Powerful bass response matched with bright highs. Comfortable on-ear fit. Easy-to-operate controls. Sweat-resistant design.
No inline remote on the included cable.
- Bottom Line
If you like an on-ear fit and big bass response for your workouts, the wireless Plantronics BackBeat Fit 500 headphones get just about everything right.
There are far fewer fitness-friendly Bluetooth headphones on the market than there are in-ear options. Thankfully, Plantronics' BackBeat Fit 500 pair is a winner. For $99.99, audio performance is quite good, with thunderous bass balanced out by a sculpted high frequency response. And the moisture-resistant design manages to feel both comfortable and secure at the same time. That makes the BackBeat Fit 500 a solid overall value, and our Editors' Choice for exercise-focused Bluetooth headphones.
Available in black or black-and-teal models, the supra-aural (on-ear) BackBeat Fit 500 headphones have a generously cushioned memory foam headband and earpads for a comfortable fit over long listening periods. The headband has an angular, geometric contour that is striking, and the fit can be adjusted from ear to ear precisely using detents on each side. Despite the on-ear design, the fit is quite secure on the head and should stay in place during most exercise routines.
The outer panels of the earcups are a moisture-resistant matte rubber, which unfortunately acts like a magnet for dust. The good news is they can be easily cleaned, thanks to the water-resistant P2i nano-coating. Inside each earcup, 40mm drivers deliver the audio.
On the outer panel of the right earcup, there's a switch for power/Bluetooth pairing, and a button for answering or ending phone calls. A status LED is located in between these two controls. On the right earcup's outer panel, there are controls for play/pause, dedicated track navigation buttons, and a separate volume switch on the outer panel. (The volume levels work in conjunction with your mobile device's master volume levels.) Why so many manufacturers fail to create such a simple setup that doesn't combine multiple functions onto one button is a bit of a mystery—Plantronics succeeds in giving you all the controls you need in a graceful, easy-to-use design.
The headphones ships with a 3.5mm audio cable for wired, passive listening. The cable lacks an inline remote control or mic, so using it means answering calls and controlling playback and volume manually, as connecting the cable automatically powers down the headphones. In addition to the cable, the headphones ship with a short micro USB charging cord and a drawstring carrying pouch.
The mic offers above-average intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 6s, we could understand every word we recorded clearly without too much in the way of added audio artifacts—it's a crisp, clear microphone.
Plantronics estimates battery life to be roughly 18 hours, but your results will vary with your volume levels and your mix of wired and wireless playback.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife's "Silent Shout," the headphones deliver powerful bass depth that will appeal to those who are motivated by deep lows during their workouts. At top, unwise listening levels, the bass doesn't distort, and at more reasonable listening levels, the lows are still quite full, and reasonably balanced with the higher frequencies.
Bill Callahan's "Drover," a track with far less deep bass in the mix, tells us a little more about the BackBeat Fit 500's overall sound signature. The drums on this track sound almost thunderous here—these same drums can sound thin on less bass-boosted headphones. So, the headphones definitely boost the lows beyond levels that will appeal to purists, but there is a strong high-mid and high frequency presence as well. In other words, this is an exceptionally sculpted sound signature that manages to balance out the boosting by doing it on both ends of the frequency range.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild," the kick drum loop gets an ideal amount of high-mid presence, allowing its attack to retain its punchy edge and cut through the layers of the mix. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with serious depth—bass lovers will be thrilled. And yet, the booming lows don't overwhelm the mix—the vocals on this track are delivered with solid high frequency clarity and little added sibilance.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary, have more bass boosting than will appeal to most classical music fans, but it's not egregious—the lower instrumentation just takes a notable step forward in the mix. The higher register brass, strings, and vocals still retain their brightness through the BackBeat Fit 500, but the lower register instrumentation plays more of a noticeable role and less of a supporting one.
If you're looking for accurate, audiophile-grade sonic performance, look elsewhere. However, if you like boosted bass during your workouts and want an on-ear fit that will stay in place without issue, look no further than the Plantronics BackBeat Fit 500. In terms of competition, we also like the Jabra Move Wireless and Urbanears Active Hellas, but neither pair is quite as gym-friendly. If you want to go the in-ear route, the Jaybird X3 and JBL Reflect Mini BT are both solid options for roughly the same price. As far as on-ear headphones go, though, the BackBeat Fit 500 earn our Editors' Choice.
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About the Author
Tim Gideon Contributing Editor, Audio
Contributing Editor Tim Gideon has been writing for PCMag since 2006. He specializes in reviewing audio products, and is obsessed with headphones, speakers, and recording gear.