Plantronics has a history of making great wireless headphones for the office so constructing a pair of true wireless earbuds shouldn’t be a problem, right?
Unfortunately, while other headphones from Plantronics strike the delicate balance between fit, comfort, build quality and audio performance, the BackBeat Fit 3100 were built almost exclusively with athletes in mind.
In the quest to create a pair of earbuds that never slip out, Plantronics has had to cut some corners in sound quality that we think should give you pause before pressing play on these new true wireless earbuds.
In Plantronics' defense, however, there are design clues suggesting the athletic focus before even opening the box: The BackBeat Fit 3100 use ear hooks to stay put, plus silicone tips that you can’t change or alter. It’s basically a one-size fits all, flexible enough to comfortably fit most ears.
Unlike other earbuds, there are no additional pieces here - the ear hooks, tips and wings are already attached, without replacements in different sizes... and that's a problem as variable sizes to help you get a better seal. Without them, you're stuck with what's included in the box.
- Here's our list of the best running headphones 2019
While we would've liked some other options, the included soft, rubberized silicone tips wrap around both sides, helping ward off sweat and water, and the colors are neutral, save for the loud orange used for the tip and wing. (The loud color could be a smart decision considering that if you lose the tips, you have to contact Plantronics to replace them.)
The charging case is a little hefty, but tastefully designed with a functional twist. We liked the zipper to open and close it, and had little trouble putting the earbuds in and taking them out. A small button with LEDs indicates how many charges are left (the case can hold an extra two). A small pouch inside the top flap is shallow enough to hold the really short microUSB charging cable.
Being Bluetooth-enabled, the BackBeat Fit 3100 paired pretty quickly the first time, and generally every time after that.
Beyond basic Bluetooth, Plantronics has a free BackBeat app for iOS and Android, but don’t expect a myriad of options - there’s no EQ or deep customization. The only custom choices available are in assigning controls to the buttons on the earbuds themselves. Each side’s outer shell is a physical button, and by default, one controls play/pause, the other volume.
If you prefer, you can change it to trigger Siri or Google Assistant, start a timer or stopwatch, or start playing a Spotify or Apple Music playlist. Technically, you can do two commands because one is for a single tap, while another is for a double tap. Doing this ultimately replaces volume control, so it’s not possible to have both at once.
Dig a little deeper into the settings, and you may find some other useful items.
For example, if your phone and carrier support HD Voice, you can toggle that on in the app so the earbuds work with it. If you want to swap the play/pause and My Tap functions between the two earbuds - that’s easy to do, too. You can also switch between listening time or battery percentage inside the app.
Plantronics designed the BackBeat Fit 3100 to be open to ambient noise. Runners and athletes who want to hear some of the world around them while listening to tunes will like that part of the equation here. If you’d rather shut everyone and everything out acoustically, these earbuds are not for you.
There was no way for us to finagle these to create a tighter seal. The angle of the tips, coupled with the size of the hooks, meant we simply had to go with what we had. Again, those looking for that kind of awareness will be satisfied with how much of the background seeps in.
For that reason, audio quality takes a hit. The lows suffer for the lack of tightness, making hip hop or electronica tracks sound flatter. While other genres who rely less on bass fare better, there’s nothing sonically interesting going on here. This is a matter of function and fit over fashion and fidelity.
We certainly couldn’t complain about the comfort. They fit nicely, and never once fell out or shifted out of place, even during workouts. The ear hooks were slippery and light enough not to feel weighted over time, either.
Still, we couldn’t help but feel like we would get better sound - plus comparable amounts of comfort and ruggedness - with the better-sounding Jabra Elite Active 65t or the upcoming athlete-focused Jaybird Run XT.
Phone call quality was a bright spot for us, even without HD Voice activated. Callers came through clearly, and they noted the same on their end. Background noise was audible on both ends, but not enough that made it any different from holding the phone instead.
Plantronics rates the earbuds at five hours per charge, but we never came close to that number. Since we routinely had to push volume above 70%, it knocked playback down to about three hours and change each time.
However, the two backup charges in the case were useful, so we never really ran into problems getting through multiple workouts before needing to recharge the whole thing all over again.
At $150 (£129, AU$239), Plantronics has probably priced these a little too high. While they might hold a candle to some of the other true wireless earbuds on the market, they ultimately can't outpace their rivals like the Jabra Elite 65t, Jabra Elite Sport or RHA TrueConnect true wireless headphones.
What the BackBeat Fit 3100 succeed at is having a laser focus for the active user who wants to be safe in hearing their surroundings while out running or working out. If you’re okay with the audio quality trade-offs that come with that, then you’ll be pleased with the result. If not, then look elsewhere.
- Where else can you look? Here's our round-up of the best true wireless earbuds