In Spenny vs Penny we compare the products we love, with those following in their (sometimes pricey) footsteps. Here we compare the new Powerbeats Pro by Beats to Apple’s AirPods to find out which is the best value for money.
I’ve long been fearful of wireless headphones.
A combination of forgetfulness and anxiety about said forgetfulness meant my strategy has always been to burn through a couple of pairs of those £10 ones you used to get right by the counter at HMV a year, instead of investing in a proper pair I could cherish.
Economically it made sense, too – cycling through cheap pairs would be much less expensive than having to replace a fancy pair even once. In hindsight my plan was probably not great for the planet and explains why we are where we are on plastic waste, but the mass of tangled wires meant I’d never lose them, and that was good enough for me.
These days though, along with every other appliance and gadget, earphones with wires have become a bit passé, and so when my most recent pair of cheap ones died (RIP), I finally decided to put some higher-grade kit to the test.
Each of these pairs were tested over a number of weeks, both for everyday use and for use while exercising – I’m a big runner so it was vital for my new pair to be versatile.
Spenny: Powerbeats Pro by Beats, £219
Before my tests even began, I had one reason to be sceptical of the Powerbeats Pro: the motion sickness-inducing advert.
Starring sporting icons such as Serena Williams, Anthony Joshua, Simone Biles and Eden Hazard, the ad shows athletes wearing the headphones while training. Throughout, the earphones are locked dead centre in the camera, unmoving as the camera gyroscopically jostles around the athlete as they move. Check it out here – I defy you not to feel a bit queasy.
On first inspection, the Beats are cool. The sleek, rounded matte black charging case is a bit bulkier than some might like – around the size of a particularly audacious engagement ring box – but, again, as someone petrified of losing their headphones, I decided that really this was ideal.
Hooking up the Powerbeats with your phone couldn’t be easier, and actually using them is pretty intuitive. They only turn on when you put them in your ears, and automatically pause your when you take them out, which is a neat touch. The battery life of the earphones will last you a couple of days, while the case itself can charge the Powerbeats fully twice before that needs recharging too.
The point of the above nauseating advert is, I think, to emphasise these are sturdy but light, high-tech but fuss-free, and certainly won’t budge in your ears as you exercise – a major plus for the Paula Radcliffe-like headbanging runners among us. And after a number of test runs and scientific head-bobbing, I can confirm they stick right in there, and the supporting cuff is secure without being tight. No wobbling, no falling out.
In fact, the only inconvenience I found while using them to exercise is there’s no skip button, meaning you have to pull out your phone to change song – or sheepishly ask Siri, which is fine when you’re on your own running in the park, but would definitely be obnoxious in the gym.
The price tag of the Powerbeats Pro will very reasonably give many pause for thought, but if you don’t want to compromise on build or sound quality or usability, these ticked all the boxes. They very simply did everything I could ask for.
Penny: AirPods by Apple, £160
You remember how I am mortally afraid of losing good headphones? Rarely has that anxiety been as heightened as when testing out these headphones.
Compared to the Powerbeats, the AirPods are a bit daintier, and slot inside a charging case not much larger than a box of TicTacs. It’s perfect if you need an un-intrusive pair of headphones to slip into a pocket or handbag, less so if you’re the kind of person who will stress about misplacing a still quite pricey piece of kit.
Because it’s Apple, the user experience is again really easy. There’s no faffing about attempting to pair the earphones to your phone, battery life is never an issue, and I was impressed with how fast they charged (no one likes a commute where you discover your earphones are mysteriously dead). The sound quality and noise-cancelling properties are excellent to boot, although Beats were better.
But whereas the AirPods are fantastic for daily and casual listening, outdoing the Powerbeats for ease of use, I found them fiddly for exercise. Their smaller size makes them harder to hang on to, and I experienced enough slipping and discomfort in my ear to distract while running.
In short, the AirPods are a brilliant piece of tech and a common sense purchase for daily wear, but if you want to invest in something where you can listen to your thumping gym beats playlist while working out, you might be better off shelling out for the Powerbeats Pro – or, if you’re anything like me, going back to those dirt cheap HMV pairs.
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