The worlds of tech and high-end fashion collide with the newest iteration of Apple’s Powerbeats3 headphones.
The new $US250 Bluetooth headphones from Apple’s Beats by Dre brand were created in partnership with French fashion house Balmain (pronounced “ball-MON”), a high-end brand most famous these days for outfitting the likes of Kim Kardashian and Gigi Hadid. In fact, Kardashian’s little sister, Kylie Jenner, was the face of the campaign to promote these new headphones.
While Apple and Balmain created four products in total — Beats Studio over-ear headphones and the Powerbeats3, in two colours each — I had the chance to test the Powerbeats in khaki, a greenish-brown colour with gold accents. Other than the colour scheme and branding, the design and specs of the headphones are identical to the original Powerbeats3.
The Balmain collaboration isn’t the first fashion partnership for Apple — Fendi and Alexander Wang have created Beats headphones in the past — and after nearly three weeks spent testing the headphones, I’m hoping it’s not the last.
Here’s what they’re like:
The standard Powerbeats3 had never appealed to me before I tried the Balmain version because they seem designed with men in mind. The colour combinations can be too sporty for my taste, or just plain boring and uninspired.
But the Balmain Powerbeats are gorgeous -- if a little flashy. The khaki colour is stylish and on-trend, but is still neutral enough that you won't get sick of it. The gold accents lend a touch of luxury and make it clear that these headphones are Fashionable with a capital F.
There's a downside to all that gold, though: It's made out of plastic, and actually seems a little cheap up close. While metal would have made the headphones heavy and irritating, I wonder if having the gold being matte rather than super-shiny would have been a better choice.
I noticed a design issue with the headphones right away, and this applies to all Powerbeats headphones: The piece that wraps around your ear is great for holding things in place, but it isn't great if you're someone who tucks her hair behind her ears.
Obviously, this isn't deal-breaker, and if you tuck your hair behind your ears, then carefully put the headphones into place, you can make it work (see the photo above). But I quickly got the sense that these headphones aren't designed with women in mind, or they're designed solely for working out when you're wearing your hair back anyway. But if that's the case, it makes this particular style of headphones a strange choice for a fashion collaboration.
One of the best design decisions Balmain and Apple made was the addition of a carrying case. While Powerbeats usually come with a small rubber case, the Balmain edition comes with a suede zippered pouch emblazoned with the Balmain logo.
Having the pouch helped make the headphones seem more high-end, and also helped protect them from damage. Plus, it made them easier to find in my bag when I wanted to use them again, and prevented them from getting tangled up with the other things in my purse like my Apple earbuds usually do.
The case was an extra-special touch, one you would expect out of a fashion brand, but perhaps not a tech company. It was here that Balmain's influence shined through the most and elevated the headphones to a luxury product.
A few months ago, I tested out Apple's BeatsX wireless headphones, a somewhat similar pair of earbuds that arrived this year. At the time, I named them the best headphones for working out I'd ever tried.
But BeatsX are now going to have to take second place, because the Powerbeats are even better. By the end of a three-mile run on an August afternoon, the headphones hadn't budged. I'm so used to fiddling with headphones every few minutes, shoving them back in my ears when they slip out. But once you put the Powerbeats on, they're on. They didn't wiggle, shift, or pop out a single time over the course of my run, even though it was a hot day and I was fairly sweaty.
There's only one problem with using these as workout headphones: They're designer, and they cost $US250. I was initially hesitant to work out with them at all because it just felt wrong to sweat on Balmain. But I suppose that at the end of the day, these are just like regular Powerbeats with a few expensive design elements -- they can handle a little sweat.
Balmain's Powerbeats3 contain the same specs as standard Powerbeats, so you won't get an upgrade on the tech side. But if you've never used Powerbeats, you're in for a treat.
While not fully noise cancelling, the headphones were noise-reducing to the point of almost entirely eliminating external noise (the headphones come with four sets of tips, so you shouldn't have much of a problem creating a tight seal). When using them on the subway -- typically an incredibly noisy place -- I could barely hear anything happening around me, even when the volume on my music was turned low. The same went for using them to work out.
The sound quality itself is also impressive. While audiophiles probably won't be blown away, the sound is crisp and balanced, and like other Beats headphones, the Powerbeats are well-suited for hip-hop.
But where I was really blown away was the battery life. Apple promises 12 hours of battery life, but I've gotten much more. I've been using the headphones since July 31, and the only time I've charged them is the day I got them. While I haven't used them heavily -- like, say, on a long plane ride -- I've used them at least an hour a day, five days a week on my commute, and on the weekends to work out or listen to music.
In other words: I've been using the Powerbeats for 19 days on a single charge. If that alone doesn't make them worth $US250, I don't know what will.
There's only one major overall issue I found with the Powerbeats, but it's one that's based more on personal preference than anything else: The logos and branding.
While I'm a fashion devotee, I'm not exactly dressed head-to-toe in designer labels on a daily basis (or really ever, for that matter). I often felt a little silly wearing an outfit that cost less than $US250 in total, then donning pricey designer headphones. It was perhaps the most ridiculous when I was working out with them, since who really needs to wear luxury accessories while jogging?
But at its $US250 price point, the Powerbeats fall in the sweet spot between excessive and accessible. The headphones might be the cheapest Balmain product you can buy (seriously: a leather keychain costs double that), and they're not that much more expensive than other premium headphones.
So after testing the headphones for several weeks, I'm sold. They're fantastic headphones from a tech standpoint, and fashion-conscious consumers will be pleased by the designer touches. For just $US50 more than the regular price of Powerbeats3, consider treating yourself to the luxury version. Your ears and your fashion sense will thank you.