Plantronics Backbeat Fit vs Aftershokz Trekz Titanium

In a battle between fitness headphones, does terrible spelling help?

By Dave Johnson

If you’re an exerciser like me, you probably keep your ears open for word of a better way to listen to music while you work out. For a long time, I got by with the kind of super-inexpensive, fairly generic Bluetooth headphones that wrap around your neck, cover your ears with thin foam, and typically cost about $30 to $40 on Amazon. But they don’t sound very good—and worse, they don’t tolerate sweat effectively. A better alternative? Headphones made especially for active folks who run, bike, and do other kinds of exercise.

Both Plantronics and Aftershokz manufacture excellent fitness headphones, and making this particular head-to-head a fair fight is the fact that the ones we look at here—the Plantronics BackBeat Fit and the Aftershokz Trekz Titanium—have identical price tags ($130). Will the identity of the winner shock you? Probably not, unless you’re easily shocked. After all, both contenders are competent products. But read on for an ears-on analysis of which pair has a better claim to your hard-earned money.

BackBeat Fit

by Plantronics
List $129

Trekz Titanium

by Aftershokz
List $130

The Scorecard

BackBeat Fit

BackBeat FitTrekz Titanium
Design
Features
Usability
Comfort
Audio Performance
Battery Life
Portability
Price
Verdict63

Design

The story of the BackBeat Fit vs the Trekz Titanium is really a tale of two completely different audio technologies. For the most part, the BackBeat Fit headphones are fairly traditional. A highly flexible neckband ends in a pair of rigid earbuds. You don't cram these buds into your ears the way you would ordinary earbuds; instead, you slide the loops over the tops of your ears and the loops hold the buds in your ear, leaving airspace for ambient sound to get in.

The Trekz Titanium, meanwhile, relies on bone conduction technology. Rather than using tiny speakers to blast sound into your ear holes—the way cavemen listened to their ragtime and skiffle music—bone conduction transmits music to you by vibrating the cheekbones in front of your ears. To manage this trick, the headphones loop over the top of your ears and, well, that’s it. They’re easy to put on, and they leave your ears completely exposed to ambient sounds.

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Clearly, both approaches work, but there’s a certain elegance to the Trekz Titanium’s newfangled simplicity. Maybe I’m a klutz, but I frequently struggled to get the BackBeat Fit’s earbuds inserted in my ears properly (it seems to require a certain level of coordination to slip the bud into your ear canal while simultaneously fitting the loop over the top of your ear), whereas the Trekz just slip on—and make it very easy to hear sounds around you.

Winner: Trekz Titanium

Features

Both of these headphones are designed for exercise. Aftershokz makes a big deal of the fact that the Trekz Titanium is IP55-certified, meaning that they are designed expressly to repel sweat and other moisture. In routine use, I never had a problem using them during heavy workouts or in the rain. Plantronics does even better, slapping an IP57 rating on the BackBeat Fit (meaning that you can hold it underwater for half an hour without a problem). Needless to say, it worked like a champ on my morning runs. Since neither headphone set has any non-rubberized material (such as speaker foam), there’s nothing to get gunky from sweat.

Both headphones have integrated microphones and support one-touch voice dialing. The Trekz Titanium boasts a noise-canceling feature to improve call quality, but I didn’t notice better sound from it than from the BackBeat Fit in actual operation.

One extra that Plantronics offers is compatibility with an app that lets you update the BackBeat Fit’s firmware, see a handy guide to operating the headphones, and even find them if you misplace them. Overall, Plantronics ekes out a win in this category by a very slim nose.

Winner: BackBeat Fit

Usability

In this category, the advantage tips clearly in the BackBeat Fit’s favor.

Let’s be clear, though: There’s nothing terribly wrong with the way that the Trekz Titanium works; and if your needs are simple, you might be perfectly happy with it. A button on the left ear handles Play/Pause and, if you press and hold, voice dialing. Behinds the right ear, you’ll find a +/- rocker switch to control the volume (the + button doubles as power). It’s a straightforward setup, though I sometimes found myself pressing the mini-USB port while trying to change volume, as those two elements are very close to one another.

The BackBeat Fit, on the other hand, does a lot more with its similar array of controls. The Play/Pause is readily accessible on the left ear, as on the Aftershokz headphones, but you can also long-press to go to a previous track or double-tap to skip ahead to the next track. Thanks to those extra controls, the BackBeat Fit is more versatile in routine use.

Winner: BackBeat Fit

Comfort

I don’t know about you, but I dislike the sensation of having things stuck in my ear. I have never liked earbuds, and have always preferred traditional over-the-ear headphones. With that in mind, I’m not a huge fan of the feel of the BackBeat Fit in my ears. As I run, the earbuds wiggle around in my ear canal, and as I sweat, they occasionally slip out, forcing me to futz around with the headphones while trying to maintain my pace. It’s a hassle.

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The Trekz Titanium headphones don’t suffer from any of these issues. They stay put, hanging firmly over the top of my ears, and no amount of disgusting sweat seems able to dislodge them. They aren’t uncomfortable to wear, even for extended periods of time. Whatever shortcomings the Trekz might have, comfort is not one of them.

Winner: Trekz Titanium

Audio Performance

Unfortunately, comfort and sound quality don’t always go together like chocolate and peanut butter.

The Plantronics BackBeat Fit won’t win any audiophile awards, but it has a clean, pleasant sound that makes it a dramatic upgrade from stock earbuds or a pair of $30 Bluetooth headphones. Even the bass is satisfying for a sound system that needs to entertain you while you run a 5K or bike around town.

As much as I wanted to be wowed by the promise a futuristic bone conduction sound experience, the Aftershokz Trekz Titanium simply aren’t as good as traditional headphones (or earbuds) at the same price. The Trekz Titanium sounded too bright, with a much narrower dynamic range: the bass was missing and all the mids and highs seemed compressed. It felt as if I were hearing my music rebroadcast through an AM radio. Indeed, the difference in quality between the Trekz Titanium and the BackBeat Fit is so large that I was tempted to award Plantronics two points for this win.

Winner: BackBeat Fit

Battery Life

I’ll keep this simple. The Trekz Titanium offers roughly 6 hours of battery life, while the BackBeat Fit keeps running for about 8 hours. That’s one or two extra workouts on a charge, handing the award here to Plantronics.

Winner: BackBeat Fit

Portability

Both of these headphones are designed for portability. No one at Aftershokz or Plantronics sat around a conference room table writing up user requirements that involve wearing these fitness headphones while listening to music in a home theater. Sure, you can do that—but the main point of these headphones is to accompany you as you go biking, running, or working out at the gym. And on that count, they both do well. Both are made of a rubberized, flexible material, and neither one takes up much space.

Aftershokz includes a nifty carrying case for the Trekz Titanium, while Plantronics includes an arguably even more useful reversible armband for holding your phone (regrettably, it’s not big enough for a phablet like the iPhone 6).

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Though the Trekz Titanium itself is flexible, its neckband is somewhat rigid and there’s only so much you can do to wad it up and stuff it into your pocket. The BackBeat Fit, on the other hand, is like a cat. There’s essentially no limit to how small you can make it, and there’s virtually no space too small to stuff it into.

Winner: BackBeat Fit

Price

Aftershokz and Plantronics have priced these competing headphones exactly the same—$130. As you’ll see in our verdict, one of those numbers is a better value, but on price alone the two are a solid tie. And honestly, $130 is not a bad price for either of these products.

Winner: Tie

Verdict

Both Plantronics and Aftershokz make great headphones, so we expected a much closer contest between these two headphones. The Trekz Titanium does have a slightly better Techwalla score than the BackBeat Fit (80% vs 76%, at the time this review was written). What does that tell you? Sometimes the wisdom of a hands-on side-by-side review trumps the wisdom of the crowd. In the end, the BackBeat Fit—though perhaps not as comfortable as the Trekz Titanium, with its bone conduction technology from the future —wins on audio quality, overall usability, battery life, and more. It’s just a smarter buy when you compare the two headphones side by side.

Photo credits: Plantronics, Aftershokz