In 2020, during the boredom of being stuck at home, like so many other people, I started shopping around for a new TV... and phone... and surround sound speakers... and computer. I didn't actually end up ordering any of those things, instead focusing on ways to find some peace and quiet in a noisy world. Namely, it was all about the big-city traffic that never ends, people outside who always seem to stop and chat just outside my home office window, and the usual noises that come from sharing a small space (especially when there aren't many other places to go during a lockdown). Noise canceling headphones seemed like a simple solution.
I ended up snagging a pair of Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones on sale. It was bittersweet, retiring my Beyerdynamic DT-770 headphones, which were an important purchase in the early 2000s. I mixed some big concerts with them and lugged 'em around on every vacation. They were awesome but never kept the rest of the world out of my head.
The first time I put on the Bose set was a mind-blowing experience! Flipping the switch "on" for the noise cancellation felt like just my head had entered a vacuum, and I finally had an auditory escape from the constant noise outside of my control. The headphones don't offer complete silence but seemingly cut out about as much noise as foam earplugs. That's just a loose observation and not a scientific claim... The headphones aren't certified for providing hearing protection in loud work environments, and cranking up the volume can damage your ears. With that aside, the regular noise reduction is pretty freakin' cool.
In 2022, now that we're able to start thinking about travel again, I became interested in saving some luggage/backpack space and started looking into noise-canceling earbuds. As someone who has had a pretty decent run with Apple products (knock on wood), AirPods seemed like the first and best place to start... but the aesthetic drives me crazy. There's something about the stems hanging down from ears that's really off-putting. It's a lousy looking design, too, like the designers thought the wired Apple earbuds were so iconic that all they could think of was to cut the cables off. It’s like the illusion of TV, when set dressers sometimes just cut the USB cable off a mouse to make it appear wireless (and to declutter a desk). That’s what the AirPods look like to me: a design that feels lazy.
Opting to not join that particular club, over the course of about a month, I dug into reviews for all kinds of alternatives from Beats "by Apple", Bose, Sony, Sennheiser, Jabra, etc. Time and time again, I kept coming back to the Beats Fit Pro. Those were touted as having a comfortable, yet secure design and great sound, plus at a lower cost than the AirPods Pro.
While taking time to make a decision, I caught the Fit Pros at a slight discount, costing $180 new, instead of $200. Regarding color, I wanted to steer clear from the Airpods enough that I didn’t want white. Nor did I want standard black, although a little piece of gaffer’s tape would have covered the red logo just fine. Thus, what was left was sage gray, with the sage being almost entirely just inside the charging case. When the buds are out, the "b" on them appear to be off-white, under most lighting.
I'm glad I didn't record the unboxing. It would have been embarrassing, although maybe helpful. The top of the box was heavily glued shut. Once I started ripping the top flaps apart, it just didn’t seem right. The bottom of the box had these arrows with no other context. I started tugging on those, which turned out to be perforated strips, and a box-inside-the-box started to slide out. Damn, that was really more confusing than it should have been.
The set came with three sets of silicone eartips, just as it should. The medium size that were pre-installed seemed to work just fine, although it was surprising how high my Mac’s volume needed to be cranked up to achieve a reasonable listening level. Then I figured I should try out the other eartips. With the small pair, the buds just about fell out of my ears. It turned out, for me, the large size was the way to go. That provided a better fit, and the volume control on the Mac no longer needed to be cranked so high.
Some new-to-me tech is that these sense when one or both buds have been removed from your ears. I was hoping, for video conferencing, that just one earbud could be used. That should work… While streaming music, the feed stops if you take out a bud but resumes if you tap the “b” on the one that’s still in.
Also, the case is pretty cool. I didn’t realize at first that it contains a battery, allowing you to charge the earbuds on-the-go. The lack of actual language, in favor of illustrations on the box, seems to indicate the buds last 6 hrs. on a full charge, and recharging from the case provides an additional 18 hrs. of listening time.
To charge the case, plug it into a USB-C port with the included, 6" cable. It always feels risky mixing and matching cables, but the case charged just fine using a USB Type-C to Type-A cable that came with my Samsung tablet, and the cable was then plugged into a USB Type-A wall adapter. If you aren't keeping up with what connector is what these days, "C" is on the left, and "A" is on the right below.
As for the sound - the most important part - I love the clarity of these. It's always best to scrutinize speakers with music that's mixed well, you're familiar with and doesn't have a lot of intentional distortion (like thick, heavy guitars). Testing the Beats Fit Pro, Pink Floyd's classic "Dark Side of the Moon" is my go-to choice. Just as with the Bose headphones, I noticed little things I never heard before on an album I've listened to a million times. During the verses in "Money" I can now faintly hear the reverb on the snare, separate from the palm muted guitar hitting on the same beat. On "The Great Gig in the Sky," the organ being played through a Leslie rotating speaker, swirling around in the right channel, was more present than ever. There were a number of little nuances throughout the album that made me stop and say "Wow, that's really interesting." It's the little things...
Going back to the early days of Beats, one frequent complaint by audiophiles was that the headphones were tuned to be bass-centric, catering to an audience that wanted to feel the music more. As an audio dude, I strive for more of a balanced sound but do remember being in my early 20s and, from time to time, blasting my car stereo to supplement a mood. These days, I want to be able to hear what each musician, or layer, is doing in the song. The Beats Pro earbuds feel pretty well EQ-balanced. However, while listening to that Pink Floyd album, there were times when the low end felt a little artificially accentuated, like on the bass drum during "Us and Them". So far, there's just one complaint from me. It's an oddity - if I'm, say, in the kitchen at home and my computer is down the hall, I know I'm at about the maximum range for the Bluetooth feed... The buds will cut out a little bit here and there, but sometimes that causes the pair to lose sync with each other. Working my way back towards the computer, the streaming signal returns to normal, but the sync/delay issue remains. To fix that, they need to be reconnected to the computer. The delay is like the sound of when you're watching TV and can hear someone in the next room over is watching the same thing.
Finally for now, I was expecting the built-in mic to not be great. As expected, it’s not. It’ll be fine for calls, but having worked in live sound for, woah, decades now, it’s going to take some amazing technological advances before a tiny mic right next to your ear, instead of your mouth, sounds great.
Vacation is approaching, and I will give an additional update for how these hold up when I return!
This is not a sponsored post - this set of Beats Fit Pro earbuds was purchased with my own money and reviewed without any influence.
Written by Justin Kilmer, Edited by Janine Kilmer (reviewed in 2022) All images and media on this site are © by Justin Kilmer, unless otherwise noted.
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