Last Updated February 25, 2018 – At the time of this review Plantronics released the BackBeat Pro 2. This review still mostly applies and I include my impressions of the new model towards the end.
In 2015, I was on the market for a pair of wireless headphones. I wanted the freedom of listening to videos while moving around my home; and after some deliberation, I narrowed my requirements down to three features I found important.
- Decent active noise cancellation.
- The option to go wireless or wired.
- Support for low latency Bluetooth.
At the time, my research was dominated by products like the Sennheiser Momentum, Bose QC35, V-MODA Crossfade, and Parrot Zik. While I agree they are all quality products, I also felt they were over shadowing alternatives. More importantly, I wanted something for less than $300 CAD and I was prepared to make compromises to find a more budget friendly option.
Upon further research, I discovered lesser known brands like Bluedio and MEE audio that offered similar products. However, I was very hesitant with them because I was not able to find in-depth reviews that calmed my doubts about their quality.
Then, unexpectedly, I came across a product by Plantronics named the BackBeat Pro. This hidden gem was Plantronics attempt at the premium wireless headphones market and it was surprisingly packed with features.
At the time, the price was right and I gave them a chance. So here is my review after using them for over a year as my daily driver.
Things I Like
The on-ear controls make using the BackBeat Pro very convenient. I am able to power on the headphones, change the volume, and answer calls directly from the right earcup.
Switching between Bluetooth devices is rather simple too. Start by stopping the audio or shutting down the app on one device, then begin playing audio on the other device and it will connect automatically.
I also appreciate the voice prompts that notify me of the current battery level, when I reach min/max volume, and which device is connected. The voice is subtle and I find it does not disrupt my listening experience at all.
aptX® Low Latency Technology
The BackBeat Pro also supports aptX Low Latency which was a huge factor in my decision and it has not disappointed me. This technology allows the device to deliver sound in sync with visual media and works best with watching videos and gaming. I am very happy with the performance but keep in mind that the transmitting device also needs to support aptX Low Latency for you to benefit from this feature. Without it, the headphones fall back to higher latency codecs.
Microphone Pass Through
One feature I do not use often but find neat is the pass-through mode. This mode enables the mic and allows you to listen to what sounds it picks up. This feature is useful when having to talk to someone without taking off the headphones.
I am also amazed by the battery life. I find myself charging them every two weeks or so with regular daily use.
My most favourite feature is the ability to hook them up to a 3.5mm jack and use them unpowered like a regular pair of headphones. The only drawback is that none of the buttons and volume dial will work. It is a worthwhile compromise though, and I do like having the option of using these headphones in a pinch if I forget to charge them.
Things I Dislike
I am not a fan of the design. The silhouette looks chunky and bottom heavy. While wearing them I feel like an extraterrestrial from the 80s.
Overall though, it does have a premium finish to them. The black plastic, faux leather and hints of purple and metal work well for it. The build quality also feels solid and robust in the hands.
While wearing them, even with glasses on, they are comfortable. They also provide a good seal around my ears. However, because of the faux leather and shallow earcups, I often find myself getting hot and sweaty after long periods of time in warm or active conditions.
Some discomfort also builds up around my head over time which I first thought was from the headphones being too tight. Having over a year to break them in, this did not get better. I believe it is caused by the weight of the headphones as I notice the discomfort radiates from where the headband usually rests.
Your experience with the connectivity will be determined by what devices you plan to use with it. Native Bluetooth devices like tablets and mobile phones appear to work seamlessly. However, with my setup where I use a Bluetooth adapter through a 3.5mm jack, I experience a couple of issues when switching between my PC and phone.
- Firstly, when I listen to audio from my PC then answer a call, the audio quality of my phone suffers and skips. To stop this interference, I need to turn off the Bluetooth adapter.
- Secondly, when I pause the audio from my PC then play audio from my phone, the headphones do not switch to the new source.
This leads me to believe that my PC does not communicate with my Bluetooth adapter, so it thinks it still has an audio signal. Which makes sense considering they are only connected via an audio cable.
I found that the auto-pause feature was more of an annoyance than a convenience when I wanted to adjust the headphones on my head. Because of this I recommend that you disable the “wearing sensor” using the Plantronics Hub desktop app.
Also, if you are thinking of using these while working out. Don’t. They do not feel secure at all. It wiggles when I move my head left to right as well as slip when I look up and down.
If active noise cancellation (ANC) is important you, I can say there are better products out there than the BackBeat Pro. But this is good enough for my use. It is able to block out just enough noise for my enjoyment and is decent enough for me to not complain.
There is a very faint hiss produced when ANC is on and no audio is playing. It goes away when you start to play audio and this is normal. Also, I can only hear it when it is very quiet and I am purposely listening for it.
My Main Usage and Setup
Primarily, I use my BackBeat Pro for listen to videos on my PC and mobile phone and switch between them rather often. So convenience became very important to me.
I did not want to limit my flexibility by using a USB Bluetooth adapter on my computer. Nor did I want my speakers to turn off every time I start using my headphones.
The first solution I looked for was a Bluetooth audio transmitter that I can use by plugging in an audio cable. This allowed me to use the transmitter not only with my PC, but with any other non-Bluetooth device that had an audio output. I ended up getting the MEEaudio Connect, a Universal Dual Bluetooth audio transmitter.
However, the Connect alone did not complete my setup. When I plug into my PC audio ports, my computer speakers get turn off. I did not want that, and instead of fiddling with my Windows configuration every time, I kept my solution simple and bought a stereo audio splitter. I got the Belkin Headphones Splitter, but any kind will do for this. Just make sure it splits the source audio into two stereo sources. Do not mix up adapters that split a stereo source into a left and right signal. Otherwise you’ll be in for a surprise.
Once I set everything up, I was able to split my audio from my PC to my speakers and Bluetooth transmitter. Now, I can freely use my BackBeat Pro whenever I need without losing the audio on my computer speakers. Joy!
Should you buy it?
Overall, the Plantronics BackBeat Pro has a very good set of features for its price. I think it offers a great amount of value that is ideal for business and office environments.
All of its features cater to that sort of setting while still providing decent sound. So, if you’re looking for a good pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones that sound good and have a long battery life at a reasonable cost. These will not disappoint. While on sale, the price to performance value you get will be very hard to beat.
February 2018 Update
After two years of regular daily use. I would say the BackBeat Pros are still holding up well. I still cannot wear them for long periods without some discomfort and the look of the headphones still have not grown on me.
Fortunately since my purchase, Plantronics released the BackBeat Pro 2 and I recently had the opportunity to try them in person.
The moment I picked it up I was pleasantly surprised by the weight. Being 51g lighter may not be a big deal, but it made a world of a difference to me compared to the original.
The new design also did away with the round earcups and opted for an oblong shape. I found the new earcups to be more comfortable, despite them being smaller.
The updated model still offers the same features to price value, so I feel my review is still relevant. Not only that, a number of key upgrades were made that positively affects the things I disliked about the original. They look better, come smaller, and lighter in weight than its predecessor. If you are on the market for a pair, definitely get the new version.
Alternatives to consider
The Bose QC35 II have also been well known for their noise cancelling technology. However, with the introduction of the Sony WH-1000XM2 in 2017, I have read that the Sony’s are giving the QC35s a run for their money at a lower price point.