When Apple first unveiled its rather curious-looking Airpods back in September, it wasn’t the Airpods themselves that had us intrigued but the fact that Apple had officially entered the audio market.
Through the creation of the W1 audio chip, the company had signalled that it was going to start taking audio, and in particular wireless audio, seriously.
Almost as a sign of how seriously they’re taking it we then discovered that the Airpods wouldn’t be the only products this year to receive an Apple W1 brain, Apple-owned Beats would be giving two of its best-selling products a W1 upgrade.
We’ve already reviewed the Solo3 headphones and found that the difference a bit of silicon can make is astonishing, well now we’re onto Beats’ strongest product, the Powerbeats3, a pair of wireless water-resistant sports headphones.
If like us, you were a fan of the previous Powerbeats2 headphones you’ll be pleased to hear that Beats have maintained many of the core design features that made them so good.
The all-black design in particular has been given a very subtle update making it, if anything, even less ‘shouty’ as a product. For those that want something a bit louder then there are three accents to choose from, blue, yellow or a coral red.
While the accents are shockingly bright, by using them as smaller accents to the main black or grey body the headphones still manage to retain a subtlety that means you’re not going to be getting funny looks on the train.
Some small but extremely welcome hardware changes have also been made. For starters the charging port no longer has a rubber cover over it. This sounds simple, but believe us when we say you haven’t experience true frustration until you’ve got back from a run and have tried to remove that tiny rubber cover so you can charge your headphones. Now the port is open, free and water resistant.
The in-line remote has also had a small change in that the buttons are now fully internal so instead of three separate moving parts the remote is a single mechanism. This is great news for the simple reason that it makes each button bigger (volume down is now the entire bottom third of the remote), a blessing when you’re running.
Finally the earband has been reduced in size. At first this had us worried, but thanks to an increased stiffness and resilience to their movement we haven’t noticed any discomfort around the ear.
As we’ve touched on this before in our Solo3 review we won’t go into too much detail. The short story here is that Beats are not the company they were five years ago.
The long-standing tradition that Beats headphones cost the earth and sound like a muffled gorilla clearing his throat are now a thing of the past. The Powerbeats2 had already showed that sports headphones sound good and the Powerbeats3 continue this tradition.
Beats hasn’t updated the drivers themselves, but thanks to improved Bluetooth connectivity and that good old Apple W1 chip there are some subtle improvements that mean these could legitimately be your main pair of headphones.
The bass response remains the Powerbeats’ selling-point and here it remains prominent and yet never overpowering. These headphones are at their best when playing electronic, dance and rock. The clarity of the higher end superimposed over Beats’ signature bass sound means that they’re perfect for songs like Fire by Justice or Black Notes by Urbandawn.
If they have a single weakness it is classic music. At lower volumes we found that they struggled at times to pull out the tiny nuances that can make classical music such a joy to listen to.
The standout feature here is a product that doesn’t even belong to Beats. You see it’s the W1 audio chip that Apple specifically developed for the next generation of wireless audio products.
Essentially it’s a tiny brain that provides improved audio quality, better Bluetooth connection and even a battery management system that can drastically improve the battery life of wireless products.
One of its most visible features though is the iOS connection process. Simply press and hold, place them next to your iPhone or iPad and a special connection screen will pop up on the phone showing an image of your headphones. Tap ‘Connect’ and you’re done. That’s it.
This connection also links the headphones to your iCloud account so if you want to connect them to any other devices you have it’s as simple as opening up the Bluetooth menu and tapping connect. No longer do you need to manually disconnect them from the old device and so on.
This is where the Powerbeats3 shine. In the past our old Powerbeats2 were fine with a couple of journeys into work and then if you were lucky, a long run.
Apple’s chip has, simply by managing the battery more efficiently, managed to double the battery life to a massive 12 hours.
If there’s one thing we don’t like it’s adding another gadget to the daily charging list and thanks to the W1 we can now remove the Powerbeats from that list. In everyday use we can now get a good three days of commuting, including a few hours during the day when working or going for a run.
If there’s a more convenient pair of wireless headphones out there, we’ve yet to find them.
Who should buy the Beats Powerbeats3 wireless headphones?
If you want a pair of ultra-portable, durable, wireless headphones that are a doddle to set up and last for days then we’ve found the pair for you. They sound great, they’re comfy, they’re perfect for sports and they last for days. These are very, very good.
Who shouldn’t buy the Beats Powerbeats3 wireless headphones?
They sound great but they’re quite heavy-handed, so if you’re looking for something to really bring out the nuances of Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” then you’re going to be disappointed.
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1 Bowers & Wilkins P9 SignatureBowers Wilkins P9 Signature
2 Sennheiser PXC 550Sennheiser
3 Onkyo H500BTOnkyo
4 Parrot Zik 3
5 Sennheiser Momentum 2.0
6 Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless
7 RHA T10i
8 Bose QuietComfort 20i
9 AKG K451Flickr:Cognoscenti*