Plenty of people listen to music when they're working out. But cords can get tangled, headbands can get twisted and earbuds can fall out. Fitness is the perfect application for a high-quality Bluetooth headset, and the Plantronics BackBeat FIT wants to be the pair of headphones you take running, walking or for heading out to the gym.
What Is It?
The $159 Plantronics BackBeat FIT, available from today in Rebel stores, and more widely around the country in the next couple of weeks, is a battery-powered, Bluetooth headset comprised of two wraparound earbuds and a flexible rubberised neckband. It's available in two colours — black and lime green, and black and ice blue — and is designed for wear during exercise or any other activity that might see you bouncing around a lot. Plantronics claims the colours are a "safety-oriented design"
The BackBeat FIT has an internal battery capable of eight hours of listening time and six hours of talk time using the headset's internal microphone. It charges using a microUSB connector on the left earbud, and a charging cable, but no AC power adapter, is included in the retail box.
Distributed across the two earbuds, a set of controls dominated by a large phone call answer/hang-up button on the left and play/pause on the right let you control every aspect of the BackBeat FIT's playback. The button layout and usage takes some learning — press and hold the play/pause button to change the volume, for example — but it's easy enough with a little practice.
What Is It Good At?
Sports earbuds generally sacrifice a huge amount of sound quality for the ability to resist water and dust and sweat and other environmental concerns, but the BackBeat FIT is surprisingly capable when it comes to actually listening to music or making calls. It should come as no shock that it's not the most capable music-listening headset nor does it have the most capable wireless microphone, but at the same time it is pretty good for the wide range of tasks required of it.
The sound that the Plantronics BackBeat FIT produces is not especially musical — there's no deep, booming bass and no huge amount of detail in the midrange or treble — but for listening to the regular stable of workout tunes it does a perfectly adequate job. There's enough bass to make beat-driven electronic music or pop a worthwhile listen, and enough midrange clarity that vocals and acoustic music isn't drowned out by other frequencies. Treble detail is a little recessed compared to other tones, but if you're not critically listening to classical music while you're pumping iron this shouldn't be a huge concern.
Battery life, too, is up to spec and perfectly adequate for Plantronics' claims of a week of workouts. After having the BackBeat FIT for a couple of weeks (and substituting a week of workouts for two weeks of sedentary commuting, mostly), I managed around seven and a half hours of listening time, with a tiny amount of calls thrown into the mix as well. This is about what you'd expect, and the weekly recharge should fit well into the lives of those that like to have a set schedule.
While Plantronics doesn't explicitly advertise the BackBeat FIT as waterproof — the company's wording is "protected against sweat and moisture" — the P2i coating on the headphones does a good job of keeping the headset free of dust and oil and sweat from a workout. After an especially sweaty run I cleaned the FIT by running it under warm water, with no ill effects. You probably can't submerge them and expect them to survive, but the BackBeat FIT will stand up to sweat or rain or a quick post-run shower. The carry case, which converts to a smartphone armband, is a nice extra inclusion.
The fit of the FIT, too, is worth mentioning. Over-the-ear, wraparound earphones are rarely especially comfortable, especially if you have big ears or an oddly-shaped head — I'm not sure I have either, but I'm aware there are those that do — but the BackBeat FIT is actually quite good for extended periods of wear. A lot of this has to do with the headphones' soft rubberised coating, which doesn't cut into the top of your ears when you're wearing them like some other wraparound models. Plus, having no dangling cords is a huge bonus if you don't like the annoying microphonics of regular earphone cables.
What Is It Not Good At?
The around-the-ear, behind-the-neck design of the BackBeat FIT is just about as comfortable as you could want a pair of sports earphones to be. There's no adjustability beyond the small range of circular movement in the silicone eartips, though, which means that someone with a larger neck or head might find the positioning of the behind-the-neck cable a little tight or uncomfortable. This is down to the individual wearer, though — it would be nice if there was a 'try before you buy' option to check the fit.
Maximum volume out of the Plantronics BackBeat FIT is not especially loud, which makes sense for anyone wearing the headphones running in public, in traffic or at night, but might be an inconvenience for anyone that wants to use them at the gym to block out whatever Top 40 chart hit is blaring out over the PA. Getting to the right volume by pressing or holding the play/pause button can also take a bit of trial and error.
To the same end, the headphones are an open design, which is a safety consideration — you can't hear a car driving along with headphones that block you away from the outside world — but the amount of ambient noise that gets into the BackBeat FIT might be annoying if you have to raise the overall volume to compensate. Given that the max volume isn't especially high, this might be worth considering before you purchase the FIT.
Not being properly waterproof makes me slightly cautious of the overall durability of the BackBeat FIT, but this is something you'll have to balance against your own usage. Plantronics provides a one-year warranty on the BackBeat FIT, which is in line with other sports headphones I'm aware of, but it would have been nicer to see a two-year or longer warranty on a headphone that is ostensibly rugged and designed for active use.
Should You Buy It?
If you need a pair of headphones specifically designed for sports or active use, and you don't want to put up with a cabled model that might tangle, and if you meet every other caveat that the BackBeat FIT requires, then it's a good and entirely capable choice.
The $159 asking price is reasonable, and Plantronics has a solid history in headsets and wireless tech. I'm interested to see how the tiny internal battery stands up to extended use, but apart from that I have no real qualms about recommending the BackBeat FIT to anyone who wants to listen to music while exercising without cords getting in the way.