The biggest threat to the dominance of AirPods is coming from within Apple.
The new Powerbeats Pro wireless headset from Apple-owned headphone-maker Beats so thoroughly embarrasses Apple’s AirPods in terms of sound quality, comfort and appearance, that this reporter wonders what the AirPods could do to bring him back into their stiff, white fold.
Beats isn’t known for top-notch sound quality in its products, but the new Powerbeats pack a punch for their size.
Plus, at $250, they’re worth the cost when compared with AirPods, which cost $200 with a wireless charging case.
The Powerbeats Pro is the latest entry into the Powerbeats line — and the first to be truly wireless. Compared with its predecessor, 2016’s Powerbeats 3, the Pro features a slim, compact design that looks much less bulky on the ear.
The rubber hooks fit comfortably over the ear and make the earbuds feel snug and secure. It was a breath of fresh air compared with the first time I put on AirPods, when I constantly checked to make sure that the small white buds weren’t going to fall out.
The Powerbeats are designed for use in the gym, and they withstood rigorous testing. No amount of sprints, jumping rope or sit-ups could dislodge them from my ears, and the connection remained strong even when I left my iPhone at my workout station to walk over to the water fountain across the room.
With the Powerbeats’ IPX4 rating for sweat and water resistance, I was able to comfortably work out without worries that my sweat would find its way into the earbuds and break them. With AirPods and other wireless earbuds like Samsung’s Galaxy Buds, I find myself stopping every few minutes to wipe them off and make sure they are still dry.
Similarly, on a rainy New York day my AirPods remain firmly in my pocket lest an errant raindrop forces me to the Genius Bar for a repair.
With the Pro buds, weather is no factor.
Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next” was a joy on the Powerbeats, with its subtle bass popping through and creating a rich texture, while the AirPods sounded much more tinny and flat, with the bass nearly nonexistent.
The sound is also better when cranking the tunes. AirPods, by contrast, can get muddled and distorted when the volume is too high.
The Powerbeats undoubtedly benefit from their rubber ear tips, which help create a seal in your ear canal, allowing for a fuller sound than the AirPods’ loose fit.
The rubber tips that go in your ears come in three sizes, and provide a decent amount of noise blockage before you even turn the earbuds on. Unlike AirPods, where I find myself pausing my podcast whenever a train passes by while I wait on the subway platform, the Powerbeats are able to plow straight ahead.
Where the AirPods remain dominant is the portability factor. The Powerbeats come in a comically large charging case that feels like you’re carrying around a Klondike Bar in your pocket.
Unlike AirPods — which have a permanent place in my pocket next to my wallet — I don’t think I would bring my Powerbeats with me anywhere if I didn’t have my backpack to store the case in.
This story originally appeared in the New York Post.