Price (RRP): $179.99
Continuing my long search for practical exercise-appropriate Bluetooth headphones, I’m having a look this week at the Plantronics BackBeat FIT earphones.
These are the ends of a single piece unit with a flexible silicon band and loops to go over the wearer’s ears. They come in a nice range of, as Plantronics calls it, “five bold new colours”. I was supplied with relatively conservative looking blue models (“Power Blue”).
Apart for what appears to be a quite robust design, they are waterproof with an IP57 rating. The “5” means dust proof. The “7” means able to be immersed up to one metre. That typically means that if you drop them in the drink and whip them out in a reasonable time then dry them off, they’ll be fine. It doesn’t really mean you should go swimming with them, and in any case Bluetooth doesn’t really work in water.
They are also finished in something called a “nano-coating” and we know that there’s nothing nano stuff can’t do. In this case, it is designed to make them sweat proof.
The ear pieces are fitted with silicon tips, one size only. That had me perplexed for a little while until I realised that I has trying to use them quite the wrong way. I’m used to jamming silicon tipped earphones firmly into my ears, but these just wouldn’t go. It wasn’t the tips so much as that the geometry of the ear loops held them so the tips were hovering right above the ear canal openings, gently touching but without any pressure or seal. After futilely trying to get them to stick in firmly, I realised that this was by design.
Plantronics does not mention AAC or aptX as audio codecs, so it’s wise to assume that the earphones are limited to the standard Bluetooth stereo music codec: SBC. In fact, the specification sheet says that it uses something called a “HQ custom SBC codec”. My understanding is that there is only one SBC codec, but I suppose it’s possible that Plantronics may have developed a decoder that does a better job of things.
They use 13mm speaker drivers with neodymium magnets and are specified to have a frequency response of 50 to 20,000 hertz, total harmonic distortion of less than three per cent and a sensitivity of 105dB for one milliwatt of input. A sensitivity rating is not of much use when the power output of the built in amplifiers is not stated. They weigh 24 grams in total.
Plantronics says that the battery life is eight hours on a full charge and fifteen minutes of charging is sufficient for an hour of playback time. Two hours is needed to deliver a full charge when the battery is empty. Indicator lights show when full charge has been achieved. The charging port is covered by a cap which was easy enough to swing aside without fingernail damage. A charge can be maintained by the earphones for up to six months when not in use.
In addition to playing music, the BackBeat FIT supports hands free phone calls. Of course.
There are two controls on each ear piece. The main button on the right one is for answering calls, while the small stud at the top is for power and pairing. The main button on the left one is for playing and pausing, while its stud is for power.
The controls are a little unusual in operation. You increase the volume by pressing the stud briefly, as many times as necessary to achieve the desired level. You lower it by pressing and holding the stud. Skipping tracks involves a double-tap on the main button. Skipping backwards requires a hold, then double taps. You can’t fast forward or rewind using the BackBeat FIT controls.
A voice in your ear lets you know what’s going on when necessary. For example, when you hit the maximum volume, or when you power them on. In the latter case, the (cultured female) voice also tells you that you’re connected to the source device (if you are) and gives you a battery life estimate in hours.