I have a very specific set of requirements for headphones: They need to be budget friendly, sweat proof, fit my ears, and they need to stay put. This seems like a relatively simple list, but finding headphones that adhere to all four is remarkably tough. Earbuds don’t fit my ears right, and over the ear headphones get sweaty easily.
Plantronics Backbeat FIT 500s are good on paper, but do they stand up to my real-world use?
Dan took a look at the Backbeat FIT 500s earlier, but I come from a different perspective, as I am looking at these for the sports usage. It’s also important to note how I use headphones.
The vast majority of my headphone use breaks down into two categories — phone calls and gym time. So that’s how I tested the Plantronics, starting with phone calls. The people I called all sounded extremely clear and without any skips or drops, and they indicated that I sounded very clear to them as well. This is one of those things that’s very handy for when I work remotely; so while I don’t use that feature daily, I do like having headphones that can handle clear calls. On top of that, they sound fantastic when listening to music.
More importantly, I used the Backbeat Fits at the gym. I usually lift weights at the gym, and with the recent cold snap, my gym has apparently put 100% of our membership fees towards heat, because it’s incredibly hot there even at 5 am. So even my normal level of sweaty grossness is increased. [I’m not even joking; I went from it being 15 degrees outside to wishing I had shorts to wear indoors.] Which is terrible for me, but great for this review.
In any case, the Backbeat FIT 500s held up extremely well to my sweat, and while the ear cups stayed right on my ears they did not overheat. Plantronics describes the sweat resistance as “military grade nano-proofing”, and it definitely works to keep the ear cups from drowning. I also found the headphones to be incredibly comfortable. The ear cups aren’t oversized, and that makes them slightly more breathable, plus they don’t pinch or create pressure when worn for a long period of time. The band across the top is also padded, and it fits my head fine even with a baseball cap in the way.
One of the ear cups has rewind/play/forward buttons on the outside, volume buttons along one side, and the micro-USB and 3.5mm ports along the bottom, while the other ear cup has the on/off switch. I really appreciated this layout, and it’s clear that Plantronics took full advantage of having extra space with the over the ear design to allow each button to only have one function.
Nothing is more annoying than needing to skip a song or turn your headphones off, and trying to remember which button did double or triple duty. In my view, sports headphones, in particular, should be dead simple to use; no one wants to stop their workout to fiddle with a half-dozen settings or make sure they’re holding the right button to power on.
Most importantly, the Plantronics did not budge on their own. Once they were adjusted and set on my head, they stayed put. That’s the number one deal breaker for me, and the main reason I can’t stand most earbud-style headphones. I don’t like having to adjust my earbuds under normal circumstances, and if I’m holding 150 pounds on my back, I can’t exactly reach up to fix a dangling bud so it becomes a distraction and safety issue.
There were a handful of things that really made the Backbeat Fits stand out. For one thing, the physical on/off switch is phenomenal. It is responsive, it is intuitive, and it doesn’t require a guessing game of holding down one button for just the right amount of time. Also, the ear cups flip out so they can lay flat on your shoulders when around your neck, or fit more comfortably in a bag. I wish the headphones folded up, but the adjustable ear cups do make it slightly more compact. Finally, and this might be a Plantronics thing in general, I love that the headphones give you a battery update when you turn them on. The first thing you hear is “Power on…phone one connected…battery power high”. It might seem like a minor perk, but you’ve clearly never had your headphones die midway through deadlift day and been forced to listen to what Retro Fitness considers “gym music”… I had no idea so many Jonas Brothers had singles.
As far as durability, I see no reason why these shouldn’t withstand a fair amount of banging around; the plastic, memory foam and fabric all feel well made and without any seams or gaps, and there aren’t any obvious weak spots. If I had to pick on anything, my concern with the Backbeat Fits is that they do seal out some sound by the nature of the ear cups. These aren’t noise cancelling (though I wore them on a red-eye and was able to sleep without being disturbed by plane noises), but they do drown out enough background that I would caution someone to be very careful about running while wearing these because you may not hear someone riding, running, or driving up behind you.
The Backbeat FIT 500 headphones retail for $99, and that leads to some interesting economics around headphones. We, as in tech geeks, encounter a lot of expensive audio equipment, but the average person isn’t rushing to drop hundreds of dollars to listen to Spotify.
In fact, the average cost for headphones in 2017 was $42.70. Admittedly, that’s blending everything from cheap drugstore headphones to high-end noise-canceling designs, but it still shows that while companies may offer flagship expensive headphones, consumers are just as content spending significantly less.
I did a little very unscientific market research and checked out Best Buy’s bestselling headphones list. Only one model cracked above $200, a Bose that retailed for $349. On either side of those, though, were two Sonys, one for $59.99 and one for $14.99. All this is key background for judging the price of the Plantronics in my opinion, because the competition for the Plantronics isn’t Bose, and it isn’t a $9.99 Skullcandy. It’s the high-end of average, and for that price, the features on the Plantronics are phenomenal.
You’re getting sweat resistant, fairly tough over the ear headphones that also sound excellent and that make clear, crisp phone calls. When I narrowed the Best Buy bestsellers list to only “sports headphones”, the only non-earbud options were well over $150. Those of us who can’t stand earbuds have been forced to use regular over the ear headphones, which may not be sweatproof or high quality, but the Backbeat Fit 500s not only fill that niche but can appeal to anyone, regardless of whether you’re using them around the house or while sweating like mad in the gym!
Source: Manufacturer provided review sample
What I Liked: Comfortable; Budget-friendly; Quality sound for music and voice calls; Long battery; battery update when turned on is helpful; Feels durable; Sweatproof; Comfortable to wear for long periods
What Needs Improvement: Outside sound is impinged enough that running outdoors while wearing these may not be safe