There aren’t many choices for music-loving fitness fanatics when it comes to headphones — and we’re not talking about the in-ear wired mess you can get at every corner shop for R50. No, real on-ear Bluetooth-enabled cans that sit comfortably and blast out tunes at a decent level — that’s what we’re into.
In comes the Plantronics BackBeat 500 Fit — discreet supra-aural (on-the-ear) headphones that will impress even the loudest of listeners. Although these are intended for the fitness-fundies among us, we didn’t really test them out on the open road. Okay, maybe we did, but it’s safe to say that we were in a motor-powered vehicle and not travelling on our Nikes.
Design – Bendy and grippy
Something to note: The BackBeats’ body feels low-quality, but it is built to endure and is very flexible. A few mini heart-attacks ensued after we took the BackBeats out of a laptop bag, having lobbed it in there for transportation, and noticed the frame was contorted. It bent right back to its original form — thankfully — but it wasn’t a great impression. But while they may come across as fragile, they’re definitely comfy.
Thanks to the memory foam on the headband as well as the ear-cups you’ll have long-term comfort. Well, as comfortable as on-ear headphones can be. The amount you’ll get largely depends on two factors: If you wear glasses, and if you have excessive ear-jewellery. Either of these two factors may prohibit long-term comfort with these cans. Yup, they’re head-squeezers.
It really depends what you use them for — cardio outside (recommended), in the gym (recommended), gaming (not recommended), just listening to sick jams at the desk (recommended).
The supra-aural design isn’t just to make you look like a robot — the design is aimed at maximum grippiness while doing physical activities. In-earsies tend to fall out while running (if your inner ears are a weird shape), and over-earsies will definitely be too bulky to wear on the bench-press. The BackBeats attempt to straddle the line.
The colour choices are pretty minimal — you get the black-grey-black, and the black-teal-black versions (both in gradients). They also have a very sporty feel, which is pretty spot on considering the market they are aiming for. Plantronics knows what it’s doing. This isn’t its first sport headphone rodeo.
Battery and features – Wiring the wireless
According to Plantronics, the BackBeat 500 Fit should last around 18 hours listening-only, and offer 16 hours talking- and listening time on Bluetooth. We got it to last about three days listening sporadically at Stuff Towers. Which is pretty decent performance. The other upside is that, once you plug them into a device via the 3.5mm headphone jack, it automatically powers off.
The main appeal of the BackBeat 500 Fit, is that it is (mostly) a wireless option for fitness enthusiasts, but it comes kitted with an optional Aux 3.5 mm cable (which does not have an in-line mic), for those emergency sessions.
This is the best way to preserve battery life. The best strategy would be to use it wired at the office — and then get frisky and go wireless on your run or at the gym after work. Even misplacing the headphones would be fine as the battery has a 6-month standby time. So it won’t run out within that time frame if its not being used — if you find ’em six months and one day after you lose ’em, though, you’re out of luck. But seriously, who plans a jog that far in advance?
The left ear-cup sports a few on-board buttons that should help you navigate music freely, without picking up your phone. This is recommended for really intense treadmill sessions to avoid serious injury. Besides the ones you were going to get anyway, that is. Here you can access play/pause controls, skip tracks, and volume. There is also a control button to start Bluetooth pairing, and a micro-USB port for charging purposes.
And lastly, they are sweat resistant with P2i nano-coating that provides IPX2, which basically means that any vertically dripping water (like rain or sweat) has no harmful effect. Just don’t submerge them in water. Not a good idea.
Sound – Noisy little buggers
You can use either the wired 3.5mm connection (with no amp) or the Bluetooth wireless connection (with amp), but audio on the 3.5mm connection is brighter, while volume is less than on Bluetooth. So it really depends on whether you prefer clear, moderate music, or blasting loud music while running your hiking trail. We’d opt for the volume, really.
Each ear cup offers a 40mm driver, and together they can offer from 50Hz to 20,000Hz of frequency response. This is pretty standard and as such there isn’t much that you won’t be able to enjoy — they produce deep, rich sound for anything from Bach to Snoop Dogg.
Plantronics aims for a balanced sound signature, and the bass levels are spot on, as well as the highs and treble. The claimed maximum volume is 92dBPL (decibel pressure level) which is roughly equivalent to 70db loudness. In layman’s terms: it’s loud. Don’t question it.
Plantronics BackBeat 500 Fit Verdict
Rest assured that your earholes will be plenty satisfied with the amount of clear sound these cans distribute. Don’t expect studio-quality sound from a pair of active-wearables. If you can accept that, and a few build issues, then you’ll find these suitable to an active, outdoor lifestyle.
The best part? No really, this is the best part — they retail for R1,749. This mid-range bracket is full of amazing offerings, but this is something to look out for if you’re in the market for sporty headgear.
The Plantronics BackBeat 500 Fit headphones are great for anyone looking for wireless headphones, whether you prefer zooming down the cul-de-sac blasting Queen while riding on your bicycle, or lazing on the couch with a magazine while listening to Drowning Pool. It should suit all lifestyles. And er… music tastes.