How do AirPods compare to Powerbeats

Airpods (Pro) and their alternatives in comparison

Stefan von Gagern, Peter Müller

With the Airpods Pro, Apple is taking its true wireless system to a new level. But there are plenty of alternatives. An overview.

EnlargeNot only suitable for music, but above all for that
© Arija, Adobe Stock

Apple has shown courage and consistency since 2016 and has since omitted the headphone jack - starting with the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. There is now not a single iPhone with a 3.5 mm socket in the portfolio. But since last autumn even the Lightning earpods and the charging adapter have been missing from the boxes of the iPhones, and Apple soon left out the adapter with the Lightning plug and jack socket. There is also an adapter cable for sale as an accessory for the expensive Airpods Max, so that the over-ears can also be used with the entertainment system of aircraft. However, this cable is not bidirectional, so there is no way to plug it into the iPhone at one end and into headphones at the other end. So you can only get sound from the iPhone wirelessly - or via its internal speakers.

The advantage is obvious: if the iPhone falls into the water, it is not hopelessly lost, because by doing without the jack socket there are fewer opportunities for liquid to penetrate. Apple has been offering the alternative since autumn 2016: Airpods. These were initially ridiculed as "toothbrush heads", but today it is hard to imagine the streets without them, especially since Apple added the Airpods Pro and their active noise suppression in autumn 2019. In the meantime, the quite sporty prices for Apple's wireless eavesdroppers have fallen significantly, the Airpods Pro are sometimes available for less than 200 euros, as our price comparison repeatedly shows - the Airpods are also quite affordable from third-party providers.

Airpods are not the first revolution that Apple has triggered in terms of headphones: It will soon be 20 years since people on the street had apparently white cables growing out of their ears: Starting in 2001, the iPod turned the world of music upside down in a way that like not even the Walkman had done before him. The iPod has now merged into the iPhone and iPad, and the audio jack on the iPhone is history.

Airpods and alternatives

We tested the following models:

On the one hand, the Airpods became a model for a large number of imitation products. On the other hand, the Airpods in their form from 2016 (updated in spring 2019 with a new chip that also understands hands-free Siri) have certain disadvantages that other solutions compensate for. Most importantly, the Airpods don't hold in each ear as they should.

The Airpods Pro not only offer active noise suppression (ANC), but for this reason also silicone ear inserts, which halfway seal the ear canal and above all keep the Airpods in it solid: Now everyone can use the Airpods for sports - at least in most cases . In terms of integration into the Apple ecosystem, the Airpods (Pro) are superior to all other solutions, especially when it comes to coupling to iPhone, iPad and Mac, thanks to proprietary additional protocols, they have advantages over conventional Bluetooth headphones. Above all, the sound is excellent, other listeners have to measure themselves against it. One or the other model succeeds perfectly, while others try to position themselves against Apple via the price. And some are equally convincing in terms of price and performance.

Read our overview of Airpods and other true wireless headphones below, there you will usually also find references to more detailed considerations of the headphones.

Airpods Pro: Firm fit, better sound, noise cancellation

Apple has listened to those of its customers who refrained from buying Airpods because they knew beforehand that they would fall out of their ears. You don't even have to buy suspiciously or borrow someone's earphones for a short test, all you have to do is insert the wired earpods supplied with the iPhone and iPod Touch into your ear canals. Their shape is identical to that of the first and second generation Airpods, if the earpods don't sit properly and fall out while walking, you can't do anything with the Airpods either.

That has now changed: Apple not only measured tens of thousands of ear cups again (self-disclosure), but now also includes three pairs of ear tips with the Airpods Pro. So there is a good chance that any combination of three left and three right silicone plugs will fit. Apple makes it easy to make the right choice when setting up: A hearing test can be called up in the Airpods Pro settings: the listeners play a short passage of music, the internal microphone measures the sound that has arrived in the ear canal, and the software draws its own from it Conclusions as to whether the mission fits or not.

A reasonably tight seal requires above all the new unique selling point of the Airpods Pro, the active noise suppression. This works like other listeners of the type with counter-sound: two microphones on the outside of the listener pick up the background noise, the loudspeakers adjust the counter-sound 200 times per second. Wave peaks of the acoustic waves meet wave troughs, which results in silence. This does not work perfectly and only at lower frequencies, but it helps immensely in dampening the external background noise. Here the inner microphone is used again, which measures the result of sound, music and counter-sound and makes corresponding suggestions for corrections to the software. An adaptive equalizer that not only takes care of the silence, but should also make the music as clear and pleasant as possible.

Siri can be called up on the handles of the listener or you can switch between individual sound modes, either switch off the noise canceling or switch to a transparency mode in which the outside noises are passed through to the eardrum.

The sound is again excellent for earphones of this type, emphasized in the bass, but not powerful, clear and flattering in the mids and highs.

The new technology has its price, the Airpods Pro with their charging case cost 279 euros. That is 100 euros more than the Airpods, but only 50 euros extra compared to their variant with inductive charging box, which is standard with the Airpods Pro.

Read the full review of the Airpods Pro here.

Airpods (2nd Gen.): The alternative for suitable ears

If you don't want to or can't completely shield yourself on planes, buses and trains and if you have the right ears, the Airpods are still the best choice. As already mentioned above, Apple put the Airpods on a new technical basis in spring 2019. Instead of the Bluetooth chip W1, one called the H1 is now installed (also in the Airpods Pro), whose efficiency and performance make it possible to operate Siri hands-free. If you still had to tap the receiver on the first generation Airpods to trigger an action, a mumbled "Hey Siri!" and the digital assistant starts up.

But Apple has also improved the sound, if only in nuances. In our test, however, we were able to notice a reproducible difference. The Airpods Pro have gotten even better, by the way. But above all because they now also sit better. And with true wireless systems, it usually comes down to the seat.

Interesting too : This is what distinguishes Airpods and Airpods Pro

The prices of the second generation Airpods have remained the same compared to the first: 179 euros. But there is also a variant with a wireless charging box, which Apple offers for 229 euros. This was also the reason why the Airpods 2nd Gen. did not appear in autumn 2018. At the time, Apple had still planned to have the appropriate Airpower charging mat fully developed, possibly after a further postponement to spring 2019. At this point, Apple officially discontinued the product before it could be marketed and the Airpods 2 came with the recommendation, Use charging mats from third-party manufacturers such as Mophie or Belkin.

You can read the complete test of the Airpods here

Current in-ear headphones as alternatives to Apple Airpods

The original is not everything and in the standard version with earphones made of hard plastic not for everyone: If you are looking for earmolds in different sizes, a little more functions and specialists for sports, you will be served with the Airpods Pro and you might find the alternatives from various manufacturers - better served under certain circumstances. When it comes to true wireless headphones, it is definitely worth comparing: Not only are there big differences in fit and sound, the charging concept, pairing with the iPhone and app support also vary greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer. From this point of view, the Airpods (Pro) are superior - in terms of price, they have to face the competition.

Cambridge Audio Melomania Touch

The Melomania Touch from Cambridge Audio has a completely different design than the Airpods. While Apple revolutionized the market for true wireless systems with the stems in such a way that most competitors take their inspiration from them - there are also a few clumsy imitations - Cambridge Audio has stuck to the design that was common for completely wireless in-ears before the Airpods was: the button in the ear. That means a much better shielding against outside noise than the conventional Airpods offer - and a tighter fit. This in turn may also be a disadvantage, because in the long run this design simply presses more in the ears than the Airpods. In order to get the best sound, we have to try again with the silicone attachments for the drivers and earwings with the Melomania Touch, but we can choose between three sizes - each with two pairs of attachments and one pair of earwings.

EnlargePure British sound. Not just on 11.

What we hear then knows how to please. In the test of the slightly differently built Melomania 1 in summer 2019, we complained about a too neutral sound without oomph in the bass - but also had a problem with the right fit. With the Melomania Touch, the bass develops significantly more pressure, but without humming and without suffering from highs and mids. The transparency mode, which you can switch on with three tips on one of the earphones, doesn't make the music sound any worse - but we don't really notice much of the outside world, making calls with the Melomania Touch is therefore also slightly uncomfortable, as we mainly talk about the Hear bone conduction.

Of course we jogged a few kilometers with the Melomania Touch in our ears and music. The pleasure was not particularly great, however, according to the design, the music "blurs" with every step, which is especially noticeable with two-dimensional sounds. Let's just stay at home and listen to music on the sofa - walking in the street in almost complete isolation from outside noise is not a particularly good idea anyway.

Cambridge Audio also provides an app for the Melomania Touch, which is primarily used to update the firmware and set the operation. Above all, we have the option of turning off functions such as start / stop, quieter / louder or forward / backward. In general, we didn't really get warm with the operation by tapping on the earphones. Apple's idea with the stems isn't a bad one.

But what improves the good listening experience is the five-band equalizer included in the app. If we wanted, we could turn up the bass further, but for rock we'd better leave it in the neutral zone and turn up the lower mids. Six presets make it easier for us to listen, and we could save three more user-defined ones.

The "Find my earbuds" function works a little below expectation: As long as we allow the app to use the iPhone's location functions at all times or at least when in use, it gives us the last known location of the earbuds. But if we've moved them around the house, we'd like to ping them - Apple simply has an advantage here with its own solutions.

If you don't mind the button in your ear and really want to listen to music secluded from the outside world, the Melomania Touch is the best choice. We recommend other solutions for sports. Also very popular, although we assume that is the case: If you take one of the earphones out of the ear canal, the music stops and starts again when we plug it back in again. And of course the music starts playing immediately, we take the headphones out of their charging case, which charges via USB-C (cable included). The manufacturer promises seven hours of uninterrupted music enjoyment, which is far longer than you would like to hear with a button in your ear. In power-saving mode there are even eight, the charge from the charging case should be sufficient for a total of 40 hours.

Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+ on Amazon (140 euros)

Klipsch T5 ii Sport

Klipsch is a manufacturer of high-end loudspeakers, which you can also hear in the T5 ii Sport true wireless headphones. Once we have found the right ear tips and earwings - here, too, there is a large selection of two pairs of tips and one pair of wings in three sizes - we hear the same high quality as the Melomania we tested immediately before. Maybe a little less bass, but still a punchy and round overall sound with velvety mids and clear highs. At most, the equalizer presets are a little less than those of the Melomania, the transparency mode lets through a bit more, which is a bit at the expense of the musical sound. You can not have everything.

Of course, we tested the sports model because we wanted to know whether running is also possible in the type of construction. At best, the music sounds marginally better than with other headphones of the same design when we trample, but then we just sit down on the bicycle ergometer in the fitness room (we sure don't ride a meter outside with headphones this tight, or with headphones at all). The oval ear tips give us a very good wearing comfort, but here too we miss the handles of the Airpods Pro when using them (tip on the receiver). When running, however, we have a much better feeling with this design, even the properly fitting Airpods Pro blew our ears off while jogging.

EnlargeThere is a good reason for the bulky charging case.

What could turn out to be a damn good idea from the manufacturer: The charging case is quite bulky for good reasons. When you open it, you immediately notice why this is so: Silicate embedded in the lid is supposed to remove moisture from sweaty earphones. Otherwise, the charging case promises to add 24 more hours to the eight hours of battery life. Three colors are available: black, white and dark green, the charging case matches the tint of the receiver. The manufacturer's recommended retail price: 230 euros. The Klipsch T5 ii Sport are currently not available via the company's Amazon shop, but replenishment is promised shortly.

Klipsch T5 ii Sport

Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro

With its new in-ear headphones, the Anker subsidiary Soundcore has done a lot right, orienting itself towards Apple, but also going its own way.First of all: The sound is fantastic and for the price far below that of the Airpods Pro, the Liberty Air 2 Pro are worth recommending. Outwardly, they are similar to both the Airpods and the Airpods Pro: The slightly longer handle is reminiscent of the "toothbrush heads" from 2016ff - only that nobody scoffs at it anymore. The drivers, however, are attached under a silicone adapter, so Soundcore is more in the direction of Airpods Pro here.

EnlargeFour colors, strong sound, good price

This is also functionally the case: Like the Airpods Pro, the new Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro now offer active suppression of ambient noise, Active Noise Canceling (ANC). For this, the listeners should close the ear canals well, four pairs of adapters are included - with us the factory-assembled one already fit perfectly. However, the editor from the desk across the street criticized the size of the Liberty Air 2 Pro; even the smallest silicone cover would be too big for her: The Soundcore headphones seem to be intended for large ears.

But they were astonished: ANC is known to try to eliminate external noises with counter-sound. This only works with low frequencies - airplane hum, train rattle - and generally affects the quality of the music playback. But surprisingly, the Liberty Air 2 Pro sound better with the ANC switched on than without or even in transparency mode. The ANC works as it should. A detailed hearing test, in which you tell the app by means of a tip, which tones you can hear and which not, sets a hearing profile.

While Apple is of the opinion that the Airpods (Pro) could set the best possible sound using their sensors and the software's algorithms, Soundcore allows some settings in the app. Both transparency and ANC modes have several levels, the latter differentiating between "indoor", "outdoor" and "traffic". Miracles are not to be expected anywhere, it does not get completely silent - which is no harm if you have the earplugs in use on public roads. The transparency mode is much better with the Airpods Pro, and the operation is a bit annoying - pressure on the receiver and not on the handle - otherwise the Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro doesn't have to back off.

What Soundcore does differently than Apple: The in-ears are available in four different colors, a restrained dark gray (onyx), a slightly noticeable dark blue (sapphire blue), a decent silver (titanium white) and a somewhat screaming rose (rose quartz). But tastes are different. Soundcore does not need an Airpod white, instead of clumsily copying Apple's product, the manufacturer confidently builds more than decent True Wireless headphones, which at best have to fear competition from the next generation of Airpods: Allegedly, Apple's basic model ANC and Get exchangeable fitting pieces.

Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro on Amazon (130 euros)

Backbeat Fit 3200: True Wireless for Sports

We have tested it extensively: The Airpods are only suitable for sport to a limited extent. The conventional earphones fall out of our ears when we walk fast, but we can at least trust the Airpods Pro to stay in the ear canals at a moderate pace. For sport you usually need an even better and safer fit. The Backbeat Fit 3200 from Plantronics offer this with their ear hooks, and three pairs of ear tips are included. Eyeglass wearers have a bit of trouble putting the earphones on and putting them in correctly without the temples getting in each other's way.

But if you succeed, you will be rewarded with rich sound and good sound properties when making calls. The ease of use is very appealing thanks to a sophisticated app, with a tap on one of the listeners you can, for example, switch on an awareness mode or choose between three EQ presets. The shielding from the outside is good, but not so rigid that you no longer dare to walk on the street. The price: 149 euros, currently only available from the manufacturer.

You can read the detailed test here