Along with three new true wireless earbuds, Plantronics introduced last month a new over-ear headphone model. The BackBeat Fit 6100 offer a unique proposition for gym goers and workout aficionados who don't like in-ear buds: they're over-ear cans made specifically to withstand sweat and exercise, but they suit your commuter lifestyle or desk job just as well. The $180 price is on the high side, though.

Specs

Battery 500mAh, up to 24hrs of listen time, 6hrs with 15-min quick charge
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.0 with Multipoint, up to 20m range
Audio 20-20,000 Hz frequency range, 40mm drivers
IP rating Sweatproof and IPX5 water resistance
Weight 240 grams

The Good

Sports features Breathable headband, IPx5 rating, and a cinch mechanism to stabilize them further on your head.
Sound They sound great with the default audio profile, and there are two additional EQ presets.
Configurable features Awareness mode to listen to your surroundings, customizable tap actions.

The Not So Good

Low volume Even at 100% volume, they're not very loud.
No carry pouch It's a minor thing, but a must for headphones you're supposed to carry around from work to the gym.
No other bonuses For $180, I would've liked USB-C charging, sensors to pause/resume playback, or active noise cancellation.

Hardware, design, what's in the box

Despite their workout focus, the BackBeat Fit 6100 don't feature a gaudy design. They have an understated industrial-slash-athletic look that carries well from the street to the gym. That is true of the black unit I have, but the two other colors — camo and grey — don't deviate much from this aesthetic.

The large earcups are covered with matte black plastic and a minimal PLT branding on each one. They're angled for better fit and rotate about 45-degrees around the wire frame holding them to the headband. They're also foldable for portability, though there's no pouch or case included with the Fit 6100. You'll have to buy something separately or keep them loose in your bag or backpack.

The headband's extension is continuous and doesn't have precise stops. I first thought it was handy for millimeter-precision fit, but with time, I'm starting to miss the stop system where everything locks in place and I don't have to readjust the headphones every now and then.

Even though everything is built properly, I'm still concerned for the headphones' durability. Seeing the loose braided cable that connects the headband to the earcup makes me anxious that it'd get caught on something and rip. It seems solidly lodged on each side, but I obviously didn't try to tear it hard enough.

The sports focus becomes apparent when you look at the headband. A hexagonal pattern adorns its underside, for stability, and the entirety of the cushion is perforated for breathability. There's also a white expandable cinch with a subtle "Beast mode" engraving. When you pull it out and extend it to the max, it tightens the band around your head to avoid it bobbing around while you run, jump, or squat. The mechanism feels elementary, but it does the job. Again though, I'm worried about its long-term durability.

The right earcup is touch-sensitive. A tap plays/pauses the music or accepts the phone call. Swiping up or down adjusts the volume, but it's a one step per swipe, so you can't quickly blast the volume or lower it — you have to repeat the gesture. Swiping sideways skips to the next song or repeats the current one. The controls feel fancy and work well enough, but physical buttons would've done the trick too. Thankfully, they can be disabled for preset periods of time in the app, which is handy if you notice accidental touches in certain environments.

The only physical controls are a power/Bluetooth pairing switch and an Open Mic button. The latter enables an awareness mode where surrounding sound is overlaid on the music — great for outdoor running, talking to gym buddies, or when that coworker keeps gesturing, asking for your attention.

In the box, you get the Fit 6100, manuals, a USB to MicroUSB charging cable, and a MicroUSB to 3.5mm audio cable to use with your computer or phone — if they have a headphone jack. Given the $180 price tag, I lament the Micro-USB connector and the lack of a carry pouch. It's 2019 and Plantronics should just switch to USB-C already.

Features, sound, battery life

Comfort and stability where never an issue with the Fit 6100. In its default setting, the headphone is comfy to wear for several hours and can slide just a little on my head, a movement facilitated by gliding on my long(er) hair. When it's cinched, it hugs the shape of my skull more tightly and doesn't budge easily, even if I jerk my head around, bob, or repeatedly turn left and right. It handles jogging, bench and machine reps, and sweat fine — though I'm not too much of a gym rat to test extreme exercises and circumstances.

My husband lending us his nearly hair-free head to better showcase fit and design. 

Battery barely drops by 9-10% after each of my daily two-hour listening sessions, so the 24-hour overall life seems accurate. My favorite aspect of Plantronics' recent models is the new BackBeat app. It offers plenty of configuration options, including two other equalizer profiles, customizable taps that can be assigned to anything from a timer to a Spotify playlist, the option to disable touch controls, and more.

BackBeat
BackBeat
Developer: Plantronics Inc.
Price: Free

The Fit 6100's sound profile is perfect for me, but I should preface things by saying these headphones don't get deafeningly loud. Normally, I can't get past 80% without wincing from the loudness on most earbuds and cans, but I can handle the Fit 6100 at 100% for a few minutes before lowering it back. That tells me these headphones don't reach a super high volume. If you're like me, this won't affect you much, but if you love to blast your music until your ears bleed, you should stay away.

This controlled loudness plays to the Fit 6100's benefit: There's barely any distortion or audio quality change at the highest volumes. The default "Balanced" EQ profile should work well for most listeners. It's slightly geared toward mids, but there's enough clarity in the highs and decent bass to fully enjoy a playlist that switches between pop, rock, and hip hop. I'd even say that lows are a little boosted for my liking, but if you prefer much more thumping in your music to uplift you while exercising, you can switch to the Bass mode and enjoy that. The Bright mode enhances highs to an almost ridiculous degree, nearly removing all bass — I can't imagine this third preset being used by many. A configurable equalizer would be more welcome, but at least there's an option to change the sound profile, should you want that.

Phone calls went smoothly with the Fit 6100. I didn't have trouble handling calls, and the person on the other end said I sounded clear.

Should you buy it?

Plantronics BackBeat Fit 6100
7.5/10

Maybe. If you absolutely want an over-ear headset for your daily exercise, the BackBeat Fit 6100 presents an interesting proposition. It's light, stable, comfortable, breathable, water and sweat-resistant, plus it sounds nice and can fit just as well in the gym as it does in a work environment.

Long hair is a gamble and an asterisk, regardless of how stable the headphones are. They'll wiggle back and forth a little bit more easily, sliding with the hair, and even if they won't budge completely, that might be annoying when you exercise. Personally, I'm sticking with in-ear buds because they're much lighter, more practical, and less cumbersome.

And if you won't be using it while working out, you should consider other options. For around the same price, the BackBeat Pro 2 offers active noise cancellation, a richer sound profile, and a sensor that automatically pauses music when you take the headphones off. And that's only among Plantronics' portfolio. Other brands might have USB-C, ANC, Fast Pair, or any other appealing features that aren't available on the Fit 6100.

Buy it if

  • You have shorter hair and absolutely want over-ear headphones for working out
  • You want one headset for the gym, work, your commute, and every situation and environment

Don't buy it if

  • You have longer hair and/or don't mind using earbuds for workouts
  • You prefer to listen to music at a deafeningly loud volume
  • You won't be using these for exercise — for the price, there are better cans out there

Where to buy