These Headphones Are Excellent, Especially If You’re A Selfie-Taking Idiot Like Me
Sure, they sound great and are durable as hell, but most importantly, they pass the 'selfie while eating a banana' test.
While we’ve all resigned ourselves to looking like an idiot while walking and talking with bluetooth earphones in, I wasn’t expecting the BackBeat PRO 5100 earphones to make me feel like an idiot. Turns out they were right to do so.
For a week, connecting them to either my MacBook Pro and Google Pixel proved impossible: they wouldn’t even pop up as a device on the former, and they’d drop out immediately on my phone. Frustrated, I blamed broken tech, but Occam’s razor always points towards the human failing to use them properly.
To be fair to myself, the first-time pairing instructions were a little confusing — you’ll need to hold down the button on each earphone for four seconds, until a little light flashes red and white. It worked fine after then, though this wasn’t clear in the four-part ‘quick start’ instructions, a (very slight) misstep from BackBeat’s creators Plantronics, a brand that prides itself on communication.
Plantronics was the brains behind the headset that Neil Armstrong used to transmit man’s first words on the moon, and since branching out into gaming and specialist earphones, they’ve always centred the voice. While audio quality remains paramount, the microphone’s never an afterthought.
Their latest products specialise on two audiences — there are the PRO 5100s, earphones for everyday use with a noise-reducing design ideal for a noisy working environment, and the FIT 600 headphones, which cater towards those who prefer to exercise with over-ear headphones.
We tried both out for a few weeks, and are happy to say the PRO and FIT are packed with subtle innovations that make them well worth your money, designed with intelligence — they do the hard work so you can be an idiot in peace.
BackBeat Pro 5100 (RRP AU $299)
First things first with the PRO 5100s: they’re incredibly lightweight (11.7 grams), even more so than Apple’s AirPods. But we’re less scared of losing these, due to the way they hook into your ears.
Plus, with three sizes for not only the earbud but the in-ear portion of earphone, you’ll find the right fit, which also helps with noise-reduction. While they won’t cancel out sound, they certainly go a long way in helping you ignore water-cooler conversations or other distractions. Those changeable tips also add a bit more grip and sweat-resistance for gym sessions. While they’re light-weight, they never feel flimsy.
Sound’s sharp, too: while the bass does the job for such a small beast, the PRO 5100 really shines with fricatives and crisp treble notes. It catches them really clearly, and we found ourselves hearing new samples and dynamics in James Blake’s music.
Still, it’s the (four-pronged) microphone that stands out: the wind-cancelling technology is the best we’ve found. The best proof of this is that my mum, who normally interrupts me through every sentence to ask where the hell I am and what that noise is, didn’t once comment on the sound quality — she even sounded surprised when she realised I was calling while walking home.
That’s really the main takeaway from the PRO 5100: everything just works, and feels right.
The addition of actual push buttons on each earphone is a lot more agreeable than the awkward tap design most wireless earphones use. While tapping is still a function — you can set tap and press functions for each earbud via a free BackBeat app on your phone, giving you four control commands — it’s much less cumbersome.
That’s really the main takeaway from the PRO 5100: everything just works, and feels right. With six-hour battery life and an additional 13 in their casing (all-together, 20 hours without a plug-in via micro USB), the PRO 5100s are ideal if you want something that just does the job, and does it well.
BackBeat FIT 6100 (RRP AU $299)
The FIT 6100s are aiming to fill a gap in the market for those who like to workout with over-ear headphones: in their words, they’re “engineered for sport but designed for life”. We’ve found the latter part to be more important than the former, having utterly fallen for these no-fuss headphones.
Personally, most over-ear headphones have proved too uncomfortable and heavy for long-term use, or too flimsy. High-cost headphones might sound great, but the expectation to keep it in a silk sleeve and protect it with my life feels unrealistic (see previously mentioned idiocy).
The FIT 6100s, on the other hand, are light and durable. The ear-cups are connected by a metal wire, they fold into themselves easily, and the overhead band can twist, meaning you don’t need to worry when you inevitably shove it into your bag in an awkward position.
They’re super comfortable too, as the ear-cups are slanted slightly to match how our ears actually sit. Where I often find my head getting hot (?) after wearing headphones for extended amounts of time, the FIT 600 proved perfect for a few hours at my desk. Hopefully, I never need to, but I could comfortably wear them for their full 24hour charge.
They’re also are among the best noise-cancelling headphones I’ve worn, and the addition of an ‘awareness’ mode button which uses the headphones’ mic to allow back in outside noise is a nice touch. It’ll be useful for those at the gym/in situations where they feel a need to be across the outside world.
Speaking of the gym, I did my duty and used them a few times there. While I normally I’d use earbuds there, so it personally felt a bit weird, I will say that they felt up to the task in terms of durability. I’m a sweaty man at times, and it was nice that they didn’t absorb anything in, and a simple wipe-down bought them back good-as-new.
On the right ear-cup, the FIT 6100 adopts a swipe function, with a tap creating a pause. It can take a bit of time to master, but once you do, it feels sleeker than most touch systems, and works well in a gym setting.
The last major feature is a strap just above the right ear-cup, which allows you to tighten the headpiece further for those gym moments where you really need to hold them in place. We didn’t really have much need for it, but the promo material shows muscle men climbing ropes and other far more adventurous fare than we usually do. It would probably be useful in longer, sweatier sessions, preventing slippage.
And the sound? While it doesn’t pack the bass of, say, Beats, the FIT 6100s are solid: everything sounds right, and the ability to adapt EQ, bass and all else via the BackBeats app is appreciated. As with the PRO 5100s, the FIT 6100’s microphone is crisp and wind-cancelling, and it feels natural to use — no straining required.
I’m not a gym junkie by any means, but I’ve absolutely fallen in love with these. They also, as you can see above, pass the ‘selfie while eating a banana’ test, which is vital.
Plantronic’s BackBeat FIT 6100s and BackBeat PRO 5100s both retail for AU $299, and are widely stocked. The 6100 is available in black, pepper grey and camo.
Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney on FBi Radio. Follow him on Twitter.