Carrying pouch features rechargeable battery. Open design allows you to hear your surroundings. Waterproof.
Subpar audio performance. So-so mic intelligibility. Only ships with one pair of eartips.
- Bottom Line
The Plantronics BackBeat Fit Boost Edition headphones may carry an extra charge in their pouch, but are priced far too high for the audio experience they deliver.
The Plantronics BackBeat Fit Boost Edition earphones aren't particularly novel, but their carrying case is—it features a battery for charging up on the go. Otherwise, the $159.99 earphones are pretty average—and expensive—compared with our favorite exercise-focused neckband-style in-ear pairs. You might not get a charging case, but you can definitely get a pair with better sound for less money.
Available in black-and-green, gray-and-black, or blue-and-black designs, the earphones feature a rubbery, flexible neckband that loops up over the ears and fastens on to help maintain stability. The flexible over-the-ear design can be a slight challenge with chunkier glasses, but the fit is quite secure—that is, the on-ear fit, as there is no in-canal seal to speak of.
There's only one pair of eartips included, which is a definite negative for the price. And while the tips have a nozzle that rests against the outside of the ear canal, they don't actually seal it off. Plantronics calls this an open design, so that you can hear your surroundings more clearly while you exercise. It's a feature that may be attractive to joggers, but there's no reason to ship with only one pair of eartips.
The left earpiece's outer panel houses buttons that control playback, call management, and track navigation. There's also a dedicated volume button, with bizarre functionality—you press it quickly to raise volume levels (which work in conjunction with your mobile device's master volume levels), and press and hold it to lower levels. The right earpiece's large button answers and ends phone calls, while its smaller button is for power/pairing.
The earphones have an IP57 rating, so they're protected from dust and can be submerged in water up to a meter. They'll definitely be able to handle your sweat and being rinsed off.
Other than a micro USB charging cable, the only other included accessory is a carrying pouch. The pouch features a built-in micro USB cable that charges the battery pack at its base. A rubber cover protects the micro USB port next to the pack that charges the case itself, while the hardwired micro USB cable located inside the pack is for charging the earphones. Plantronics estimates battery life to be 8 hours, but your results will vary based on your volume levels. The pouch holds an extra full charge.
There's a free BackBeat Fit app that seems virtually useless other than providing you with a detailed battery life estimate and a user manual. There's almost nothing else the app does (at least for these earphones) and there's no need to download it. The earphones also ship with a six-month trial membership for the Pear coaching app, with unlimited access to 12 different exercise routines.
Plantronics describes the BackBeat Fit Boost Edition as noise-canceling earphones, but is referring to the inline mic, and not the noise cancellation of ambient audio in your ears. So now that we're clear on that, it's worth noting the mic offers only modest intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 6s, we could understand every word we recorded, but the recording was not exceptionally clear. The mic sounds a little distant from the mouth, and there are audio artifacts that make voices sound a bit fuzzy and distorted.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife's "Silent Shout," the lack of an in-canal seal almost makes for diminished bass response. The earphones simply lack the traditional added bass presence we often find in exercise-focused in-ears.
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Bill Callahan's "Drover," a track with less deep bass in the mix, illustrates this even more clearly. Bass-boosted earphone pairs will often push the lows on the drums to a thunderous place, but here the drums sound like weak tapping. There's barely a semblance of low frequency heft, and even Callahan's baritone vocals sound far more bright and crisp than they do rich in the lows or low-mids.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild," the kick drum loop gets plenty of the high-mid presence so that its attack remains sharp and slices through the layers of the beat. But it sounds a little thinned out, and the sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are more implied than delivered—we get their raspy top notes and little of their bass depth. The vocals sound clear, but the entire mix is simply too bright—there's too much vinyl crackle in the forefront (rather than in the background where it typically is), and there's just no real bass presence to speak of.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary, sound crisp and clear, with the higher register brass, strings, and vocals given their typical prominent, bright place in the mix. But the lower register instrumentation has little presence to speak of, and once again, things sound thin.
If you press the earphones into your ear (without pausing playback or skipping a track), you get tremendously improved bass depth. But the eartips won't stay that way for even a second once you remove pressure. This tells us the drivers are capable of low frequency performance, but the eartips simply prevent it.
The Plantronics BackBeat Fit Boost Edition earphones comes with a cool charging case, but the in-ear fit really kills the audio experience. You might be able to hear your surroundings, but it's at the cost of bass response. Throw in the fact that you only get one pair of eartips, and $160 seems far too expensive. For less money, you will get better exercise-friendly wireless audio from the Jaybird X3, Bose SoundSport Wireless, JBL Reflect Fit, and JBL Reflect Mini BT.
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.
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