I have reviewed the Plantronic BackBeat products since 2013 and very familiar with their development over the years. Plantronics released their first true wireless earbuds last year with BackBeat FIT 3100 (click for detailed review), which I love using for my outdoor runs. Now, they have extended the TWS product line with the new BackBeat FIT 3200, which essentially carries the same design as the FIT 3100 but with noise-isolating eartips. At the same time, Plantronics launches their first true wireless edition to the BackBeat PRO line, which I have here for review.
What strikes me on the BackBeat PRO 5100 is that the case and earbuds are unbelievably lightweight and compact, it felt like they are dummy units. The matt plastic case can only hold 13 additional hours of charge while the earbuds can deliver up to 6.5 hours. Charging is by micro USB, presumably a decision to remain consistent with the rest of the wireless earbuds series.
What I like about the case is that the case unlock button also works as a power button to allow an option to turn off the charger. The benefit is that I can choose to not charge the earbuds when I dock them, the same logic that I do not constantly charge my wireless earphones when not in use. But the drawback of this design is that the battery drain is the worst among the TWS I have reviewed. If I do not use them after a few weeks, the battery will be drained empty. This is the same observation I had with the BackBeat FIT 3100. My workaround is to store the earbuds outside the charging case, and this stops the battery drain.
With just one LED indicator on the case, the battery life is determined based on the blinking sequence To check the battery life, press the case button and watch the number of flashes on the case. Three white flashes means it’s still full, while continuous red flash means it’s very low. While the LED indicator is located inside the case, the light can be seen from the top of the case, a thoughtful design element.
For the earbuds, the voice prompts will read out the battery life after power on, or you can find out the exact battery life from the app. Wearing them, the earbuds appear so small and compact.
Below, I compared to a few TWS on hand, and you can see it does not protrude as much. The oval-shaped ear tips also offers excellent seal and retains the sub-bass intensity.
Let’s examine the ear tips, which is integrated into the inner earbud housing, and so you need to remove completely to swap the size. Though the ear tips are proprietary, they are so secure that it would be impossible for them to drop out during normal handling, hence unlikely to lose them or require replacement.
Operations and Smartphone App
The earbuds have a large button that works both as a mechanical click button as well as a touch-sensitive sensor. By default, the right earbud controls the playback, which you click on the button, while the left earbud controls the volume, which you tap or hold the button. This control design is similar to the earlier BackBeat wireless earbuds models. You can also personalise the tap controls through the app.
The app also allows other customisation like language, adjusting voice prompt volume, enabling-disabling the smart sensor, enabling HD Voice, and of course to update firmware.
To make sure you get the BackBeat PRO 5100 registered with the app successfully, go through the pairing process through the BackBeat app first and not through the smartphone Bluetooth menu. I made the mistake of getting it paired from the Bluetooth menu and ended up having problems connecting to the app. You do not need the app to listen to music, but you would need the app to customise the earbuds as described above. I had to unpair the earbuds and restart the phone to get it all working. Even so, occasionally I find the app could not connect to the earbuds. I find that the chances of getting it connected is higher if I do it the moment I undock from the case and before I start streaming music. Anyway, as I mentioned, the app connection does not affect the Bluetooth audio connection.
The BackBeat PRO 5100 has a rather clean-sounding character that do not sound bloated or bloom at the upper frequency. The sub-bass is pretty pumped up but the mid-bass does not get too full, leaving room for treble. The main treble voice lacks body, while the upper treble is nicely tucked beneath that to give support on overall perception of bright-sounding mix.
Sound staging is close and wide-spaced towards the sides of the ears instead of forward. You do not feel any room effect, just instruments panned in their respective channels. Pop mixes might sound cluttered and would be a challenge to pick up the numerous instrumental details, but one should put that aside and just go with the flow. Tight sub-bass, sizzling vocals, that’s the signature tuning of BackBeat PRO series. Although it only supports SBC and AAC wireless audio codecs, the audio resolution is good on the Google Pixel 4 XL connected in AAC codec.
To add to the credit, the voice call quality warrants little complaints. The other party can hear me easily even at the supermarket, albeit a little distant, which is expected when the mic is positioned so far away from your mouth. There are 4 noise-cancelling mics to capture voice and removes background noise. Either earbuds can be used to connect as a single-side headset, and if the other earbud is powered up, it will automatically reconnect to each other for stereo output.
When compared to the BackBeat FIT 3100, the BackBeat PRO 5100 turns up at the other spectrum in terms of size and weight, but both share the same comfort level. The retail price of S$269 makes it reasonably valued, and could be your choice of TWS if you prefer a slightly cleaner sound, strong bass but not too massive like PaMu Slide, and smaller package. If you are on a budget, the Creative Outlier Gold (click for detailed review) is my recommendation which offers double the battery life on each earbud at half the retail price, though the ear fit is a bit more tricky, less comfortable (for me) and earbud control buttons are stiffer to press.
With so many TWS in the market, each product must have some unique properties that makes them worth buying. To me, the Plantronics BackBeat PRO 5100 attracts me with the impressive lightweight and compact case, which encourages me to carry them more than the Klipsch T5 TRUE (click for detailed review). The sound quality is also more fun to listen to thanks to strong sub-bass and sparkling treble. The buttons are easy to use via click or touch sensor, and the ear tips seal the canal easily without requiring to push deep into the ears. Finally, the connectivity and voice quality is among the better ones I have reviewed.
Disclosure: product has been provided free of charge to Music Photo Life in exchange of opinions and publication of this review article. Product has been personally reviewed by Chester Tan and contains his own experience.