(Pocket-lint) - Plantronics may have a big name in the world of hands-free Bluetooth equipment, but it's not widely regarded as a premium headphone company.
Our time with the BackBeat Pro 2 has taught us that it's a definitely a company worth considering if you're looking for a feature-rich set of headphones that won't cost you the earth.
Platronics BackBeat Pro 2 review: Design
- Comfortable memory foam padding
- Close fitting headband
- Weighs just 289 grams
- Control rings/buttons on left earcup
As per many other headphones there are both positives and negatives when it comes to how the BackBeat Pro 2 has been designed. The exterior is made mostly from plastic, with a soft leather-like material covering the top of the head band and the memory foam earcup padding. This memory foam padding is comfortable to wear for relatively long periods and the headband itself - with its breathable fabric covering on the underside - sits comfortably on the head.
The earcups are fixed onto the headband with a 90-degree rotating joint. This not only allows you to store the headphones neatly inside their included soft bag or canvas-covered hard case, but also enables a good degree of adjustment to fit your head better.
As for the adjustable headband, it clicks loudly into place - just to remind you that it's not quite a high-end, premium product. Still, once adjusted, the BackBeat Pro 2 feels very comfortable and light when worn.
While some other companies opt for a completely flush surface on the outside of the cans for volume adjustment and playback control, the Plantronics have a much more intuitive system. There's a textured ring around the left earcup, which you turn to adjust the volume and a physical clicky button in the middle for playing and pausing.
In-between the play/pause button and volume ring, there's another ring with skip back/forwards buttons on it. Although it's completely smooth, the skip track ring is easy to find by touch thanks to the play/pause button being slightly recessed, and the heavily textured design of the volume ring.
There are other buttons and ports dotted around each of the cans. The left earcup features the slider switch for activating and de-activating the active noise-cancellation and the ambient noise passthrough microphones. The right cup has the Bluetooth pairing slider, which is also the power switch. It also features a red mute button for use during calls as well as a 3.5mm jack and micro USB port for charging.
Overall, while the plastic looks and feels a little cheap and the faux wood pattern on the outside of the cups is puzzling, these headphones otherwise feel sturdy. There's no creaky, shiny plastic like you'd find on a (much more expensive) pair of Monster headphones.
Platronics BackBeat Pro 2 review: Features and performance
- Up to 100m range via Bluetooth
- Smart sensors pause music automatically
- Long battery life (up to 24 hours play)
There are a number of features built-in to these headphones. The first is a built-in sensor to detect whether you're wearing the headphones - when they're taken off the Plantronics auto-pause/resume playback accordingly. This feature worked using Spotify's desktop PC application as well as on iPhone. It is very sensitive, however, as just slightly lifting the right ear cup away from an ear is enough to pause playback.
Likewise, the noise passthrough is generally good should you want to listen to your surroundings as well as music. Switching the open mic on means ambient noise can pass through and you'll be able to hear what's going on around you. Like with many other systems, it's the higher-pitched external noises that are most audible. For instance, children talking is easier to hear than an adult's voice is.
At the opposite end of the scale the active noise-cancellation feature does a good job of shutting off the outside world, killing noise around you and making it barely audible. A noisy washing machine on its spin cycle can be completely drowned out.
Thanks to a host of Bluetooth technologies with some fancy names (EDR/HSP 1.2/HDP 1.6), Plantronics headphones have a connection that's as consistent and reliable as any we've tried. Amazingly, it has a maximum range of up to 100 meters.
Regardless of the phone or device we used with them, the audio beaming never dropped, not even for those brief split-seconds you sometimes get with wireless audio. But that's really no surprise, like Jabra (we tested its truly wireless earphones recently), it is well known for quality Bluetooth headsets, dating back years to when smartphones had clunky keyboards and tiny screens.
Of course, you can use a 3.5mm cable if you want. You'll need to if the battery dies halfway through listening to your favourite album, as noise-cancellation is activate, not passive.
Not that the battery is likely to run out too quickly. Plantronics promises up to 24 hours of listening time, and up to six months in its DeepSleep standby mode. We listened to between six to eight hours of music per day, took part in a couple of Skype conference calls, and didn't come close to even using half of the battery. When it does get close to losing all of its power, there's a built-in low battery status alert.
Platronics BackBeat Pro 2 review: Sound quality
- 40mm drivers
- Active noise-cancelling
- Open listening mode for ambient noise pass-through
Perhaps it would be a little insulting to Plantronics to say the sound quality of the BackBeat Pro 2 is surprisingly good. Audio is balanced well, with the spectrum filled with a decent amount of bass and mid frequencies.
If there's any complaint, it might be that bass levels are a bit high for the purist listener, but for all those who want a sound that's easy to immerse yourself in - whether it be hard-hitting rock from Rage Against the Machine or more calm sounds like The XX's new album - it comfortably envelops you.
This sound is delivered by 40mm drivers and sent through to the earphones using class 1 Bluetooth 4.0. Thanks to that sound quality, performance and comfort, there wasn't a single point we wanted to take them off.
As an overall package, the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 have a lot to offer. Despite their plastic build, these cans feel sturdy and are very comfortable to wear - even for extended periods.
Combined with the brilliant range of features, ease of use and overall decent audio quality, they're a very good pair of headphones. At £229, they're not overly expensive either.
They're available to buy from Amazon.co.uk in both black/tan and graphite grey.
Platronics BackBeat Pro 2: The alternatives to consider
The Bose QuietComfort brand has earned a serious reputation for great audio and noise-cancelling, and at £60 more than the Plantronics set, they're still great value for money. They were easily among the best headphones we tested in 2016 and are safe purchase for anyone to spend their hard-earned cash on a reputable brand.
While the Bose are great, the Sony MDR-100X blew us away and won our award for the best headphones at the Pocket-lint Awards 2016. They sound incredible, have one of the best noise-cancellation applications we've seen and are great to wear for long periods. The only downside: they cost a full £100 more than Plantronics' best earphones.
For those looking for a more stylish pair of earphones, none look quite as good as the BeoPlay H7. The anodised metal and tan leather combine to create a look that reeks of nostalgia. They're comfortable, although quite loose, and don't quite have the audio performance of the other alternatives, but at least you'll look good wearing them with your sheepskin jacket.