Contacts

Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 headphones beat most competitors for half the money

Publish Date:

Friday, November 11, 2016 11:36 am PST

News Organization:

Mashable

Source URL:

Two years ago, Plantronics, a company best-known for Bluetooth headsets, released the BackBeat Pro, a pair of full-sized, wireless, noise-cancelling headphones with a ton of options for 250 bucks. 

Back then, the iPhone still had a headphone jack, and wireless headphones that could also cancel outside noise and had decent battery life were quite rare, so the BackBeat Pro immediately became one of the best choices in the space.

Now, two years later, Plantronics followed up with the BackBeat Pro 2; not so much a successor but a rethinking of their original idea. And despite some minor flaws I found in about a week of use, I declare them a success.

Usually, versions two of gadgets are a little bigger, a little better and a little more expensive. Plantronics went the opposite way; it appears the company decided to improve the headphones where they could but save on all the unnecessary stuff, making them even more affordable, which is why the BackBeat Pro 2 cost less than their predecessor at $199.

An enormous feature set

And since the original BackBeat Pro already had pretty much every option imaginable, the BackBeat Pro 2 didn't have much room for improvement. They're wireless and can pair with up to two Bluetooth devices at the same time. Sensors that detect when you've removed them from your head — automatically stopping/starting the music — are still here, as is the open mic mode, which lets you hear the surrounding sounds through the built-in mics. 

The earcups turn inwards to make the headphones fit better when you wear them around your neck (an awesome feature if you have a strong neck), and the army of buttons on them let you turn noise cancelling on and off, pause/start the music, skip tracks, increase/decrease volume and answer calls.

The battery, Plantronics claims, lasts an amazing 24 hours, and I believe it: I didn't have to charge them at all during my week of testing. Wireless connectivity works very well, though as with all Bluetooth headphones, you will occasionally have to turn Bluetooth on and off to get them to connect. And the range is amazing; I've listened to music two walls removed from my laptop with zero issues.

Yes, the feature set is roughly the same as on the original model, but that doesn't make it any less amazing; in fact, I still haven't encountered a pair of headphones, in any price range, that have all that.

And there is one new important feature: Bluetooth aptX support (more on that later).

So where did Plantronics save to cut the price by a fifty bucks? The included cable is a bit flimsier and doesn't have a remote. The carrying pouch is a little less fancy (the BackBeat Pro 2 also comes in "special edition" version with a nicer pouch, NFC support and a different color). The choices were smart; none of the key features are gone, and those that want those little extras can get the SE variant for $249.

Smaller and more comfortable — for most

The earcups on the BackBeat Pro 2 are smaller and elongated compared to the oval ones on the original Pro. The headphones are much lighter on your head, and will be more comfortable for a lot of people, though I personally prefer the larger earcups.

Still, you'll have a tough time finding a comfier set of closed, over-ear headphones. These are made for long commutes and plane rides, and they perform admirably.

They also look more stylish — not Beats-level stylish, but passable for street usage.

Unfortunately, the compromises Plantronics had to make to reduce the price can be felt in the design — the overall build quality appears to be a little worse than on the original, but the differences are minute.

Also, the multitude of buttons on the cans will take some getting used to — there are seven, in all, and a volume knob. I've fidgeted with my fingers quite a bit to find the right button, though with so many options, it's likely impossible to please everyone.

Vast improvements in sound

I've had a solid range of headphones to test the BackBeat Pro 2 against. Perhaps the most logical choice is the original Pro, and the differences there are huge. The Pro 2 have way less bass, and far more clarity in the treble and mid section. The instruments sound a bit more natural as well.

The difference is even bigger with wireless listening, which is where aptX comes into play. Go wireless, and the new Pro 2 sound roughly the same as when connected through a cable, even if you go through a 24-bit, 192kHz DAC. The old cans' sound, in contrast, deteriorates significantly. Of course, this is only if you have a sound source that supports aptX; Apple's MacBook Air (unofficially) does.

I've also tested them against a pair of headphones I've recently reviewed, the B&W P7 Wireless. The bass is not as pronounced in the BackBeat Pro 2 and the sound is much brighter and aggressive in the mid-range and treble. I noticed that, after listening to the P7 and switching to the Pro 2 at same volume, I instinctively wanted to turn the volume down a bit as some tones — vocals, especially — hit my ears a little bit too hard. On the other hand, thanks to their brightness, the Pro 2 sometimes revealed details that were harder to the discern on the P7.

The Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 sound better than their predecessor, and hold their own against much more expensive competitors.

I've exposed these headphones to a lot of different music styles, and I've found that the type of music I usually prefer for testing — sparse, acoustic live recordings with strong vocals — doesn't really thrive with them. These recordings are very transparent as is, and the Pro 2 sounded too aggressive for my taste. Oddly, I preferred bassy electronic music; since the Pro 2 aren't bass-heavy, they offered a satisfying sound.

For bass lovers, it's important to highlight that the Pro 2 actually have a very good reproduction of bass; in fact, better than the original Pro. It's just not as loud — which in my opinion, is a good thing.

Overall, the new Plantronics sound roughly what you'd expect them to in their price range — good and sometimes great but not amazing.

As for noise cancelling, it appears to be the same as in the original Pro. I did not have a chance to try them out on a flight, where noise cancellation is needed the most, to kill the incessant droning of the plane's engines. But in general, don't expect them to remove absolutely every noise coming from the outside; voices will go through, but that boring vacuum cleaner won't. Also, be prepared to hear a faint humming sound in the background when the noise cancelling is on.

Price and verdict

With the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 we've got a comfortable pair of wireless headphones, with every option out there, good sound and solid build quality. But the key ingredient is the price. They outperform their predecessor, which was $50 more expensive at launch, by a large margin. Their sound is not as good as the sound of the competing B&W P7 Wireless, but they absolutely destroy them on features, and cost exactly half the price. I haven't had a chance to test the Bose QuietComfort 35, which are often called the best in class in terms of noise cancelling, but again, those cost $150 more. And the Beats Solo 3, which we've reviewed recently, are also significantly more expensive at $300.

In short, the only wireless, over-ear headphones with noise cancelling and so many features at this price point are the BackBeat Pro 2. 

Multimedia Files:

Preview image
Sign up to receive news alerts from the Plantronics Newsroom   Join
Business Wire NewsHQ SM