Plantronics BackBeat Fit review: Best in breed Bluetooth sports headphone
The $130 BackBeat Fit may not be perfect, but it's one of the best wireless sports headphones you can buy. It ships in April.
Over the years I've tried a fair number of wireless Bluetooth sports headphones and I've yet to come across one that's truly outstanding. Whether it's their performance or design, each model, even the best ones, tend to have some sort of niggling issue that keeps them from being universally appealing (with a product that involves the shape of your ears, it's hard to please everyone).
Plantronics BackBeat Fit, which comes in blue or lime green, may fall short of being outstanding, but it is better than most wireless sports headphones on the market. Also, it's pretty well priced so long as you find some added value in the inclusion of a reversible and reflective armband that secures your smartphone and doubles as a case for the headphones.
Design and Features
In contrast to Plantronics BackBeat Go 2 Bluetooth and Jaybird Gear BlueBuds X in-ear wireless sports headphones, the Fit's eartips aren't designed to be jammed all they way into your ears, sealing off the outside world. Rather, these are designed to let some ambient noise in so you can hear traffic if you're running or biking with them outside. Look closely and you'll see they resemble standard hard buds with a firm silicon covering that's that has a little loop on it that helps keep the earphone in your ear. While they're not quite as comfortable as Bose's SIE2 sports headphone (it's a wired model), the Fit is built around a similar concept of having a loser fit earbud with a silicon tip that keeps the bud locked in your ear.
The buds are connected with a flexible band and the whole package is sweat-proof. For me anyway, they fit securely and I though they were comfortable to wear after I fiddled around with the angle of the tip. True, anytime you have a headphone that you stick in your ear, it's not going to end up being a perfect fit for everyone. But Plantronics seems to have learned from its experience creating previous BackBeat wireless sports models, including the BackBeat 903+.
One key difference with these BackBeat Fit headphones is that they're lighter than Plantronics' previous sports models, weighing in at 24 grams (.85 ounces). While they're quite not as light as the BackBeat Go 2s, at times, you kind of forget you're wearing them. I say kind of because if you're jogging, the cord connecting the earpiece can end up bouncing up and down a bit. With the Jaybirds, you can adjust the cord length, though the system for doing so is pretty kluge. There's no cord adjustment with this model, though you could take a small rubberband and pinch the cord together to shorten it.
The cord movement bothered editor Dan Graziano, a fairly accomplished high-school long-distance runner, more than it did me. However, my primary concern when testing these types of headphones is making sure that they fit securely and comfortably while I'm running and I thought the Fits stood up well against the competition in that regard.
As far as extra features go, the armband/carrying case is the most notable item (as far as armbands go, it's quite decent, and should accommodate most non-phablet smartphones). The headphone can connect with up to eight devices through Bluetooth, and also doubles as a wireless headset thanks to a built-in microphone (call quality was good).
A play and pause button, along with volume controls, sit on the left earpiece, while the power and phone buttons are located on the right side. Additional controls, such as the ability to skip songs or go back, can be accessed with a long press or double tap of the play button. Charging, which should take about two and a half hours, is done through a Micro-USB port that can be accessed by lifting a small cover on the right earpiece (a USB cable is included).
Although small and lightwweight, the BackBeat Fit has decent battery life -- better than the BackBeat Go 2 anyway. While listening to music, the headphone is rated to last up to eight hours at moderate volume levels, or up to six hours of talk time. In standby they can last up to 14 days, while a "Deep Sleep" hibernation mode promises up to six months of battery life. That comes in handy should you not use the headphone for a while and suddenly decide you want to.
As for sound quality, I think most people will be pleased. For a Bluetooth headphone, the Fit sounds fairly detailed and delivers a decent amount of bass, particularly for an "open" earbud. However, that bass performance will dip in noisier environments (if you can't seal out ambient noise it will compete with your music and the bass takes the biggest hit). Also, the headphones do leak some sound.
The Fits aren't going to sound as good as some wired in-ear headphones in this price class. The Monster iSport Immersion and more expensive iSport Victory are both more dynamic and deliver bigger bass. However, those headphones are designed to be jammed into your ears.
At the end of the day, the important factors for me when listening to a wireless Bluetooth sports headphone are that the headphone doesn't sound muddy, is reasonably well balanced (the bass isn't pushed too much), and can play loud enough. The Fit easily cleared my lowered bar.
Since all our ears and heads are shaped differently, I can't guarantee that there won't be little things about the BackBeat Fit's design that bug you. Nor can I tell you how these headphones will hold up after months of intense use (I used them for two weeks). However, my impression after testing them is that they're one of the best wireless Bluetooth sports headphones available. Not only do they offer a comfortable, secure fit, but they sound decent and offer enough battery life to get you through a day.