Review: Beats Powerbeats2 Wireless
Beats' pending acquisition by Apple hasn't slowed down the company's flow of new products. Following the debut of the on-ear Solo2 headphones, Powerbeats2 Wireless ($200) are the second model to be released since the deal was announced. Designed for workouts, these in-ear headphones are a Bluetooth sequel to the original Powerbeats, and claimed to have been inspired by spokesman LeBron James. Sweat- and water-resistant, the headphones are equipped with flat, tangle-reducing cables, a three-button remote and mic, as well as hooks fit over your ears to hold them in place. Along with the headphones, a Micro-USB cable is included for recharging the six-hour battery, and there's also a carrying case and four pairs of ear tips.
Powerbeats2 Wireless look a lot like their predecessor, although more refined and modern — that said, they resemble many other sport earphones, and are nowhere near as distinctive as Solo2 or other Beats designs. On each side, there’s a 1.27” long, 0.58” tall matte plastic module, with the rubber ear hook extending up from one end, and the earbud housing protruding out from the other. Power is controlled by a soft button on top of the left block—we would’ve preferred something less squishy, as it’s hard to know if you’ve actually pressed the button if you’re not looking at it—and the Micro-USB recharging port is found on the underside, with a rubber door to keep it protected. The cable running between the two sides is about 20” long, and is made to be worn around the back of the head, with a rubber slider tightening it up as necessary.
Thanks to their sweatproof design and ear hooks, Powerbeats2 Wireless are going to be a better choice for working out than wireless headphones without those features. Although the hooks aren’t as adjustable as we’d like, because they can’t slide up or down, they are still secure; whether you prefer them to the rubber outer ear stabilizers found on competing headphones is a matter of personal preference. We were able to tug at the cord without yanking away the headphones. When it comes to phone calls, our caller told us we sounded very artificial and robotic, although he was able to make out everything we were saying. It wasn’t a fatal flaw, but Beats clearly didn’t pick a great mic system.
Your listening experience is going to depend heavily on which ear tips you use, so it’s important to test them out and find the one that fills your ear canals the best. We had dramatically different sonic results using the medium tips that come installed, versus switching between the small, large, and ultimately, flanged tips, which proved to be best for us. With the small and medium tips, the highs were strong, but the bass was anemic, a sign of poor fit. But going up to the large tips, we found the audio muddied to the point of being unpleasant due to overpowered bass.
We found the audio had the best balance when we used the flanged tips, although the performance still wasn’t what we expected from Beats hardware. The company is known for its bass-heavy sound profiles, and that’s not what we found here. Instead, with the flanged tips in place, the bass was a bit less powerful than from Apple’s stock EarPods, while the high-end performance was slightly better. While it’s a small difference, we were able to pick up a bit more detail from the treble. We heard a lot of detail across songs of different genres, including the crash of cymbals and other high-end elements. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that the bass is as low as it was, because it means these aspects weren’t overpowered. But when it came to hip hop,, we felt something was missing - Powerbeats2 just doesn’t deliver the powerful lows Beats are typically known for. Overall, Powerbeats2 has a pleasant sound signature, but there’s nothing here worthy of $200, to be sure.
Clearly, there are advantages to Powerbeats2 Wireless over a packed-in set of EarPods, but audio isn’t necessarily one of them. For working out, they’re very nice headphones, with the stability features that one should want while running. Unfortunately, we were just not blown away by the sound, which should be excellent for $200, especially when there’s great competition at half the price or less. That’s why Beats’ latest headphones earn our C+ rating. If they had the signature aesthetic appeal of Solo2 or other Beats headphones, that’d be one thing, but they’re not even that exciting visually, with a two-generation-old Bluetooth headset design. There’s no real reason to choose these headphones over their more modern and affordable competitors.