pro for work, having the sort of day job where I'm often in conference calls, consulting with other software engineers, or listening for notifications from various systems. My ears are bit unusual such that standard Apple earbuds and AirPods tend to fall out of them quite easily, so the snugger, hooked design of the Powerbeats Pro is more conducive for all-day wear, as is their verified, 9+ hour battery life.

As many others have noted, the Powerbeats Pro really shine when it comes to music playback, with a strong, balanced, full sound that is easily among the best I've heard delivered via Bluetooth. I have some rather nice wired and wireless headsets by Corsair, Koss, Logitech, and Sennheiser and I would say that the Powerbeats Pro compare quite favorably in terms of audio quality.

As with other Bluetooth devices, the Powerbeats Pro aren't capable of maintaining their high-quality stereo output when the built-in microphones are in use, so don't expect to continue rocking out while on a call. This also makes them ill-suited for use as a gaming headset since you'll need to choose between using them to capture your voice or output game/VOIP audio, or suffer a brutal drop in audio playback quality by using the "hands-free" virtual device for both.

Additionally, with regard to gaming, a dedicated gaming headset making use of a proprietary RF transmitter will almost-certainly produce a better, more consistent wireless experience for gaming than the Powerbeats Pro. Your mileage may vary, but the Powerbeats Pro partially cut out frequently enough to be annoying while outputting the combined, stereo audio from Rocket League, Spotify, and Teamspeak during my testing on Windows 10. Again, I see this as less of an issue with the Powerbeats Pro specifically and more of a confirmation of the limitations of the Bluetooth standard, or perhaps some issue with the way Windows mixes multiple audio sources down to a single, stereo Bluetooth signal. In any case, I think it's fair to say that the Powerbeats Pro are at their best when dealing with one audio source or target at a time.

All things considered, I'm quite happy with my Powerbeats Pro purchase so far and I'm not anticipating any significant issues moving forward. If you're in the market for a really nice set of wireless earbuds with top-tier stereo Bluetooth audio quality, that can accommodate a wide range of ear sizes and shapes, I'd say these are definitely the ones to beat, pun intended. :)