Apple now makes three sets of wireless earbuds that use its H1 chip: The AirPods, the AirPods Pro, and the Powerbeats Pro from its Beats division.
That H1 chip means easy pairing to your iPhone, hands-free Siri, automatic pairing with all your Apple devices through iCloud, and better power management. If you have an iPhone, you probably want earbuds with it. Which of the three is best?
That answer is, overall, the AirPods Pro. But maybe the better question is: which of the three is the best one for YOUR needs?
AirPods: The cheaper option for calls and podcasts
AirPods are now on their second generation, with slightly improved battery life and hands-free Siri support. And now that the AirPods Pro are out there, I don’t think there’s much reason for anyone to buy them. The AirPods Pro are so much better and definitely worth the higher price. AirPods don’t have tips to create a seal in your ear, and that means lesser sound quality, more outside noise, and they can fall out more easily.
They are the cheapest option, though. With a wired charging case instead of the wireless one (which you really don’t need), AirPods cost $159. And you can occasionally find them on sale.
The best reason to buy regular AirPods is if you just want something you can quickly pop into your ear to answer a phone call, or if you only want to listen to spoken word stuff like podcasts. If that’s all you care about, save yourself some money and get the regular AirPods.
AirPods Pro: Best for most users
If music sound quality is a priority, or you spend any time in an environment where you wish you could have a little more quiet, or if you work out often, you’re going to want to step up to the AirPods Pro.
Yeah, they’re more expensive than AirPods. They only come with a wireless charging case and cost $250. That’s $90 more than basic AirPods and $50 more than AirPods with a wireless charging case.
But you get a lot for that extra money. Shorter stems make them more comfortable and less goofy-looking. Silicone tips create a seal in your ear that improves the sound quality, blocks outside sound, and keeps them in place. It’s a lot easier to go running with AirPods Pro than regular AirPods.
They’re so comfortable and stay in place so well that you just put them in and forget about them. Plus, they’re sweat resistant.
They’re not the best-sounding wireless earbuds you can buy for $250, but they do sound a lot better than regular AirPods. And they have active noise cancelling. Again, not the best I’ve heard, but it does a very solid job of diminishing noisy environments. It’s a great feature you will absolutely use all the time.
Plus, the new controls where you squeeze the stem instead of tapping are a little more reliable and make you less prone to knocking your own earbuds out.
Despite the higher price, the AirPods Pro are clearly the best of the three and the earbuds that most iPhone users would be happiest with.
Powerbeats Pro: For intense activity and long battery life
While most users would be happiest with AirPods Pro, there are still a few reasons why you might want to pick the Powerbeats Pro instead.
They cost $250, just like the AirPods Pro, but they have no active noise cancelling, and the charging case is too big to fit in your pocket (and doesn’t have wireless charging).
But the ear hooks keep these ‘buds firmly in place, even with really rough-and-tumble activities. Whatever exercise you’re doing, the Powerbeats Pro are not going anywhere.
I think they make your music sound just a little bit better than the AirPods Pro, too. I can also appreciate that they have physical buttons instead of fancy touch sensors.
But the real reason to get the Powerbeats Pro is battery life. All three earbuds have enough battery in the charging case to give you a total of 24 hours of playback, but the AirPods and AirPods Pro earbuds only last 4.5 to 5 hours before you need to put them back in the case to charge.
The Powerbeats Pro last twice as long. You can get about 9 hours of playback before you have to put them back in the case. So the Powerbeats Pro are best for people who do really intense activities and need all-day battery life without a break.
For everyone else, the combination of comfort, ease of use, the tiny wireless charging case, sound quality, and active noise cancelling make the AirPods Pro the clear winner. For most iPhone users, the AirPods Pro are the best wireless earbuds you can get.
Apple AirPods Pro
You don’t buy AirPods (or AirPods Pro) because they deliver the ultimate listening experience. You buy them because they sound good, are super easy to connect to all your Apple gear, are incredibly compact, work hands-free with Siri, and are incredibly comfortable.
It’s not hard to find wireless earbuds that do one or two things better than the AirPods Pro, but for users of Apple products, it’s really hard to find earbuds that do so many things so right.The AirPods Pro live at the sweet spot of comfort, ease of use, features, and sound quality.
- Excellent fit and comfort
- Compact wireless charging case
- Good active noise cancellation
- Sound quality is a little bland for the price
- Battery life is just okay
Read our full
Apple AirPods Pro review
Apple Powerbeats Pro
The Powerbeats Pro are Beats’ first true wireless earbuds, and they’re just the thing for people looking for the AirPod experience, tailored for an active lifestyle. They use the new H1 chip found in the second-generation AirPods, so you get the same pairing and syncing experience as with AirPods, and hands-free “Hey, Siri” capabilities.
Beyond that, they resemble Beats more than AirPods. The design is similar to Powerbeats 3, only slightly smaller and lighter, angled for a better fit and better look, and of course without the cord between them.
Sound quality is quite good—better than AirPods, thanks to the rubberized tips that fit snug in your ears. In particular, you get much better bass response than with AirPods, though these aren’t as bass-overheavy as some Beats brand gear. They’re splash and sweat proof, and stay put in your ears through all sorts of rigorous physical activity.
Battery life is exceptional, too. The earbuds last for up to nine hours playing music, or six hours of phone calls.
- Good sound quality
- Comfortable fit
- Epic battery life
- Case is too big for a pocket
Read our full
Apple Powerbeats Pro review
I have written professionally about technology for my entire adult professional life - over 20 years. I like to figure out how complicated technology works and explain it in a way anyone can understand.