Thursday, October 30, 2014

Plantronics BackBeat Pro review

Bluetooth, noise cancelling and plenty of battery life

"Plantronics has packed an amazing feature set into the BackBeat Pro. If you like your headphones wireless and noise cancelling, these are hard to beat."
  • Pair with two devices
  • Fantastic 24 hour battery life
  • impressive sound and noise cancellation
  • Pairing mode could be easier to initiate
  • No identification between paired devices
  • Slightly pricey
Plantronics may have started off as a mono headset company, but over the past few years the company has been making some pretty good moves into the stereo category, leveraging their expertise in Bluetooth to deliver some solid wireless earphones, like the BackBeat Fit.
The company has now turned to the premium headphone market. The BackBeat Pro combines Plantronics' Bluetooth stereo smarts with noise cancellation, twin device pairing and a fairly massive battery life to create a compelling headphone offering.
Weighing in at 340 grams, the headphones are heavy on the scales, but feel significantly lighter on the head. And given the feature set, the extra weight feels worth it.


Plantronics BackBeat Pro review
The BackBeat Pro is available in any colour you like, so long as you like black. The simple colour scheme sort of matches its target market though – this is a pair of headphones for the type of people who would normally buy a pair of Bose QuietComfort 25.
That said there is a subtle purple lining to the inside of the over-ear headphones, so you get a touch of Joker in with your Batman.
Like all over the skull headphones, the strap expands and contracts to fit your head. But one nice design decision is that when you take the headphones off and wear them around your neck, the headphone cups fold down so the padding rests on your collarbones, rather than straight up, like many other designs.
This means that the headphones are just as comfortable to wear around your neck when you can't have them on.
Plantronics BackBeat Pro review
Each headphone has controls integrated into its design for easy access. The left cup has a large, circular button on top that will start and pause your music, with a rotary dial that will fast forward or rewind tracks. The noise cancelling switch also rests on the back of the left cup.
The right headphone, meanwhile, has your call/answer button on the cup, with a volume dial around the outside, with the power switch at the back.
At the bottom of the right headphone is a pass through button as well, which activates the inbuilt microphone so you can hear people talk to you without stopping your music.
The end result of this design is that everything is ridiculously easy and intuitive to control. Where some other Bluetooth headphones have smaller buttons scattered across the design, the BackBeat Pro are simple to control and navigate.
Plantronics BackBeat Pro review
There's also a standard 3.5mm headphone jack at the bottom of the left headphone, so you can listen to music with a wired connection, getting around all those pesky wireless transmission restrictions on aircraft.
It also helps work around the emergency situation of running out of battery, although that wasn't a situation we encountered during our tests.
If there was a single design element we didn't like, it's the fact that the headphones don't fold up for portability. Seriously, chucking these in your carry on is going to take up a lot of precious space, where alternatives like the Bose are a lot more compact.

Performance and Verdict


The good news for music fans is that the Backbeat Pro has some very nice audio quality. What's more, they sound great both with and without the noise cancelling features activated.
Overall, the audio is quite well balanced. Bass is solid but not overwhelming, the mids shine through, while the high frequencies get plenty of coverage.
The noise cancellation is also good, especially when partnered with the passive cancellation you get from having the headphones encase your ears.
Plantronics BackBeat Pro review
It can't compete with the active noise cancellation on a pair of Bose headphones, but it's almost a case of the BackBeat Pros having great sound with really good noise cancellation, as opposed to Bose's tendency to have amazing noise cancellation with really good sound.
As you might expect, the Bluetooth integration here is top shelf. Not only do you get a Class 1 radio on the inside, which allows you to listen to music up to a distance of 100 metres from your device, but the BackBeat Pro also allows you to pair two devices simultaneously.
The streaming quality was solid - the connection only really dropped out when we walked a good distance from the source, and even then there were a few walls between the headphones and the device playing music.
Using the headphones for making and receiving phone calls was great, with one of the best quality connections we've found on a Bluetooth pair of headphones.
Plantronics BackBeat Pro review
The dual pairing is incredibly useful too. Pair the BackBeat Pro to your phone and your tablet, and it will seamlessly switch between the two.
You don't even need to do anything to make it work, other than stop what was playing on one device before playing another.
It's not perfect though. For a start, every device you pair with the headphones is referred to as a phone, be it an actual phone, a tablet or a games console.
The little voice that tells you what's going on will announce "phone one connected" or "phone two connected", but that doesn't help you if you're not sure which device is phone one or phone two.
Plantronics BackBeat Pro review
The next challenge is pairing itself. To pop the headphones in pairing mode, you need to hold the answer/call button for two seconds. But there's no audible feedback, and if you press too long, you'll just activate Siri or Google Now.
For Android users, you can get around it with the embedded NFC chip, but iPhone 6 or PS Vita users don't have the luxury.
Still, the convenience still outweighs the challenge in a big way.
Also convenient is the battery life. Plantronics say that it will give you 24 hours of Bluetooth playback with noise cancelling activated.
In real world use, that means that you might – just might – need to recharge the headphones once a week.
Plantronics managed this extraordinary feat by including a couple of sensors that automatically stop music playback when you take the headphones off, saving battery life.
These sensors do occasionally get it wrong – run for the bus and you might find your music stops and starts on every second step, for example – but the music does automatically start playing again when you put them back on.
Plantronics BackBeat Pro review
Bluetooth 4.0 also helps conserve juice, while a deep sleep mode can keep the battery going for up to six months.
If you do run out of battery life, it's a simple matter of plugging in a standard headphone jack, and you can keep listening (albeit without noise cancellation).
And when you go to charge, the Backbeat Pros will go from 0 to 100 per cent battery life in about three hours.

We Liked

There is so, so much to like about these headphones. Audio quality is great, noise cancellation is really good and the controls are super intuitive.
The dual-pairing Bluetooth, 100m range and passthrough button that lets you hear the outside world and your music at the same time all warrant a mention too.
But it's the battery life that makes everything come together. At a time when it's getting harder and harder to go too far from a power point thanks to average battery life, being able to go at least a week between charges is a huge relief.

We disliked

As much as we loved these headphones though, there's still plenty of room for improvement.
For a start, the lack of identification between paired devices is frustrating. Whether it's a voice-to-text upgrade that will identify your device's name or something simpler, it would be nice to have more detail about what's connected.
It would also be nice if there was a bit more feedback when the headphones are put into pairing mode, so it can be easily done without taking them off.
The Backbeat Pros are also a tad heavy. You don't really notice it while wearing them, and it does allow for the integrated battery, but as with most gadgets – lighter is always better.

Final Verdict

At AU$349 / £250 / US$250, these are not a cheap pair of headphones. But they are an investment in both comfort and convenience, and if Bose has taught us anything, it's that those are features people are willing to pay for.
Sure, they're not perfect, but having the ability to pair to multiple devices simultaneously, without having to panic about battery life constantly is an amazingly enticing proposition.
But when it comes down to it, these are some of the most versatile, best performing headphones we've encountered. Given that they are also Plantronics' first foray into the high-end Bluetooth headphone space, it kind of makes us excited to see what the company will do next.

source:-Plantronics BackBeat Pro review