Beats Fit Pro Are Good Alternatives to Third-Generation AirPods
New AirPods are met with fanfare, but new releases from earbud and headphone maker Beats By Dre tend to garner less attention even though the company is an Apple subsidiary (see “The Ultimate Guide to Choosing Apple/Beats Audio Gear,” 19 July 2021).
So I’ll understand if you haven’t heard about the Beats Fit Pro earbuds, which came out just a week after Apple’s third-generation AirPods (see “Apple Unveils Third-Generation AirPods, Tweaks HomePod mini and Apple Music,” 18 October 2021 and “First Impressions of the Third-Generation AirPods,” 14 November 2021).
But it is time to focus up (as Ted Lasso would say) because there are good reasons that the $199 Beats Fit Pro, not the $179 AirPods, may be your next Apple earbuds.
For an up-to-date comprehensive overview of the Apple earbud landscape, consult a mega-chart I created to compare features found on Apple and Beats audio products (including recently discontinued ones of historical interest).
AirPods Under the Hood
With the Beats Fit Pro, you won’t get the iconic AirPods look. They have a more understated appearance, similar to that of the Beats Studio Buds, released in June 2021.
But the Fit Pro buds are essentially AirPods under the hood, more so than the Studio Buds, which used an oddball MediaTek TWS chip that limited their Apple-centric capabilities. The Fit Pro buds use the H1 chip that is standard on all AirPods models, enabling such features as audio sharing, one-touch pairing, auto-switching among Apple devices, and hands-free Siri access.
The Fit Pro buds also boast other advanced AirPods features, including:
- Adaptive EQ to fine-tune playback based on how the earbuds are positioned in the ear
- Spatial audio with head tracking
- A new skin-detection feature from the third-generation AirPods that improves how playback automatically pauses and restarts when the earbuds are removed and reinserted
The Fit Pro buds depart from the AirPods aesthetic in obvious ways. They’re available in purple, gray, white, and black, for one thing.
They also dispense with the AirPods classic downward-pointing microphone stem, incorporating a subtler bulge similar to that on the Studio Buds. That’s where you’ll find a physical button to deal with phone calls and music playback, as with the Studio Buds. This button is quite different from the force sensor squeeze controls found on the third-generation AirPods’ stem (and on the older, pricier AirPods Pro). I love the force sensor, and I find the Beats button a bit clunky and too easy to engage accidentally, but I’m getting used to it.
That stem absence makes the Fit Pro buds incredibly compact (and thereby easier to lose, so be careful). Beats claims to provide its “smallest enclosure ever” even though the Fit Pro cram in 30% more components. The charging case is reasonably sized but a bit bigger than that of the third-generation AirPods.
In a nod to athletes, Beats added flexible, curved “wingtips” to the earbuds so they stay firmly seated during even frenetic workouts. My tips delicately fit within the cupped areas of my ears called the cymba conchae, adjacent to the ear canal, and no amount of head-shaking could dislodge them.
Beats could have offered interchangeable wingtips in various sizes, as other earbud makers have done. Instead, it made them one-size-fits-all and incorporated them into the button bulge. The company claims to “deliver the optimal flexibility for earbud stability and comfort on any ear shape or size.” We’ll see if that’s true now that Fit Pro buds are broadly available.
I find the wingtips to be a bit uncomfortable, but I think I will get used to them.
The Fit Pro buds stay firmly wedged in my ears for another reason: they include silicone ear-canal tips similar to those on the Studio Buds and AirPods Pro for creating a good seal and passive noise cancellation. As with the other models, the Fit Pro buds include three ear tip sets in several sizes for the best fit. The H1 chip enables the now-familiar ear tip test to ensure a good fit. The third-generation AirPods have none of this.
Certain Fit Pro audio features borrowed from the AirPods Pro also give them an advantage over the third-generation AirPods.
These include active noise cancellation for blocking out external sounds in tandem with the passive cancellation provided by the silicone ear tips and the complementary transparency mode for letting in external audio so you’re more aware of your surroundings. You activate these modes with long presses on either mechanical button. When neither mode is enabled, the Fit Pro buds default to Adaptive EQ.
Transparency mode works pretty well, but I find the Fit Pro’s active noise cancellation mediocre. It doesn’t really cancel out background noise, such as the running water from the kitchen faucet as I wash the dishes or the loud hum inside the family car when I’m riding shotgun as my wife drives. Such background noise just becomes more subdued.
But the Fit Pro’s active noise cancellation is better than nothing and thus better than the third-generation AirPods. It lets me use the Fit Pro buds in noisy surroundings, such as on a bus or train, where the AirPods would be all but worthless.
It’s also worthwhile to highlight categories in which the third-generation AirPods have an edge.
MagSafe is one example. The charging case for the third-generation AirPods adds magnetic adhesion to the previous wireless charging capability. The Fit Pro’s charging case lacks wireless charging, forcing you to charge via a USB-C port built into the case.
Moisture protection is another. The Fit Pro buds boast an IPX4 rating to shield against sweat and water splashes, as do the third-generation AirPods. However, the Fit Pro’s charging case lacks this protection, while the third-generation AirPods case can withstand moisture.
Plus, there’s Find My support. As with other Apple-manufactured audio products, you can make the Fit Pro buds beep if you misplace them. You can also pinpoint them on a map with their current position if they are turned on and within Bluetooth range, or their last-known position if they are out of range or their batteries are dead.
But the third-generation AirPods support the more sophisticated Find My network features that have trickled down from higher-end AirPods products. Nearby Apple devices can help locate them, like an AirTag, so they are easier to retrieve. A proximity view on the iPhone screen does a more precise job of guiding you toward an errant earbud. And you can set up separation alerts in case you leave your AirPods behind. (That said, I’ve struggled to get the proximity view working reliably on my iPhone 13 Pro Max, which hasn’t been a problem for me when tracking down AirTags.)
The Beats Go On
If deviating from the iconic AirPods aesthetic isn’t a dealbreaker, there is a strong case to be made for the Fit Pro earbuds. Exterior appearances aside, the Fit Pro buds feel like Apple products through and through, thanks to the H1 chip found in all AirPods models. Their wingtip design ensures they’ll stay in your ears during workouts, and while their charging case lacks moisture protection and MagSafe, neither of those is a dealbreaker. They include customizable ear tips and provide both active noise cancellation and transparency mode.
At $199, they’re only $20 more than the third-generation AirPods, which are less capable in many ways. In fact, the Fit Pro buds come close to feature parity with the AirPods Pro—for $50 less.
So if you have been planning to plunk down money for either the third-generation AirPods or the AirPods Pro, give the Beats Fit Pro a hard look first. You might find them to be a better option.
I am getting these ear buds for Christmas (one of the few expensive Apple products I feel that I can ask my wife to get me) - so I haven’t used them yet. Regarding the note that the noise reduction is not very good. I am currently using the Apple AirPods Pro, and my experience has been that their noise reduction is also poor. (It was great until after the first firmware update.). My AirPods Pro batteries are weakening so I figured I would get something new.
I am a long-time user of Apple’s wired earbuds, including some that I got for way less than Apple’s list price from Newegg and other online vendors. (I now think that some may have been counterfeits but they looked and sounded good to me, especially for 1/3 or less cost.) I even got a new iPhone 6S a few years ago mainly because it was the last model that doesn’t require a Lightening port version or adapter.
But recently I have been considering trying Bluetooth earbuds. Even though I can afford Apple’s price, I have trouble paying so much for a device with such a short usable life. And I use my earbuds a lot mainly listening to podcasts.
I am considering trying the Nothing ear 1. They are only $99 and a reviewer that I consider to be reputable says that while they don’t sound quite as good as Apple’s AirPods, they are darn close and comfortable too. I am not nearly as hesitant to risk $99 vs. $179 or more for my decidedly non-audiophile requirements.
Does anyone have first-hand experience with the ear 1?
I wanted to like these, but the wing tip hurt my very small ears. Glad that there’s a return policy (in my case, 30 days from Target).
No experience with the ear(1), aside from reading iFixit’s teardown.
How wireless do you require? My wife has been very happy with the Beats Flex headphones. They are Bluetooth, but the left and right earpieces are wired together. It has pretty good battery life, and they’re relatively inexpensive for a Bluetooth headset that isn’t an el-cheapo knockoff.
The potential gotcha is that they charge via a USB-C connector. A short cord (USB C-to-C) is included, but no charger. If you don’t have a charger (or computer) with a USB-C port, you’ll need to buy one or get a USB A-to-C cable/adapter.
I have Beats Flex as well and they are fine. Not my favorite sounding earbuds, but they do the job.
One other benefit: like AirPods and some other Beats devices, they are simple to pair, and pairing with one device automatically pairs them to all other Apple devices using the same Apple ID (so they instantly paired to my iPad, my watch, and all of my Apple TV’s). Unlike AirPods, though, they won’t automatically switch devices. You have to choose to make them active with a particular device.
David, I don’t know how much wireless I need because whatever I choose will be my first wireless audio ear devices. . .
I really appreciate the iFixit link. The main thing I noticed about the ear (1) is that the button battery may actually be replaceable, except it requires an owner who has the dexterity, tools and cajones to give it a go.
On the other hand, the AirPods 2 battery is probably unavailable to the public. And I, for one, would not endeavor to tear apart those over-priced babies.
Here is an article about the short life of modern electronic devices featuring Apple’s AirPods : Your AirPods Probably Have Terrible Battery Life - The Atlantic
What I mean is whether you want something like the AirPods, where the two earpieces are completely detached from any kind of wire or something like the Flex, where they are connected to each other with a wire, but have a wireless connection to your phone.
Similarly, devices like AirPods charge wirelessly when they are placed in their case (which, in turn may charge wirelessly or via a USB cable), whereas the Flex charges via a USB cable directly to the headset.
This is, of course, a personal preference. If you don’t know which you’d prefer, then see if you can try out each style (possibly if you know anybody else that owns some). Otherwise, you’ll have to take a guess and see how much you like it.
I’m interested in the Fit Pro for exactly the reasons mentioned: a more fitness focused AirPod Pro. I don’t care about the Pro features, but the old apple hard plastic wired earbuds always hurt after 20 min of use, so I have been hesitant to try any of the AirPod models. The main appeal of the pros was the multi-sized soft inserts, vs hard plastic.
One feature on the Pros that seems to be missing on the Fit Pros that I rarely see mentioned is the pressure valve. Does anyone have any experience with this, as in it’s actually useful? I’m asking because as a long-time scuba diver, the idea of having a system to equalize when the buds have sealed the ear tightly seems useful to me, but no idea if it actually is helpful. It’s the only missing feature on the Fit Pros that I wonder about.
I’m thinking of replacing my 1st gen AirPods with these or the 3rd gen AirPods, and the big reason is battery life and particularly how they do in frigid conditions – mine die quite quickly in the cold, even stuck in my nice warm ear canals. I can work around it by sticking them back in the case and stuffing the case in my pocket (alternating pods for continuous listening) but if one of the new models will work better on my cold runs/walks I’d go with that one… anyone regularly in the minus teens or twenties Celsius have some insights? A quick search of reviews didn’t turn up much mention of “cold.”
The battery on your 1st gen AirPods is in the stems. Those are outside of your ear where they don’t get warmed up by your body and hence the reduction in battery life.
3rd gen AirPods like the 1st gen Air Pods Pro have a battery up around the earbuds (x-ray image courtesy of iFixit below), much closer to your ear and body heat. I would expect these to therefore perform better in cold environments.
Thanks, that gives me hope
Still going to have to see about fit in a store when it seems safe, but that does look good. I guess there is no stem for the battery to be hidden in for the Beats Fit…
Sorry for reviving an old thread, but I just bought a pair last week after the Plantronics earbuds (BT with a wire that runs behind your head connecting the two buds) that I’ve been using for workouts lost battery capacity after 5 years (the battery once lasted about 7 hours; now they last about two hours.) The insulation over the wire is starting to fray as well. I loved those Plantronics; too bad they don’t make them anymore.
Anyway, Beats Fit Pro - fantastic replacement so far. One thing that I loved about the Plantronics is that they were relatively open-ear, so sounds like cars coming from behind while walking or running were easy to distinguish. Transparency mode on the BFP is even better. I hear birds singing, I even hear neighbors in their driveways 35’ away saying hello as I walk by. The two roads that cross at the ends of my road are very busy, and I can quickly put on noise cancellation so that the trucks and cars going by don’t drown out the podcasts I am listening to when I get there for the few seconds I am near the traffic. The wingtips are very comfortable - I can wear these for hours with absolutely no discomfort. Seamless transition among my devices, including to my Apple Watch, is also great; I walked this morning without my phone for the first time in a long time and the watch played podcasts just fine.
I haven’t used the microphone (except for Siri) yet, but I’m planning to use them for a Zoom meeting I have on Saturday morning. And “hey Siri, volume up” - works great.
Noise cancelation isn’t perfect, but it’s more than good enough. On the exercise bike it makes the sound of the bike almost disappear, and because of that I’m able to keep the volume lower. And, as I said, it makes traffic noise so faint that I again no longer need to volume up when I encounter it. I won’t be flying again until August, so I won’t be able to compare them to my old Bose noise cancelling earbuds unti then.
I’ve had one issue, and it was just yesterday morning - I put the buds in and went to play from phone and the Beats weren’t connected, and weren’t even in the list of devices in Settings / Bluetooth. I had to long-press the button in the case to re-pair them to my phone (which then said that they weren’t mine and asked if I wanted to pair them). I hope that doesn’t happen again.
Despite that glitch, I’m very happy that I bought these.
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