My 2 year old set of Apple's AirPods Pro appear to be failing - not surprising, after hundreds of road, cyclocross, gravel, and mountain bike rides during which they were hit with sweat, sunscreen, and dirt. (You can see my original review of the AirPods Pro, from a cyclist's perspective for some background.) Overall, I thought they were great for cycling, with a few compromises - mostly battery life.
Since they're going to be replaced, I thought I'd do some research and check out popular competitors, like the Beats Fit Pro, before committing. Turns out, the Beats Fit Pro are probably worth considering if you're shopping for the AirPods Pro with use during bicycle riding in mind. They might even be better for cyclists than AirPods Pro are, and cost $50 less too - here's why:
Beats Fit Pro has almost all the same features as AirPods Pro, especially the important ones for cyclists
Let's get this out of the way - Apple owns Beats. So if you buy Beats headphones you can still get Apple features, car and phone integration, etc. So don't worry about that part.
Beats Fit Pro has the same noise cancellation, transparency mode, sweat and water resistance, Siri voice control, and spatial audio specs as the AirPods Pro. As stated in my initial review of the AirPods Pro, I find those features critical for listening to spoken audio, like books and podcasts, while riding. If you're an iPhone user*, you'll get all the same stuff from Beats Fit Pro as you would from AirPods Pro.
* Android users get some but not all of these features on both the Apple and Beats devices. If you use Android make sure you understand how these devices will work with your phone.
What's missing from Beats Fit Pro?
The one feature missing from the Beats Fit Pro is wireless charging. I don't use that, and don't have a wireless charging pad, so that isn't important to me. Plugging the charging case into a USB port just isn't a big deal.
According to Macworld, Beats Fit Pro microphone quality isn't quite as good as AirPods Pro, so keep that in mind if you often use the buds for voice calls. I rarely make phone calls using earbuds, so this isn't important to me, but consider it if you spend a lot of time on voice calls.
Features you get with Beats Fit Pro, that are missing on Airpods
Although Beats Fit Pro is missing the wireless charging, you also get some enhancements not found on AirPods to make up for it:
- Physical controls with a clickable button, instead of the "touch" controls found on the AirPods
- The Beats Fit Pro have a curved "wingtip" that hooks around the ear, which might help fit and retention during sports
- Longer battery life, which might be impactful for all-day rides
- Lower retail price (about $50 less)
Beats Fit Pro have a claimed battery life of 6 hours, vs. 4.5 hours on AirPods Pro. That's a pretty big difference! My AirPods Pro occassionally die at the end of my longest weekend rides, so a little more battery life is very appealing.
Keep in mind that noise cancellation, a feature you'll likely want to use while riding, consumes battery life, so expect less than the published numbers if you use noise cancellation.
While I wish both Beats Fit Pro and AirPods Pro had longer battery life, they both use the same charging case design, so airplane travel or extended trips are very convenient, just store the buds in the case and they charge while you aren't using them.
Color options vs. plain white
Beats Fit Pro comes in color choices, while the only option on AirPods Pro is white. You can get Beats Fit Pro in black, white, purple, or grey, plus "Kim Kardashian" edition earth, moon, or dune tones. If you're into that sort of thing.
The AirPods Pro design is old
AirPods Pro launched almost three years ago, as of this writing - October 2019. Since launch, the design is largely unchanged. You do get periodic software updates and enhancements, but the physical design is the same.
The rumors say that "AirPods Pro 2" will be delivered in Fall, 2022, and might come with a case that can emit sound, helping you locate it if lost. Another possibility of great interest to athletes like cyclists is the possibility that AirPods Pro 2 might have heart rate tracking built in, which would be a really nice enhancement.
Those features don't exist as of this writing. Overall, it seems like a bad time to buy the AirPods Pro, based on Apple's typical timeframe to replace and revise their products.
Like the AirPods Pro, the Beats Fit Pro offers active noise cancellation. I've found it to work acceptably on AirPods Pro at higher cycling speeds (20 MPH) and great at lower speeds (10-15 MPH, the way you might ride off-road.)
Beats uses the same H1 chip as the AirPods Pro, so this feature is likely to be identical or close to it. The same transparency mode, which allows more outside sound to reach your ears - like cars, horns, pedestrians, is also available.
Fit and retention
Very rarely, I found the AirPods Pro could fall out of my ear. This usually happened when I brushed the AirPods with the strap of my helmet, and later in rides, when my ears were saturated with sweat and slippery sunscreen.
The design of the Beats Fit Pro appears to be more focused on athletic use, with the retention "wingtips" that might prevent them from falling out of the ear during running, cycling, or at the gym. That's an extra measure of safety to prevent loss or damage if you drop one, that athletes will appreciate. Beats Fit Pro are less likely to fall out of your ears compared with AirPods Pro.
A word about safety
It should go without saying, don't ride with headphones in a group or on the open road. You need all your senses in those environments. I only use headphones on trails closed to cars and more remote off-road locations, as well as on the indoor trainer. I'd recommend only using a product like the Beats Fit Pro or AirPods Pro when you're certain you don't need external audio cues - like solo climb up a dirt mountain road.
I was happy with the AirPods Pro for listening to music and podcasts while riding, but I'm likely going to give the Beats Fit Pro a try this time as an alternative. They seem to have the edge for sports use thanks to their wingtip design and larger battery for longer workouts.