Plantronics, known for their earbuds and other audio accessories, recently released the BackBeat PRO. The BackBeat PRO marks Plantronics’ first real foray into wireless headphones. Instead of going low price and lesser quality, Plantronics aimed high with their new flagship and delivered on the popular bass heavy sound while giving us a design that you can easily use at the office without drawing unwanted attention.
The BackBeat PRO are a closed ear headphone with a conservative black look. The only coloring you’re going to find are in the inside of the ear cups. Offset with a cool purple color, the BackBeat PRO are classy, if not a bit… boring. Boring isn’t necessarily a bad thing in this circumstance. Having a pair of headphones delivery with punchy bass that I can wear at work without looking like a big red exclamation mark is attractive to me.
The headband is padded enough to feel comfortable for long listening sessions even though there’s a bit of weight to the BackBeat PRO. When wearing them for long periods of time I did notice a little ear fatigue due to the cups. They could be a bit bigger (or maybe I have huge ears) and the BackBeat PRO does press a bit against your head. While that’s good if you’re using these on a run or a run through the airport or to work out, it can be a little annoying after a while. When using these at work I’ll get up and take a bit of a walk after about 2 hours and the 5 or 10 minutes away from them help to get rid of this issue.
When adjusting the BackBeat PRO to the perfect size, there’s a satisfying click. These things will not be sliding in size as some headphones of lesser quality will. There’s plenty of play in the ear cups to get that perfect fit but I still sometimes found them pressing on one part of the cup harder than the rest. This can be fixed by manually adjusting it but if you’re not paying attention to it it can get pretty physically annoying.
On the outside of the ear cups sit the controls for the headset. The BackBeat PRO features rings around the outside to adjust volume up and down and to advance and reverse tracks. These took a bit of getting used to, mostly as to which function were on which side, but after a while it became second nature. Each earpiece houses one large button. On the right side you’ll find the ability to answer and end calls and on the left is your play and pause button. Switches for Active noise cancellation and power along with a small button for the OpenMic feature that we’ll explain in a bit.
The BackBeat PRO are largely made out of plastic, the build quality isn’t going to blow you out of the water. By no means are these a fragile headset but I do find myself babying them just a bit. The cups fold forward for more convenient storage in the included travel bag. The BackBeat PRO charges via Micro USB which is convenient to those of us with a million of them laying around from our phones. Plantronics includes both an audio cable and charging cable in the package and they’re pretty high quality construction.
The trend toward more bass heavy sound profiles is evident in the BackBeat PRO. Trending more towards a Beats-esque profile rather than a more balanced sound the BackBeat PRO has punchy and satisfying bass and clear highs. Listening to spoken word or other types of music where there are lots of little details brings out a strength in the BackBeat PRO. The mids can be a bit muddled but there will be some sacrifices to get this kind of audio quality at this price point. I can deal with the mids being where they are because it doesn’t negatively affect music to the point where it really changes what you’re listening to.
Active noise cancellation is included on the BackBeat PRO and it makes you wonder how you use other headphones without it. This is absolutely KILLER feature on the BackBeat PRO. While it’s not at it’s strongest when you’re not playing audio through the headphones, you feel absolutely isolated (in a good way) while you’re listening to music. I work in an extremely loud newsroom (multiple police scanners, people yelling over top of them, editors that refuse to use headphones) and I can’t hear a thing with these on.
Complementing the active noise cancellation is OpenMic feature. When you press the OpenMic button, the BackBeat PRO fades down the music coming into the headset and opens up both of the included microphones on the headset so you can hear what’s going on around you. In my case, it’s perfect if a producer needs to quickly tell me about a change to the show but I can definitely see the usefulness in situations like traveling. Hearing an announcement in a terminal or talking to a flight attendant is a breeze with these on.
The battery life on the BackBeat PRO is simply ridiculous. Rated at 24 hours I was routinely getting at least 20 hours at very high to medium volumes. This is absolutely killer when other wireless headphones are getting half that and marketing this as a strength. Not only do you get forever on a charge, it doesn’t take long to get there. I could get mine charged up in roughly 3.5-4 hours. Also included is a hibernation mode for the forgetful like me who will stop listening to music and forget to switch the BackBeat PRO off. Plantronics says the DeepSleep mode will make the battery last up to 180 days.
If your battery does die on you, you have the option to go wired. You’ll lose features like active noise cancellation but your headphones will still deliver quality sound. The audio cable features a mic and audio controls so you’ll be able to talk to your friends and raise and lower your volume of your music without messing with your phone tucked away in your pocket.
Plantronics says the BackBeat PRO has an enhanced bluetooth range of up to 100 meters. Not 100 feet. 100 meters. For those of us operating on freedom units, that’s over 300 feet. Frankly it’s a little hard to test this reliably but in the testing I’ve done I’ve gone about 150 feet away through a couple of extremely thick walls in my house and have had no issues with sound quality or the signal breaking up. That’s pretty impressive. I’d like to think I can walk away from my phone while on a call and not worry about it but I have had some issues with phone calls.
The BackBeat PRO gives you the option to be connected to multiple bluetooth devices. In theory, this a fantastic feature but I’ve had issues getting it to cooperate. While connected to my computer listening to music, it’s difficult to get it to make calls through my phone. If I answer a call, I’m usually set but the scenario of using my phone to call my wife and the phone saying I’m connected to bluetooth with nothing coming out of the headset at all has happened a few times. To make things worse, after the call is over I have to turn the headset off and back on because I won’t get anything from my computer anymore either.
Featuring Bluetooth 4.0, aptX low frequence codec, A2DP for audio streaming, AVRCP for music controls, ANC (controllable active noise cancellation) and DSP (Digital Signal Processing) the BackBeat PRO has many features that have three or four letter acronyms. Joking aside, the BackBeat PRO does have an extensive list of features to justify it’s price tag.
One of my favorite, yet most annoying features is the automatic play/pause of your media when you take the headphones off or put them on. I absolutely love this feature for how convenient it is. I was watching The Walking Dead this morning on my Nexus 6 using MX player and when I took the BackBeat PRO off, it paused the video. That’s a really great feature. When it works right.
On the flip side, this thing drives me nuts under two extremely specific conditions. Obviously this will only work with media files on your device. If you’re like me and stream most of your music (Google Play Music ftw), then this will do nothing for you. Unless you have some music files on your computer. In that case, every time you take these off and put them on, your default music player of choice (for me it’s iTunes on my Macbook) is going to fire up and play that one Taylor Swift song you downloaded for your daughter. The other situation that gets me is laying in bed listening to music. While these aren’t ideal because of the size, they’re my best option right now. Moving around in bed also causes the feature to trigger so I get a lot of pauses in my music.
For Plantroics, the BackBeat PRO is an excellent first step in the full sized headphone market. The closed back headphones provide really nice sound without the bass being overpowering. I love the design as someone who sits the middle of an open office. I’m definitely not going to be sticking out. The subtle purple touches are nice and well done. You’re not going to see them much unless you’re looking at the inside of the headphones or you’re using the audio cable but they look good.
The BackBeat PRO is a comfortable headset to put on but I do recommend you taking a break every few hours to prevent fatigue on your ears and neck. It’s not the lightest headset out there which speaks a little to it’s build quality. Not super high end but I don’t think it’s going to break in my bag either. I will say the material in the headrest and cups over the ears is pretty comfortable.
While it doesn’t collapse inwards like headphones such as the ATH M50X, the BackBeat PRO does lay flat so it conserves a bit of space in the included carrying bag. I like that Plantronics decided on the bag instead of a bulkier case for the BackBeat PRO. I barely have enough room to take it with me now and it would be a no-go in a case. The bag protects it from the elements and you’ll have enough room for your audio cables and whatever else you’d like to stick in there.
I love that when you turn the BackBeat PRO on you get a visual and audio indication of your battery level. There are LEDs on the outside and a nice female voice announces that the headset is on, what devices it’s connected to and your battery level. While it may be a bit redundant, the little touches like this are what put a good product over the edge to a great product.
The final thing I want to touch on is the battery life. You always save the best for last right? This thing is unbelievable. I charged it to full as soon as I got it and got almost two weeks of use out of it at work. That’s insane. I would have absolutely no qualms about taking the BackBeat PRO on a long trip as my sole set of headphones due to how long I’m able to wear them, the soft feeling of the materials on my skin and the out of this world battery life.
You can pick up the Plantronics BackBeat Pro on Amazon for $199