Plantronics has come a long way from making mobile phone headsets for city slickers. It's latest over-ear creation is the BackBeat Pro, wireless Bluetooth headphones crammed with great features including active noise cancellation.
But does a company best known as a Bluetooth headset specialist stand up to long-term headphone makers like Bose or Sennheiser? We've been using the BackBeat Pro for many weeks to help us decide.
- Best noise-cancelling headphones: The best 'phones to block out external sounds
- The best Bluetooth headphones: Top on-ear or over-ear wireless headphones
For a really geek-friendly pair of cans you don't need to look much further than the BackBeat Pro. Bluetooth is ridiculously fast to connect, owing to Plantronics' background, and seems to use very little battery as somehow these headphones continue working for a good 60-hours.
There's also NFC, AptX Bluetooth with a 100-metre range, tap and wheel controls, and smart pause, to name but a few features.
Even crabs could control these
Controls are something Plantronics has clearly spent time perfecting. On the right ear piece is a ring that can be twisted to naturally turn the volume up or down or with tremendous accuracy. On the left ear is another control ring that can be used to skip tracks back and forth.
The plates on the outer sides of the earcups act as buttons too, one for play/pause, the other for answering incoming calls. Being as big as they are it's nice and easy to control without the fiddling around that some headphones demand.
Auto pause is a socialite's dream
A nice little function that works automatically is auto pause. You know the situation: someone is trying to tell you something mid-way through a song, you take your headphones off, realise they're chatting rubbish, then put your cans back on to find you've missed the best solo in the song. Not with BackBeat Pro as the smart headphones automatically pause whatever you're listening to when you remove them from your head.
It has to be said when we first discovered this it was an annoyance. We were lifting the left ear and it was pausing, or lowering gaming volume, when we didn't want it to. Then we realised you can disable the function by simply pressing and holding the mute and call buttons for five seconds. Well done Plantronics.
Connectivity is key
NFC (near field communication) is useful for pairing the headphones to a phone easily enough but it's the Bluetooth that most impressed us. Some headphones don't have the range, take a while to connect or chew through battery life - but not the BackBeat Pro.
The Bluetooth 4.0 connection is near instant after turning it on by using the physical switch at the back of the earcup. Once connected we haven't had a single problem even when walking between rooms with taking our phone with us.
The range is apparently a whopping 100 metres, or ten times that of normal Bluetooth. It's also AptX enabled meaning the quality is higher than usual, assuming the right source material, for those who can appreciate the difference.
Designed for who?
When it comes to design the BackBeat Pro could be called a little basic. At worst it could be called corporate. We wouldn't call them bad looking, but they lack the invested finesse of some rivals. The quality is solid enough so that throwing them in a bag is no problem - although you do get a soft carry case included for added protection.
To wear the headband is comfortable and the ear cushions soft enough to don for a long-haul flight without any complaints. The mesh behind the earcups are a nice touch that light-up with blue LEDs when the headphones are charging.
Battery for the long haul
One of the advantages of a larger over-ear headphone like the BackBeat Pro is battery life. We used the headphones with active noise-cancelling turned on and were told by Plantronics that we'd get 24 hours, or 60 without noise cancelling.
While we didn't use a timer we got a few hours gaming, a few hours on train journeys, two eight hour flights and a two hour-long car rides out of them before running out of juice. So, essentially, you can charge them once a week and forget about power worries which is really refreshing for a modern gadget.
If they do run out of power then simply plug in the included cable and the headphones will work passively. Not with noise-cancelling, of course, as that requires the power, but you won't be absent of music nonetheless.
The Plantronics BackBeat Pro offer well-balanced sound. There's enough bass for dramatic gaming, while the mid-level sees voices standout in songs, while the treble is crisp. This is all enhanced with the active noise-cancellation when out and about.
While the balance might be a little punchy for some we found that slightly amped treble with not-too-powerful bass made for ideal sound whatever the source was.
From £160 (RRP £250)
The Plantronics BackBeat Pro headphones manage to cram a lot of features into a headset that's very comfortable to wear.
The long-range Bluetooth and AptX quality is a real bonus for listening at home when moving about, while the auto pause feature when removing the headphones is a nice extra (that can be switched off if wanted).
Controls are simple, active noise-cancelling works well, the build is sturdy, the battery lasts for an age, and sound is well balanced for many situations. The £250 RRP is a little steep, though, but at the time of writing the £170 asking price is worth it.
The only downside is the somewhat bland design. Perhaps that's the one weak point from a company better known for Bluetooth headsets. But, based on what we've seen from the BackBeat Pro over-ears, Plantronics is a company showing it can produce headphones equally worthy of attention.