The reputation of now Apple-owned Beats by Dre was set in stone years ago, thanks to the big impression made by its iconic over-ear headphones. But that doesn’t mean the company has been standing still since. If one of its latest efforts, the Powerbeats2 Wireless, is any indication, it shows that Beats is unafraid to expand into other headphone form factors.
These in-ear headphones are geared for the active individual, built with a lightweight design and wireless capabilities that the lifestyle demands. However, at the high price of $199 (£169, AU$259), Beats’s fitness earphones can’t quite outpace the more affordable competition.
Though the company’s expansion into in-ear headphones is young, it has already landed on an iconic design that would make its can-style siblings proud. The Powerbeats2 Wireless wants to be your accomplice in exercise. But to do that, the pair must meet the one standard that all workout buffs can agree on: it has to disappear when you put it on. If you feel the headphones at all, they’re already too heavy.
The Powerbeats2 Wireless don’t exactly live up to that challenge. The unit is lightweight and clearly built for those who are keen on exercising. However, its grippy measures for staying put in your ear tend to come at the sacrifice of comfort and, at times, sound performance.
The Powerbeats 2 Wireless review sample sent to techradar is decked out in the Shock Yellow configuration. Throughout the unit, Beats balances bright, neon yellow accents on the gunmetal gray build. I chose this color variation over the other ten available because its palette best resembles safety reflectors.
The units that house the sound drivers, as well as the Bluetooth radio and battery, are thick pieces of plastic that are about the size of modern thumb drives. The gunmetal gray color and matte-textured feel give them a stylish look and help them appear presentable, even when doused in sweat. The easy-to-recognize Beats logo looks edgy as ever, nestled onto the rounded edge of each housing unit.
Bulbous pieces of plastic extend out from behind the earbuds, to give them a bit more of a chance to hang on for dear life during your workouts. To ensure a good fit, Beats includes four sets of silicon ear tips, which range from small to large. One last measure has been made to stay in your ear: its silicon hooks, which offer grip around your ear’s cartilage.
On the right driver housing unit, you won’t find any features to speak of. The left side is where most of them live. With the Powerbeats2 Wireless equipped, the power button, which doubles as a Bluetooth pairing button, rests on the flat lip atop of where the Beats logo is stamped. Sharing that same space is an LED indicator, offering easy-to-follow signals regarding battery life and the status of your Bluetooth connection. On the unit’s bottom half, there’s a microUSB port for charging. Beats includes a short microUSB cable, so you won’t have to hunt down one you probably already own.
Hooking the two earpieces together is a flat, rubberized cable. I’m happy to see that it includes a set of nearly universal inline controls. Aside from (naturally) working seamlessly with my iPhone 5S, the Powerbeats2 Wireless surprisingly works without a hitch on my HTC One M7 as well. Your non-iPhone mileage may vary, but the controls, which include a volume rocker and a multi-function button capable of pausing music, picking up calls and pulling up Siri, work just the same in Android land.
The final inclusions in the $199 package is a clamshell case. It wears the same palette of colors as the Powerbeats2 Wireless, and it’s durable enough to protect your investment.
Beats knocked it out the park in terms of the Powerbeats2 Wireless design. The set looks slick and offers easy-to-use controls that work on both iOS and, in my experience, Android devices. These earphones can live up to whatever your environment throws at you, be it sweat or water, with IPX4-grade resistance.
As I stated above, headphones built with a focus on fitness need to be lightweight and create as little friction as possible against your body. Throughout each jump, juke and jog, the earphones need to be fused, so to speak, with the inside of your ear. Though the Beats Powerbeats2 Wireless meet my high standards for design and features, hardcore users might be miffed for a few reasons.
Though I appreciate the included variety of ear tips, I have a difficult, and sometimes painful, time trying to get the proper seal to lock in the sound and maximize comfort, no matter which size I choose. Part of my struggle stems from its design, which seems to resist plunging as deeply into the ear as standard in-ear headphones typically do. I contacted Beats to investigate the issue and found out that these headphones were designed to provide a balanced mix of ambient noise and music. Meaning, no, you won’t get the sort of pressurized seal you might be looking for in a set of in-ear headphones. Or, at least, I wasn’t able to achieve the effect that I was after. These might fit inside your ears perfectly.
Thankfully, the Beats Powerbeats2 Wireless make up for it with booming sound. As the name suggests, the performance is powerful, which is just what the doctor ordered for listening during a workout. Bass, while not exactly punchy and well-defined, is the highlight of the show. Even when the earphones aren’t properly seated in my ears, songs churn out with a healthy amount of bass backing them.
Where the Powerbeats2 Wireless fall flat is in the mids and highs department. The rich middle section of the sound frequency is noticeably thin and lacking in warmth. The highs, which should be airy and crisp, but not overly so, sound a bit muffled and lacking in detail. All in all, what’s presented here isn’t a mastery of audio, but ultimately a presentation that will do the trick for most.
Sound and comfort issues aside, the Powerbeats2 Wireless is a dream to use. The LED indicator offers simple visual cues to get set up over Bluetooth. The signal is strong and, so long as my phone was within 30 feet, I never experienced a single instance of dropout. Call quality through these earphones works as expected, and the microphone picks up normal speaking volume with ease.
For such a high cost, I expected a longer lasting battery. The one inside lasts just six hours, which is both the advertised duration and what I am able to squeeze out of it. Sure, it’s long enough for about a week’s worth of workouts or commutes, but I’d like to see some improvements made here in the future.
It should be no surprise that the Beats Powerbeats2 Wireless offer a unique jolt of color and stellar design. In theory, its design, complete with ear hooks and a variety of ear tip sizes, should provide a fun and comfortable experience. However, I have a hard time achieving those results in reality. Not just that, the sound performance and battery duration don’t match what I would expect out of a $200 set of headphones.
If you’re looking for a more affordable set of wireless in-ear headphones that just about match the Beats sound performance, but totally blow its battery out of the water, check out the $69 (£44, AU$93, but currently US-only) Moto Surround. If you’re cool with a wired setup, but are still gunning for a sporty look, I think you’ll like the $99 (£89, about AU$125) Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear.
Those who are loyal to the Beats brand will still find a lot to like, what with the ease of use and universal controls. However, in a market filled with better (fitting and sounding) values, Beats has narrowly missed the mark.