Wireless Sports Audio Part 6 - Plantronics BackBeat FIT

November 18, 2016

Santa Cruz-based Plantronics have vast experience in headset development so it's good to see them come up with more consumer-centric products in 2016. Right now, we look at the Plantronics BackBeat FIT (USD 129.99 SGD 219), a pair of sports wireless earphones that were released some 2 years back and just refreshed in October 2016. Let's review the FIT and also check how different is the BackBeat FIT New Series from the original.
Plantronics BackBeat FIT New Series (2016) - Power Blue
BackBeat FIT New Series (2016) - Power Blue

BackBeat FIT New Series (2016) vs BackBeat FIT (2014)
The key difference is that the FIT New Series is now waterproof (IP57 rated) meaning you can dunk the buds up to 1 meter in the water and they'll still function whereas the original was P2i sweatproof coated. Apart from that, the FIT New Series comes in 5 refreshed colors - Power Blue, Sport Grey, Stealth Green, Fit Fuchsia and Black Core.  Oh, and there's a new design for the Call icon on the right bud. If you look at a specs comparison on their website, all else is roughly the same. 
BackBeat FIT New Series (2016)
BackBeat FIT New Series (2016)

Now that we've done the comparisons, let's look at the BackBeat FIT (original) in detail. 

Pros (+): Excellent fit; Decent sound; Ambient sound clearly heard with music; Very useful carry pouch / armband; App support.
Cons (-): Miniscule power knob; No dedicated volume down button; Head strap bobbing.

In the initial launch, there were 2 colors intuitively named Blue and Green. A red variant called Lava was added sometime after. 
Plantronics BackBeat FIT (2014) - Blue
Plantronics BackBeat FIT - Blue

You can pop open the lid like a book where you can see the buds through a transparent blister.  

The packaging contents contain:
  • Plantronics BackBeat FIT buds
  • Charging Cable (micro-USB)
  • Carry Pouch / Armband
  • Quick Start Guide
Plantronics BackBeat FIT Packaging Contents - Blue

The BackBeat FIT tips the scales at 24g, not the lightest out there but much on par with the Bose SoundSport Wireless and Beats Powerbeats3 Wireless. They have a unique design where you need to hook the buds over-the-ears and drape the cord around the back of your head where it dangles freely in mid-air. There are no other bud or fin sizes included though the default sizing worked just fine for me. You can actually swivel the bud and fin within a 20 degree range for added ear fit flexibility.
Plantronics BackBeat FIT - Blue

The neoprene carry pouch is very handy. There's a sleeve on the back and it can be opened up. What makes it special is that you can flip it inside out to make it transform into an armband so you can store your phone on your arm while jogging. Its reflective exterior makes it psychologically a little more assuring when jogging at night. 
Plantronics BackBeat FIT - Blue

The Plantronics has a P2i nano-coating that makes the unit sweat-proof. Jogging under light drizzle is also not a problem as I found out given that the unit is still fully functional.

There are 4 playback controls that come integrated on the left and right earbud exterior. Some controls may prove to be an issue with users with huge digits. The power (right side) and volume (left) functions are just a small protruding buttons above the much bigger circular call and play / pause buttons respectively. Another point is there is no dedicated volume down button so you have to press the volume button twice and hold, not exactly a simple task when you are jogging with gusto. 
Plantronics BackBeat FIT - Blue

Pairing over Bluetooth (3.0) is a straightforward process. Just hold the center button until the LED flashes red/blue, select 'PLT_BBFIT' from your mobile device and you're good to go. Alternatively, you can use the app to simplify the (already intuitive) pairing process. 

The voice and audio prompts do their job. You can check out the battery level and hear / view the LED if pairing is in progress.

Plantronics is indeed forward thinking. Manufacturers like Bose and Jaybird only started on apps in 2016 while the BackBeat had such support way back in 2014. The BackBeat FIT Companion is the app (iOS 8.2+ / Android 4.4.4+) that gives value added functionality. The current version (3.0) allows toggling between 8 languages and Bluetooth switching between your devices. Thankfully, the unit allows for firmware updates. All you need is to open the app and plug the charging cable to the FIT. The update will initiate and the LED indicator will flash purple. One example of an improvement? The voice prompt announcement was updated from 'Battery Level: High' to 'Listen Time: 8 hours', clearly more useful in evaluating whether to charge the unit. 

We test these sports earbuds in three areas when jogging:
1. Fit - Did it fit into the ears snugly? Did the weight of the cord tug on ears causing it to fall out?

2. Noise Isolation - We checked out the degree to which external noise is blocked. This is what you'd deem as 'passive noise cancelation'.

3. Microphonics - This is basically the sound of the cable rustle when there's any kind of friction, be it wind friction or the cord swishing when running.
Plantronics BackBeat FIT - Blue

Fit-wise, it takes a little while to get the buds around your head and ears due to the design of the fins and ear hooks. Once on, they are feel great. You can jump / jog and they don't come off and it gives a really assuring feeling that they won't fall off. The lengthy head strap allows flexibility with different head sizes but if there is excess, like in my case where I've smaller head (Asian sized :), you may feel the cord bobbing up and down though there is otherwise no microphonics.

The BackBeat FIT has an open eartip design that deliberately allows ambient sound to pass through quite clearly. That is their intention and with that, noise isolation is obviously minimal. 
Plantronics BackBeat FIT - Blue

The sound quality is pretty darn decent. I took these buds for a spin blasting Mansun's Wide Open Space (Perfecto Mix) and Chicane vs Keane's Wake Up. Bass and treble are pretty well balanced, sounding good in theory but if you're a basshead, the sound leakage due to the open sound design may leave you longing for more.

The Plantronics deliver an 8 hour battery life on a full charge of 2.5 hours, comparable with sports wireless buds like the UA Headphones Wireless (8 hours) and the Jaybird X2 Wireless (8 hours).  Alternatively, you can get 1 hour of playback on a 15 minute quick charge by connecting the charging cable to the micro-USB point, neatly hidden on the right earbud. There's even a DeepSleep mode where the unit hibernates when it's out of range of your music devices. 
Plantronics BackBeat FIT - Blue

The Plantronics BackBeat FIT is a great choice for joggers. The button actuation may take a while to get used to but it's a product that lives up to its namesake. The fit on a jog is outstanding and you get a good sound profile that allows loads of ambient sound through making you well aware of your surroundings. While the pricing was initially steep, it is now at a level that is much more agreeable.
Plantronics BackBeat FIT - Blue

The BackBeat FIT New Series is available on Amazon at USD 129.99 and it is coming soon to Singapore. 

The BackBeat FIT is available on Amazon from USD 82.95 and at Lazada.SG from SGD 108.90.

Wireless Sports Audio Series
Part 1 - Beats Powerbeats2 Wireless
Part 2 - Sony NW-WS413
Part 3 - UA Headphones Wireless - By JBL
Part 4 - Bose SoundSport Wireless
Part 5 - Jaybird Freedom Wireless F5
Part 6 - Plantronics BackBeat Fit 
Part 7 - The Verdict (TBA)

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