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Do the ideal workout headphones really exist?

Do the ideal workout headphones really exist?


The new Plantronics Backbeat Fit 305 earbuds are surviving my sweat, but they’re not perfect

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My sweat is kryptonite to earbuds that claim to be water-resistant and designed for fitness. In the past few months, I’ve gone through a review unit pair of PowerBeats 3 (sorry Apple) and a set of Jaybird Freedom 2s that I purchased myself — and quickly returned after they malfunctioned within two gym visits. Finding the ideal gym/running headphones is a frustrating quest that never really brings me any gratification or sense of accomplishment. Just a lot of wasted money and, at best, a feeling of "well, I guess these will do for now."

I know this preference is a bit unusual, but if given the choice, I like wearing full-size headphones at the gym and on the treadmill more than I do earbuds. If my good friend The Rock can wear his Beats Solo wireless headphones during sweaty sessions at his “Iron Paradise” gym, then why can’t I manage to make any of my headphones last at Blink Fitness? Lauren Dragan has done a lot of great research on workout headphones for The Wirecutter. I’ve tried some of their recommendations, but still haven’t ever experienced that big “eureka, these are the ones!” moment.

My old Beats Solo 2s did a respectable job, but sound stopped coming out of one ear cup after a few months. V-Moda’s Crossfade Wireless headphones, which aren’t even meant for running, actually did the best job of all, lasting well over an entire year before they shorted out just a couple weeks ago. But I perspired on them so much that the metal inside was totally rusted and started to smell. (That’s gross, and I immediately regret sharing.)

So two weeks ago, in my latest attempt to unearth gold, I bought the new Plantronics Backbeat Fit 305 earbuds. They’re the ones pictured above and cost $80. So far, they’re holding up to my undiagnosed hyperhidrosis just fine. The 305s are rated IPX5 water resistant, which seems to be where most fitness headphones top out. There’s a little, very flimsy door that covers the USB port to keep liquid out.

The fit is great and secure. But the big control unit is heavy enough that it tugs at the right earbud if you don’t use the clip.
The fit is great and secure. But the big control unit is heavy enough that it tugs at the right earbud if you don’t use the clip.

Sound-wise, these earbuds are excellent performers. The default ear tips created an excellent seal and the part that sits inside your ear keeps everything secure through very intense movement. There’s a great balance between bass response and upper frequencies. Also, I’ve found that the wire connecting the earbuds is the perfect length. There’s no annoying extra slack, which is my main hangup with Apple’s Beats X. (Note: those aren’t meant for workouts either, or even hot summer days, apparently. I’ve ruined two loaner pairs. Again, sorry Apple.)

But not everything is so swell with these, either. For one, the volume/track control unit on the right side is heavy enough that it will tug at the nearby earbud unless you clip the 305s to your shirt at the back of your neck. When I do that, the awkward added weight completely goes away. Unfortunately, the included clip broke within a week, so I had to buy a bunch of extra after-market clips from Amazon. Yes, those are a thing you can get for around $5.

These were an unplanned extra purchase.
These were an unplanned extra purchase.

Also, while the wireless connection is generally pretty reliable, if I hold my (Bluetooth 5) iPhone 8 Plus in my left hand, the music starts cutting out pretty frequently. That’s strange, since I’ve walked a decent distance away from my laptop with the Backbeat Fit earbuds paired and they keep playing fine. The integrated mic is pretty lackluster for voice calls and Siri, if those things are important to you.

Battery life is advertised as 6 hours, and that seems to be pretty accurate. Standby time is also good, so hopefully I won’t find myself charging too often throughout the week. They take around 2 hours to fully charge, which feels long.

It’s a little too soon to consider this a review, but the Plantronics Backbeat Fit 305s are my new everyday earbuds and (for now) have managed to endure my gadget-killing sweat. I’m still a little nervous that they’ll abruptly power down in the middle of a run or malfunction in some other way, but we’ll see. Plantronics also has a new $100 pair of sweat-resistant, on-ear headphones that I might try next. I’m also semi-excited about the truly wireless SoundSport Free earbuds from Bose.

The search never really ends, I guess. Which are your active headphones of choice?