AirPods vs. Powerbeats Pro vs. Galaxy Buds: Which survived our water test?


Angela Lang/Techhnews

Most wireless earbuds aren’t designed for swimming, but a few sprinkles or a sweaty workout may be fair game in some cases. Apple’s AirPods and Powerbeats and Samsung’s Galaxy Buds offer varying levels of water resistance (or none at all in the case of the AirPods), but rather than take Apple and Samsung’s word for it, we decided to put them through some real-world water tests to find out how much water, sweat and laundry detergent (hint hint) they can handle.

Apple’s Powerbeats are technically the most durable with an official rating of IPX4 which makes them sweat and water resistant, but the charging case offers no such protection. 

The Samsung Galaxy Buds have an IPX2 rating which means they can handle a few splashes, a little sweat, and even the occasional spill according to Samsung, but again, this doesn’t cover the case and is a step behind the durability offered by the Powerbeats

AirPods are the underdogs in this scenario because they are not rated for anything water related, at least not officially, because (spoiler alert) our tests tell a different story. 

What they can actually handle?

The sweat challenge

When you’re working out, the last thing you want to worry about is if your earbuds will survive an intense gym session or a sweaty run, which is exactly what both the Powerbeats Pro and Galaxy Buds are designed to withstand. To test the claims, Lexy and I took simulating a sweaty workout at the gym. We wore each pair of earphones and sprayed each other in the face with water until droplets trickled down the sides of our heads. For the record, the AirPods weren’t meant to be tested this way. 

screen-shot-2019-06-29-at-9-18-30-pm

Spraying the Galaxy Buds to simulate a sweaty workout. 


John Kim / Techhnews

Since we were wearing the earphones, only the exterior came into contact with water. After about five sprays each, we took the buds out of our ears, dried them off (and the wingtips if applicable) which is what Apple and Samsung recommend doing immediately after any water exposure. 

Right after drying them we tested out the bluetooth connection, audio quality, and microphones on each by pairing them to their respective phones, playing music and recording audio from the microphone. 

Bluetooth connection

Audio Quality

Microphone

Powerbeats Pro

Yes

Good  

Worked 

Galaxy Buds 

Yes

Good 

Worked 

AirPods

Yes

Good 

Worked

Given the IP ratings, we expected the Powerbeats Pro and Galaxy Buds to survive this first test, which they did. But the AirPods, our wild card, surprisingly lived to fight another day after passing all three tests with flying colors. 

The dunk challenge

Once they had proved they could hold up to the claim, we decided to push all three beyond their limits with a dunk test. Accidents happen, whether it’s dropping your buds in the sink while doing the dishes, or watching them fall out of your back pocket into the toilet (gasp)we knew we just had to submerge these little guys under water.

We dunked each pair into a clear fish bowl with a foot of water for five seconds. It’s worth noting that the AirPods went about two seconds over because of bad time-keeping on our part. We just love pushing the AirPods beyond what they are designed to do.

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Submerging the Powerbeats Pro in about 1 ft of water. 


John Kim / Techhnews

After fishing each pair out, we dried all of them off again and used the same three parameters we used in the first challenge to assess the damage. 

Bluetooth Connection

Audio Quality 

Microphone

Powerbeats Pro

Yes

Good

Worked

Galaxy Buds

Yes

Good 

Worked 

AirPods

Yes

Good 

Worked

Surprisingly all three pairs of buds survived the dunk test, with minimal or no damage. Additional damage may materialize over time, but at least initially they all seemed fine.

Both Apple and Samsung have clear warnings on their websites stating you should never intentionally submerge their Bluetooth earphones in water, so definitely don’t try this at home. But if you accidentally do, there’s a good chance they might survive based on our results. 

The washing machine test

After two rounds of testing and no clear winner, we had no choice but to raise the stakes and put them through the ringer (literally). We took them all to the laundromat to reenact another common earbud accident: a trip through the wash.

We took each set of buds out of their cases and zipped them up in a jacket pocket before throwing them into separate washing machines with a few more items that needed washing. All three machines were set on a normal 30-minute cycle with cold water and laundry detergent.  

screen-shot-2019-06-29-at-9-32-14-pm

All three earbuds went through a full 30-minute laundry cycle.


John Kim / Techhnews

Once the thirty minutes were up and the spinning had winded down, we took them out and dried them off. At this point, they had all been compromised after going through multiple water encounters. But they still managed to surprise us. 

All three paired seamlessly to their respective phones off the bat. The Powerbeats had the best sound quality of the three, with little to no difference in the music playback test. The microphone, however, sounded more subdued in our audio recording at least at the beginning of the clip.

The Galaxy Buds, on the other hand, fared the best in terms of the microphone, but they were the worst in terms of playback quality. The left side was nearly inaudible and the right side sounded faint even with the volume cranked to the max. 

The AirPods landed somewhere in between. One of them had lost a lot of volume, and the other one sounded a bit compromised as well, but they still played music and sounded louder than the Galaxy Buds. The microphone was a bit muffled, but nothing too serious. 

Bluetooth Connection

Audio Quality 

Microphone

Powerbeats Pro

Yes

Good 

Compromised. Cut out a bit at the beginning and sounded muffled. 

Galaxy Buds 

Yes

Compromised. Only one side was playing music and sound soft and muffled.  

Worked

AirPods 

Yes

Compromised. Sounded muffled with low volume on one side. 

OK. Sounded muffled. 

To give all of the earbuds a fighting chance, we let them dry out for 48 hours before testing them again to make sure as much moisture evaporated as possible. After checking that all the earbuds were dry, we recharged each pair in their case.

The most water-resistant bluetooth earbuds are…  

After 48 hours we ran all the tests again. The microphone issue we’d had previously experienced with the Powerbeats was at this point nearly imperceptible. They were back to sounding almost as good as new (at least to our ears, an audio expert may disagree). 

The Galaxy Buds sounded a bit louder than before, but there was still barely any sound coming from the left side. The AirPods had a better recovery: both had decent volume, although the music didn’t sound as crisp as before all of our water challenges and the audio clip recorded from the microphone still sounded muffled. 

Bluetooth Connection

Audio Quality 

Microphone

Powerbeats Pro

Yes

Good

Worked

Galaxy Buds

Yes

Compromised. One side was still barely audible and needed full volume to hear both. 

Worked

AirPods

Yes

OK. Music didn’t sound as clear, but had normal volume levels.

OK. Sounded muffled. 

With the highest IP rating amongst the three wireless headphones we tested, it’s no surprise that the Powerbeats Pro performed the best overall. The Galaxy Buds seemed to have the least amount of damage occur to its microphones, but the buds themselves only played sound on one side. Even then, we had to crank the volume to its maximum level to hear much at all.

The AirPods were the outliers of the bunch given they aren’t rated for sweat or water and turned out to be the biggest surprise in our test. After all of our testing, they didn’t sound as good as when we first took them out of the box, but they are certainly still usable even after going through the wash. 

All this said though, we may have gotten extremely lucky in our results, so best not to try ANY of this at home. 

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