Offering great sound quality and excellent battery life, the Beats Powerbeats 4 are a cheaper alternative to the best truly wireless sports headphones.
- Secure fit
- Great sound quality
- 15-hour battery life
- Wire between buds can be an annoyance
- Not waterproof
How much do you hate wires? That’s a question raised by the new Powerbeats headphones if you’re also considering the truly wireless Powerbeats Pro – because the “basic” Powerbeats are £90 cheaper at £129.95, have a longer battery life and offer the same sound quality.
The trade-off is a wire that runs between the buds. So tell us, how much do you hate that wire on headphones? It can be annoying while running or doing cardio exercises like burpees, bouncing around and sometimes sticking to the skin, and it can sometimes gently tug on a bud, dislodging it.
However, I’ve not experienced either of those problems with the Powerbeats. The rounded wire didn’t stick to my skin or bounce around during a sweaty treadmill run, and I forgot it was there in every exercise session I did while wearing them. The experience was essentially exactly the same as with the Powerbeats Pro.
Except that you’ll have to charge the Powerbeats less than the professional counterparts. At 15 hours of battery life the Powerbeats outstrip any truly wireless buds we’ve come across. Previously the nine hours you get from the Powerbeats Pro were as good as it gets if you go completely cord-free. The Powerbeats also offer one hour of playback from a five-minute charge – less than the 90 minutes you get from the Pro from five minutes in the charging case, which is curious.
The controls are different from the Pro buds as well. Since the Pro headphones can be used independently, there are identical controls on each side, but with the Powerbeats the main controls are on the right side, with the left button turning them on and off, and activating Bluetooth pairing.
I’m a big fan of having an on/off button on headphones, which might sound mad but many truly wireless buds like the Pro can only be turned off by putting them back in their case. Usually that’s fine, but I don’t always want to carry the case with me, especially bulky ones like you get with the Pro.
While the Powerbeats don’t have as high a waterproof rating as some sports headphones like the Jaybird Vista or Jabra Elite Active 75t, the IPX4 rating means they are sweat- and water-resistant. It’s the same rating as the Pro and the Apple AirPods, and I’ve used those for a lot of sweaty runs in all conditions with no trouble.
The sound quality of the Powerbeats Pro impressed me and, with the same drivers in the buds, it is exactly the same on the Powerbeats. It’s not as bass-heavy as I’ve found Beats’ non-sports headphones to be, but the balanced sound suited me just fine.
While the design of the buds suggests that you’re going to get a tight in-ear fit that blocks out some external noise, I haven’t found this to be the case with the Powerbeats or the Powerbeats Pro. With both, the bud sits at the top of my ear canal rather than plunging in too deeply. It’s comfortable, and the extra awareness you get from not having a tight seal is handy when exercising outside, but it makes for a less immersive experience than something like the Jabra Elite Active 75t, which blocks out more noise.
The ear hook is as reliable as ever in producing the most secure fit you can get from sports headphones. If you’re someone who has struggled with in-ear buds, the value of the extra security provided by the hook can’t be underestimated, especially during sweaty indoor workouts. I also found the headphones were fine to wear with sunglasses, despite worrying the outside of my ears might get a little too crowded.
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The Powerbeats headphones are excellent value at £129.95. There are great options available under £100 or even £50 – notably the Jaybird Tarah with six hours of battery for £90 (often less on Amazon (opens in new tab)) – but none that offer the Powerbeats’ combination of great sound quality, long battery life and a guaranteed fit.
The Jaybird Tarah Pro are the closest rival in the premium wireless (but not truly wireless) area, offering 14 hours of battery life and a more rugged design, but they are £10 more than the Powerbeats. For that £10 you do get a higher waterproof rating, and you can customise the EQ of the Tarah Pro in the Jaybird app.
It’s a toss-up between the two as to which are the best-value sports headphones available. It might well come down to fit when picking between them. The Tarah Pro’s in-ear style is less intrusive than the ear hook and still very secure, and you can twist the buds to take the wire over your ear for an even more reliable fit.
Both are great, though, and serve to question the received wisdom that truly wireless headphones are the best option for runners in general. You get a little more freedom without the wire between the buds, but at a heavy cost in terms of both price and battery life. I’d opt for the Powerbeats or Tarah Pro myself.
Buy from Argos (opens in new tab) | £129.95
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
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