Powerbeats Pro Announced – Changing Audiophile Norms?

I was thinking, what does audiophile even mean anymore? Especially in the headphone community.

I mean, if you were ask the average person thinking of dropping $250 USD on a pair of the just announced Powerbeats Pro headphones, I’m pretty sure they’d say that those qualify as audiophile, but you’d probably have to explain what that even means… do 95 per cent of people who own good gear even consider themselves an audiophile anymore? More importantly, do they even care?

In my experience, most people think spending more than $500 on a set of cans or IEMs is a bit crazy or if they don’t, they do think it’s serious business. I certainly wouldn’t argue with them.

Funny thing is, if you talk to people who think of themselves as audiophiles, they seem to get their noses bent out of shape when it comes to wireless and audiophile coexisting. Especially if I’m basing it on the email I got regarding the HIFIMAN Ananda Wireless Planar ‘phones. A few were upset that the $1,199 Ananda could even be considered audiophile. So where does that leave Beats?

I think it leaves them muscling into an even bigger share of the market now that they’ve dropped the $249.95 Powerbeats (projected ship date within a month or two) which are the company’s first truly wireless earbuds and reportedly outdo Apple’s AirPods in battery life (nine hours), offer a far better fit/seal (four sets of ear-tips and soft-fitted ear hooks means they should be staying put through even the most rigorous workouts) and thanks to parent company Apple’s H1 chipset can handle hands-free “Hey Siri!” voice commands. They can’t wirelessly charge though.

While each earbud has volume and track-skip buttons they don’t have on/off switches, but that’s OK because they feature motion sensors to rock them into ‘sleep mode’ when they are inactive – they also pause and restart playing if one or both are temporarily removed and then put back on. They can also independently connect, which means either one can play music or take a call, no linking to one master earbud.

How’s that old saying go? Something like the best headphones are the ones you have. And if that’s the case then wireless Bluetooth earbuds and Bluetooth headphones are fast becoming the most popular place for consumers to lay down their hard-earned cash when it comes to the world of personal audio. As it stands right now, wired easily edges out wireless for the highest sound quality, but that can't last forever.

Does anyone think that as Bluetooth and associated codecs improve in sound quality and their inherent resolution gets higher as technology improves and bandwidth increases, that wireless won't be the new normal for headphones at pretty much any price point? When that starts to happen I don’t think anyone will hear what audiophiles are saying about headphones having to have cables to qualify for their definition of the term – everyone will be too busy playing their music wirelessly.

Pivot point with Grover Neville

When Apple speaks, consumers listen – sometimes whether they like it or not.

In this case, I think we’re seeing a really huge sleeper shift in music listening though.

Despite the fact that many of us bemoaned wireless as being a backwards step in sound quality, the post-Apple Beats world has really surprised me.

Athletic and true wireless has become a massive, well-defined market segment in just a few short years. Add in that Beats are now some of the better, albeit pricier, performers, and I think manufacturers and consumers are beginning to converge on a balance of cost and sound quality that defies our initial pessimism.

The Apple earpod/Beats wireless tech is some of the slickest and most convenient out there, with a charging case and individual earphone control and automatic pairing. I’ve been amazed at how much these features add over even a good multi-function audiophile headphone. Especially if like me, you’re away from your home rig a lot.

Beats by Dre

maelob's picture

Thanks for the post, like you I am open minded, and agree that technology is heading towards the wireless. I am sure in the not long distant future brands that care about sound quality will follow. I pretty much enjoy my wireless sony xm3 on the go, while also enjoying my Abyss Diana at home.

Simply Nobody's picture

Waiting for a review of Powerbeats Pro in Inner/Fidelity :-) .........

Dinny FitzPatrick's picture

My Stax O2 sits in a closet along with a HeadAmp BHSE. I’ve sold more DACs than most people can name. But my AirPods go with me everywhere. The sound quality is mediocre at best, same for the ergonomics. But the ease of use; the no-brainer, always there for you functionality makes this one of those typical Apple devices that I didn’t know I not only needed, but lusted for. And like the camera analogy, love the one you’re with. I’m too busy these days to listen to my headphone rig, although I’m trying to do that. But in the asbsence of my BigRig, the AirPods keep me connected to my music (and others, I love using them with the phone).

So if the much maligned Beats can deliver even marginally better comfort and/or sound, I’m all in.

Sometimes a device punches well above its weight. That’s great. And sometimes a device redefines how we interact with the world around us. I think the AirPods are such a device. So if the Beats are even better, it may be a little longer before I reach for my Stax.