There is no shortage of over-the-ear headphones, with manufacturers ranging from Bose to Bang & Olufsen and even Sony flooding the market with models. So where does a midrange brand like Plantronics fit in among those big hitters?
The $99/Rs.6700 headphones are a great compromise between cost, performance, and style. They sound great, have a hip design, and cost less than $100. They’re great for those who want good sound, but don’t want to go broke to get it.
One first thing to note: The name of these headphones changes a bit depending on the color. I began my testing with the black BackBeat Fit 500 and then put the teal BackBeat Fit 505 to test. Normally it’s the SKU that changes with style variations, not the actual name, so this can be confusing, but there’s no difference between the models.
No matter the color, these headphones have a modern and futuristic design that screams cool. I like the teal variant more as it provides a pop of color. The light blue fades into black and gray on the main band, which is made of plastic and connects down to the ear cups. Both sides of the band extend through a metal mechanism. Adjusting the ear cups to the desired length produces a loud clicking noise.
The top band does not fold, so unlike most over-ear headphones, these can’t be slimmed down into a more portable form factor. There’s cushioning at the top of the band, but it doesn’t extend down beyond the top of your head — an odd design choice being that you’ll have plastic resting against the sides of your head. It certainly takes a few days to get used to, and it might cause discomfort, depending on the size of your head. Overall, the band has some stretch to it, and flexes more than The Rock’s headphones from Under Armour.
On the flip side, the ear cups have ample padding that makes them quite comfortable. At first blush they look a bit small, but ultimately fit comfortably; I got used to wearing them after just a few songs. The padding easily comes off for cleaning as well.
The ear cups do a 180-degree swivel, which lets you wear the FIT 500 around your neck or lay them flat on a table. Each is marked with an L or an R on the inside to signify which ear you’ll want to put them on. A power switch that doubles for Bluetooth pairing, an LED button, and a button for starting or stopping phone calls are on the right ear cup. The left side has a micro USB charging port, a headphone jack, and a volume rocker along the side. There are also playback controls in a rubbery mold on the outside of the left ear cup — this material choice makes it easy to navigate the buttons.
The headphones have a layer of p2i nano-coating for water and sweat resistance; I used them in a drizzle with no issue. Both the Fit 500 and Fit 505 include a carrying pouch, a micro USB charging cable, an audio cable, and a stack of instructions.
In the end, are there more comfortable headphones out there? Sure. But at $99, the BackBeat Fit 500 are damn comfortable for extended use.
Surprisingly good battery life
And speaking of extended use, Plantronics promises 18 hours of battery life. I was able to use them for close to 15 hours, including varying volumes and a few phone calls, and switching the connection between an Apple iPhone X and an Apple MacBook Air. These should last you a full day, but that’ll depend on volume levels and devices connected.
While 15 hours is admirable, it doesn’t come anywhere close to the 40 hours of battery life from the Beats Solo 3 or the 20 hours on the Bose QuietComfort 35 II. But Plantronics is delivering at least 15 hours with pretty incredible standby time. I found that it lasted several days and up to a week before it started dropping with no use.
Since it opts for a micro USB port instead of USB-C, there is no fast charging here. While a micro USB cable is included in the box, you need to supply a wall plug.
Let’s talk sound
Similar to my experience with the in-ear Skullcandy JIB Wireless earbuds, the Plantronics BackBeat Fit 500 sound great. I’m not saying it’s the best beat drop I’ve ever heard or the most accurate to in-studio sound, but for the price, you’re getting a great sound experience.
Alessia Cara’s version of “How Far I’ll Go” from Disney’s Moana offers a surround-sound experience on the Fit 500. The opening tones that echo from left to right replicate well. There is a clear definition between high and low tones, as the deeper chimes are contrasted against the backing drum beat. Vocals clearly stand out on a separate track and represent a really lovely higher tone. The mid-song bass drop combining electronic beats, drums, and some vocals sound balanced.
That same all-around-your-head effect is there with Imagine Dragons’ “Whatever It Takes” and with Portugal. The Man’s “Feel It Still.” Taylor Swift’s hit “Shake It Off” sounds great, with clear definition between the different drums and horns with the vocals on top. And being a fan of Bruce Springsteen, listened to a bunch of his tracks. A live version of “Born to Run” sounds robust, with the roar of the crowd present but not overpowering the band; the original studio version sounds just as good.
These headphones handle bass particularly well. On EDM tracks, the base packs a punch without being distorted, and other high and low tones aren’t lost. And where a snare drum is employed, I could clearly hear the expected snap at the end, a nice touch for a midrange product.
Plantronics is going the same route as Bang & Olufsen did with the H4, omitting inline controls from the included audio cable. Instead, it places them on the ear cups, which is done well in this setup. The playback controls have a rubber texture, which makes them easy to find and navigate. If you want to live that wireless headphone life, you can connect the Fit 500 or 505 to a device via Bluetooth.
Over the course of my review period, I had no issues with Bluetooth connectivity and had no interruptions during streams or phone calls. The pairing worked well with an iPhone X, a Google Pixel 2 XL, and a MacBook Air. The controls on the ear cups perform well, and while paired with the iPhone X, I could also easily navigate the track and volume levels from my paired Apple Watch.
Unlike the JIB Wireless which are crappy with phone calls, Plantronics delivers a better experience with microphones built into the ear cups. Calls transfer automatically, and both phones I used recognized the headset. Even better, the person on the other side could hear me quite well. Even as I was walking the streets of New York City, those on the other end said call quality remained solid. Wind did cause some audio-quality issues, so it’s best to grab the phone when you’re out in the elements.
Simply put, these are really good headphones
At $99, I didn’t have the highest hopes going in, but the BackBeat Fit 500 proved themselves to be respectable headphones. The sound mix is really good for this price range. While it packs a punch with bass, it does not cross that ever-so-thin line of being overpowering.
While the battery fell short of the promised 18 hours, it does provide close to a full working day, a high mark at this price. The design is also nice; I personally really like the teal version.
The headphones occupy an excellent area where value meets performance. All said, they are great headphones that deliver respectable audio. If you’re looking to stay under the $100 mark, these are a great option. (Just promise me you’ll get the teal ones).