Sub-par volume controls
Brawn over brain. That’s the Plantronics BackBeat FIT in a nutshell. The company, headquartered in Santa Cruz, Calif., conceived the BackBeat PRO 2 back in 2016. However, we’re here to discuss the BackBeat FIT, which have made it on our Best Wireless Bluetooth Headphones for Running and Best Workout Earbuds of 2017 lists. Not an easy feat to accomplish. Though the FIT don’t supply the best audio quality or battery life, they’re damn good at being workout earbuds. These guys will be able to accompany you through any training session. An IP57 rating and flexible form means that these can survive it all.
Out of the Box
“Stable, comfortable fit, sweat and waterproof*, smartphone armband,” reads the front of the package. Affixed with silver accents, the box echoes the reflective safety material used on the back of the headband. As you remove the packaging, you’ll see the branded armband that contains the BackBeat FIT and charging cable.
Build & Design
The BackBeat FIT are the cockroach of the headphone world. They may not look it, but they can withstand anything. Flexible silicone wraps around the back of the head and can be twisted any which way. Arguably the best feature of these headphones are their IP57 rating. These were put through their paces. I subjected the ‘buds to running water, complete submergence and dragging them against the unfinished basement floor in the hopes that dust would collect (spoiler: it did). The FIT handled all of it like a champ.
The BackBeat FIT are the cockroach of the headphone world. They may not look it, but they can withstand anything.
What’s more, the one-size-fits-all style will please outliers with large craniums. If your head is average-sized though, you may find the extra silicone flopping around to be a bit unsightly. On the plus side, it does feature a reflective coating to maintain nighttime visibility. This bodes well for the FIT as a safety-first pair of headphones. However, since the ear tips don’t create a seal, awareness comes at the expense of sound quality. Although not immediately apparent, you can toggle the volume: repeatedly press the plastic nub on the left earbud to increase volume and hold to decrease it. Odd but functional. Thankfully, the standard controls are much more intuitive and are depicted iconographically.
Now, for the ear hooks. While still offering some give, they are noticeably sturdier than the headband. Thanks to seventh grade science class, I know that my ears are 2.5 inches tall, pretty average for a female. Yet, the hooks still manage to peak above my helix. Ears on the small end of the spectrum may have trouble keeping the FIT in place. That said, the anchored funnel design of the ear tips combat a wobbly fit.
An easy pairing process makes getting started with the BackBeat FIT a breeze. Although, after just a few weeks and connection drops are becoming increasingly frequent. This rarely happened in the first couple of weeks. Now that the honeymoon phase has worn off, the FIT have a difficult time staying connected. While listening to Spotify or Youtube, the audio occasionally goes blank before saying, “not connected.” To resume playback, I have to quit and relaunch Spotify. For $90, I expect a connection more stable than my high school relationships.
For $90, I expect a connection more stable than my high school relationships.
Fortunately, these did seem to have less trouble with my phone. Since these will be paired with your mobile device more often than not, that’s a sorta-plus for connectivity. Still though, disappointing. On the other hand, the microphone made my voice audible and clear, thanks to whisper mode. When recording a snippet of conversation with a friend, the FIT noticeably reduced his voice (8 feet away). The performance is ideal for people who plan on talking in busy spaces like a coffee shop, grocery store or the gym.
Battery life is okay for workout-oriented ‘buds. Clocking in around seven hours, charger searches won’t happen more than once a week. Reaching a full charge does require two hours of patience, but at least they included a few battery-oriented features to boot. For one, pressing the power button (nub on right earpiece) prompts the listening time to be read aloud. Additionally, like the Grizzly bear, the FIT go into hibernation mode. This allows an extended six months of deep sleep time. Insane. Hibernation mode is activated when they’re left on but away from the source device for more than 10 minutes. Regarding standard standby mode, they last 14 days.
The FIT support A2DP standard sub-band coding (SBC). What does this mean? Your audio quality will be fine. It won’t be as good as the proprietary aptX codec, but it’ll do. The 13mm speakers get loud at a measured 105 dB, but, as Yoda once said, loudness doesn’t a fine sounding headphone make.
Unlike most workout headphones, the bass is weak. For those who may not know, seal is imperative to a solid low end. The FIT can’t deliver due to its non-sealed form factor. I suppose that’s why Plantronics chose to make these loud as a way of compensating. To give you an idea of the bass, Ed Sheeran’s “Barcelona,” which has a fun, poppy bass line, is unexpectedly transformed into an A Capella rendition with the FIT speakers driving the song.
As Yoda once said, loudness doesn’t a fine sounding headphone make.
The mids are the most transparent part of the sound signature but could be improved. It’s like viewing at a photo at 80 percent opacity. You can see the whole picture. You get it. But it’s not quite there.
“The Way It Goes” by Hippocampus is one of my favorite songs and vocals are reproduced fairly well, although a little distant. Generally speaking, mids are flat, absent of the fun dynamism from Jake Luper, Nathan Stocker and Whistler Allen’s harmonies. Like I said, it was enough that I knew they were harmonizing, but it wasn’t satisfying.
Oh Wonder’s “Midnight Moon,” leaves me missing the ornate, twangy highs that elicit an introspective state. Unfortunately, when played through the BackBeat FIT, they’re one-dimensional. The mids pull a lot of weight when reproducing this song and quite possibly save it by accurately throwing Josephin Gucht’s voice front and center.
The BackBeat FIT will never be known for audiophile-level sound quality, but Plantronics sure knows how to manufacture outstanding workout headphones. This pair have seen it all: water, dust, sweat and being lugged around at the bottom of my bag for weeks. How do they look? Just as nice as when they arrived. For the athlete look to end the search for durable headphones, the Plantronics BackBeat FIT are virtually indestructible.