Sound quality limited by Bluetooth audio codecs, although bass is noticeable 'cleaner' than others
Granskad i Storbritannien den 16 januari 2021
*Update (20/1/21): I bought a Samsung Galaxy S9, connected it to the Powerbeats, and it shows AAC codec, as expected. The sound is good - even if only marginally better than SBC - but I won't rule out the difference being partly or even mainly psychological. I bought these mainly for running as they won't fall off. It's other advantages over other earphones is the way it reproduces bass - it's clean - and it's awesome battery life. I'm enjoying listening to rap, grime and hip hop with these. For over £100, they're still pricey in comparison to my £60 Anker Liberty Air 2s which use aptX and have more of an open, airy stereo sound. Can't match these for bass reproduction, though, nor their anti-fall-off design. Since I bought them reduced Used, I might keep them.*
I've tried wearing these for prolonged periods of 2+ hours in the house, to test their comfort. I have found them to become uncomfortable after 1 hour, and have wanted to remove them after 2 hours. They cause my ear canals to feel itchy, I think from the way the earbuds touch them, and also dry. I think this is caused by the external ear 'clamps' holding them firmly in one position. The earbuds also do not sit as deeply inside my ear canal as 'true wireless' earphones. Pushing them in deeper into my ear do not improve the sound and the ear clamps prevent this anyway, so I expect this shallower fit to be normal.
However, this is not what I bought them for - I bought them specifically (because of their design) for runs which usually last 20-50 minutes, with the occasional 2-hour run every fortnight. With this in mind, the discomfort would not be an issue for me, but if you're intending on using them for over 2 hours indoors, I would recommend 'true wireless' earphones like my Ankers or the Cambridge Audio Melomanias which are apparently excellent. I can even sleep on my side with my Ankers, but this is impossible with the Powerbeats as they're too bulky.
I'll cut to the chase. The mid and high-range sound quality, for a pair of £100 in-ear wireless earphones, did not sound much - if any - better than a pair of £25 wireless in-ears I recently tested. The reason can't be the hardware, which seems top notch. I think it's partly due to the Bluetooth codecs it's using to link with my smartphone, a Nokia 7.2 - which is both the Powerbeats' and my Nokia's fault. Let me explain:
This earphone supports two Bluetooth codecs: SBC and AAC. SBC is the most basic codec for audio transmission, while AAC is higher quality. However, not all smartphones support the AAC codec, including my Nokia 7.2. That means it will use SBC, the basic codec. Additionally, even smartphones that support AAC encode it in varying qualities; iPhones offer the best AAC quality, followed by Samsung, then LG, then Huawei (source: SoundGuys). By quality, I mean the ability to hear higher frequencies which are still within the human range of hearing. Lower quality AAC phones basically cut off the audio transmission at lower frequencies.
You could say, therefore, that my Nokia 7.2 is at fault for not supporting AAC. However, Powerbeats is also to blame for not supporting aptX, an even higher quality codec that my Nokia - on Android 10 - DOES support. I am surprised that Powerbeats, and many others (Jabra Elites, Sony WF-1000XM3 etc) do not support HD codecs like aptX and aptX HD, which slightly outclass AAC.
Why? My thoughts are that it might be something to do with Apple not wanting Android to outclass it and/or to save money. On the competition side, aptX / aptX HD are codecs made by Qualcomm, the company that makes CPUs and chipsets for Android phones. So Android users would potentially get sound quality better than, or at least on par with, iPhone users. On the cost-saving side, manufacturers have to pay each company that owns a particular codec a royalty for using it in their products. So Beats would have to pay Qualcomm a royalty to use aptX / aptX HD in its Powerbeats. When you consider that Beats is owned by Apple, the lack of aptX support starts to make sense.
Given the £100+ price of these Powerbeats, I can't think of any other reason why it does not support high quality codecs found on Android phones. Something is not right!
Conclusion: People are getting different sound quality from Powerbeats (and, indeed, other earphones that offer a limited range of codecs) depending on which smartphone they're using.
I am so disappointed by this, because the Powerbeats have the best design for running, as I never have to think about them slipping off. The battery life is also the highest around - 15 hours on a single charge, albeit no charging case. I can also detect, even on SBC quality, that its hardware has the potential to deliver better quality audio. It reproduces bass much cleaner than cheaper SBC earphones, like the £25 pair I tried. But other than that, I can't detect much difference between them, because - I think - of the codec.
Please check your smartphone's specs before buying this. If it supports AAC (Apple, Samsung, Huawei, Blackberry etc - remember Apple's AAC is the best out of them) it'll likely be good enough. Similarly, only buy aptX / aptX HD earphones if your phone supports these codecs. My view is that if you're buying these Powerbeats primarily for sound quality, and your phone doesn't support AAC, don't bother - for the price, they won't impress you enough.
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