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Cool Yule Tools 2016: Digital disruption at Santa's Workshop

Publish Date:

Monday, November 14, 2016 9:11 pm PST

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Network World

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The 17th annual Network World holiday gift guide has something for every techie (and techie-wanna-be) on your list. 

Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2

When most people think about Plantronics, they think about their office telephone headset, their Bluetooth earpiece for their cell phone, or their unified communications headset for making video calls. If you tell them that they also make great headphones for listening to music and for gaming (see the gaming section), they might be surprised.

The BackBeat Pro 2 headphones will make you want to reconsider what headset you use for listening to music, not just when you’re out and about, but also when you’re sitting in the office or cubicle. The Bluetooth headphones feature active noise cancellation features that can help block out those annoying conversations from your co-workers, but Plantronics has also added an “open listening mode” switch that lets you hear conversations without needing to take the headphones off (for example, when a coworker comes by to tell you that it’s time for the free pretzel, or when the flight attendant asks you if you want peanuts or chips).

The other great thing you’ll notice is how comfortable these headphones feel on your head. Plantronics has recognized that you’re going to want to wear these headphones for long stretches, and not just for a few songs. The care in designing earcups that won’t push on your ears or a headband that pushes down on the top of your head is obvious, especially considering how many other headphones we’ve tried this year. As mentioned earlier in this guide, I’m still having a hard time deciding whether these headphones or the Sennheiser MB 660 headphones are more comfortable.

If you do have to take them off, the smart sensors on the headphones will automatically pause the music. When you  put them back on, the music returns. Plantronics has included these sensors on other systems, and it works as great as ever on the BackBeat Pro 2.

Like the previous BackBeat Pro headphones, this one has amazing battery life. Not only does the system offer up to 24 hours of listening and talk time, but it continues to use the “Deep Sleep” mode that puts the headphones into a resting state after a long period of non-use, slowing the battery drain. You know how the battery is usually dead after a few weeks of not being used on other devices? You won’t notice that here. If you do happen to misplace the headphones or not use them for a while, you’ll be amazed at how much battery life is remaining when you turn the system back on.

While the headphones include a cable for connecting to a headphone jack, for the first time I’ve noticed that I don’t mind using Bluetooth headphones as my main method for listening to music. It’s not because of the Apple thing (where they eliminated the headphone jack), it just feels like the Bluetooth wireless technology has advanced to the point where it’s not a pain to connect, and the audio quality is extremely good.

The $200 price point fits somewhere in the middle in terms of headphones – we’ve seen good sets for less money, and some good headphones that are more expensive. These are high-quality headphones on almost every feature – if you get one of these for anyone on your gift list, they’ll be more than happy with them.

Plantronics RIG 4VR / Turtle Beach Stealth VR

If you make the investment into Sony’s PS VR virtual reality headset, you quickly realize that the included earbuds that Sony gives you doesn’t really give you a full, immersive experience. While it’s certainly OK to use the headset without any headphones or earbuds (using the TV’s speakers, for example), for the complete experience you want to have a headset that also covers your ears completely to bring you into whatever virtual world you’re visiting. If you’re doing a game where other players don’t need to participate (such as with the Playroom VR games), then wearing a headset is optimal.

For the guide we received two headsets specifically designed for use with the PS VR headset. The Plantronics RIGS VR and Turtle Beach Ear Force Stealth 350VR fit over the top of the PSVR headset (so you put on the VR headset first, then the headphones). The Plantronics headset matches the style and the color of the PSVR, so many people will think that the two devices go together.

The Stealth 350VR is designed to allow the VR cables to go over the headset, yet under the headphones, to make sure they don’t get in the way during gameplay. The headphones also feature over-ear cushions made of memory foam, 50mm stereo speakers, a variable bass boost, noise-cancelling microphone with mic monitoring (really aimed more at non-VR uses, such as regular PS4 gameplay), and an integrated amplifier. The wired headphones connect to the VR headset through the 3.5mm headphone jack. In addition to the PSVR, these headphones will work with the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive VR systems, or you could just use it with the PS4.

The Plantronics headset also connects wired to the headphone jack, but also features a cool self-adjusting headband (you pick from three different settings for a good fit), vented earcups to help reduce ear fatigue. It has a noise-cancelling microphone that flips up to automatically mute, or you can take it off completely.

Both headsets worked well with the PSVR, I can heartily recommend both headsets – the decision on which one to buy depends on personal preference, color and fit. Bravo to both!

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