When was the last time a gadget came out that was not as good as its predecessor? Technology's unstoppable forward march means it should be impossible but in one very important way, Beats by Dr Dre's new workout buds, Beats Fit Pro, are less impressive than their forerunner – pun intended – Beats Powerbeats Pro.
Before the launch of Fit Pro, I wrote that if Beats 'screwed up the fit' of the old Powerbeats, I would be 'pissed'. Eloquently put, huh? And also prescient, because it turns out Beats has screwed it up, a bit, and I am a little put out. I'm not really surprised though. The whole category of running headphones/workout buds/sports headphones/whatever we're calling them this week, has all but ceased to exist. In the main, that's because earbud design has improved so much, there's no longer a need for headphones specifically designed for exercise. Beats Fit Pro are a great example of that sea change, but they're not the only one
I am not suggesting that Beats Fit Pro are bad earbuds, because they're not. They're excellent. Nor am I suggesting they are no use for running or workouts. They are very good gym and run companions.
What I am saying, however, is that they are not as good in the latter capacity as the old Powerbeats Pro. Not to put too fine a point on it, with Powerbeats Pro, Beats designed the perfect workout headphones. What made these true wireless buds perfect was their slightly crazy, 'earbuds cut-and-shut with a pair of comedy spectacles' design.
I'm not going to deny that Powerbeats Pro look a little odd but they look like that for a reason. Those spectacle-style hooks, coupled to the deeply protruding buds, made it almost literally impossible for them to fall out of your ears. No matter what exercise you do in a pair of Powerbeats, you 100% know that they are not going to move. Just have a look at this (non-faked) promo video for them, particularly the Simone Biles part.
Once you are confident your earbuds aren't going to go anywhere, you can concentrate totally on your run, workout or Olympic gold-medal-winning gymnastic floor routine. I know I did. Powerbeats Pro also happen to sound fantastic and are extremely comfortable. Yes, I know they don't look it, but they are. I wear specs, and you'd think having, in effect, an additional pair of spectacle arms on top of the ones on my glasses wouldn't be much fun, but this has never caused me any issues at all. Other than aesthetic ones, obvs.
With Powerbeats Pro, from the very first moment I put them on, I loved the sound and I knew they were totally secure in my ears so I'd never have to worry about them while exercising. I've been doing T3's best running headphones buying guide for years and nothing else had ever come close to providing that total confidence before Powerbeats Pro. Nothing has since, either. Running headphones always had unusual designs, intended to keep them clamped to your head during sweaty workouts, but none of them worked as well as this.
They tended to compromise on sound quality as well – adding an element of water- and sweat-proofing seemingly made that inevitable for many years. Powerbeats Pro were different in that respect as well. They sounded as good as, if not better than, practically any other true wireless bud of the time. The audio quality still stands up today, 3 years on, despite the huge improvements made to true wireless sound quality in that time.
Now to be scrupulously fair, Beats Fit Pro do sound a bit better than Powerbeats Pro, particularly with their noise cancelling switched on. And they fit very well. But they don't give me that 100% same confidence as the Powerbeats Pro in their ability to stay in place, when the going gets tough and the sweat gets flowing.
On one level it's easy to understand the reasoning behind changing the design of Beats' flagship workout buds. Powerbeats were bulky and looked weird. In the true wireless headphones market, which is massively saturated with quality products, Beats obviously want to have a product with broader appeal.
They're not alone in that. In a recent roundup of running buds I did for T3 magazine, I was a bit surprised to realise that all three featured products – from Jabra, Master & Dynamic and Adidas – just looked like regular earbuds. In fact, they all had even less in the way of ear hooks than Beats Fit Pro. Modern 'running headphones' are intended to be used every day, whether you're exercising or not, and it's increasingly hard to tell at a glance if any given pair of buds is a workout specialist or not. Beats Fit Pro are better buds overall than Powerbeats Pro, and certainly look a lot less eccentric. However they aren't as good at being running headphones as their predecessor, which remains the GOAT when it comes to workout buds. It's a rare example of technology taking a backward step.