Beats by Dre: Powerbeats2

Look around you - wires are so passé. If you’re in the gym and your earphones are connected to your phone or iPod, you might as well trade in your Crossfit membership for a circa-1989 Step aerobics class. How can you complete your WOD with a tangle of wires getting in the way? The new Powerbeats2 in-ear earphone from Beats By Dr. Dre is Bluetooth 4.0 compatible, and other than the snag-free wire connecting the left and right side, it’s completely wireless. You couldn’t connect it to your iPhone with a wire even if you wanted to - plus and negatives to that situation to follow.

The new Powerbeats2 is the second generation of this product from Beats - it’s $200 and available in black, white or red. Designed with input from LeBron James, this was definitely conceived for active wear. It isn’t waterproof so no swimming allowed, but work up as much sweat as you can - it’s sweat- and water-resistant. It is an in-ear design with an adjustable rubber-covered wire hoop to ensure a secure fit. It has a cable management clip to adjust the length of the cable between earpieces. It’s designed to go behind the neck, but with long hair, it was better for me to run it in front.

The electronics are housed in the left earpiece, with a small volume/mic controller on the connecting cable, also on the left side. There is a small micro-USB charging port on the bottom of the left earpiece tucked behind a water/sweat-resistant rubber gasket. It will play for up to 6 hours on a charge, and a 15-minute “quick charge” gets you an hour of playback. Six hours is not quite enough juice for a leisurely century bike ride, but more than enough for most peoples’ daily workouts. The power/Bluetooth pairing switch is on the top of the left earpiece. A small LED indicates power and pairing status. It doesn’t shut off automatically when there’s no signal, so make sure you power it off every time. It comes with a small hardshell carrying case that sadly lacks a compartment to store a charging cable or spare ear tips.

Pairing to an iPod was simple - just hold the power/pairing switch for four seconds and locate the Powerbeats2 on your playback device. I paired it to my nano quickly and flawlessly. It’s compatible with Android phones - I paired it to my Sony Xperia as well, but with Android devices, you can’t skip tracks with the controller like you can on an iOS device, but you can take phone calls. One issue I have with this product is that there is no other option besides Bluetooth. If you’re flying to Brazil and want to use these to check out the in-flight movie, you’re out of luck - there is not Aux input. This is an oversight on a $200 pair of headphones that you can’t use everywhere; it’s Bluetooth or nothing.

The Powerbeats2 comes with three extra ear tip coverings. None of them offered a really tight seal. This makes it much safer when you need to hear outside noises, and obviously, less effective when you want to block out the grunting of the guy working out next to you. It also had a negative effect on bass performance. More on that in a minute.

The tuning of the new Powerbeats2 is quite interesting. I expected it to be typical Beats bass-heavy monsters. What I found was the opposite. In fact, I was swapping out ear tips to see if any offered a tight enough seal in my ear canal to bring out more bass. It just isn’t there. The bass it does have is refined and controlled, but it left me longing for more. The high end response was very pleasant. It was accurate, natural, and lacked distortion even when pushed quite hard. One thing to note - the volume controller doesn’t control the volume on your playback device - at least it didn’t on my nano. So by maxing out both the volume on your playback device and the Powerbeats2, there is a lot of gain to be had if needed.

I used it to check out the new HD Tracks release from Van Morrison. “Moondance” has always been one of my favorite songs, and I’ve heard it on a myriad of playback sources. The bass guitar has a warm, rich sound. On an acoustic track like this, you don’t miss the deep bass. The flute has a bright, almost sharp tone, but it never gets overly harsh. I also checked it out with Spoon’s latest They Want My Soul. The snare drum that leads off “Rent I Pay” was sharp with a nice attack. However, I know this song has an awesome massively-deep kick drum sound and bass line, and it was completely missing. Since the fit of in-ear headphones determine so much of the bass performance, your mileage may vary.

For a workout/sporty earphone, the Beats Powerbeat2 has a lot going for it. Bluetooth capability, sweat-resistance, adjustable earhooks for security and comfort, and a loose fit that lets in plenty of ambient (traffic) noise. It’s fabulous for the gym, a jog, and a mountain bike ride. It’s not a audiophile pick, but for most people, the gym isn’t the place for serious critical listening. They definitely get the job done, in style.