Plantronics BackBeat Sense review: new headphones by the people who worked on the moon landing

Spoiler: they're pretty good!

Plantronics is a company perhaps best known for its excellent audio communications products, having made the headsets for the moon landing – when Neil Armstrong is photographed using your devices, you’re probably doing something right. But recently they’ve been making strides in devices made primarily for listening rather than talking, and their new BackBeat Sense headphones are an example of how well they’re doing it.

Design

Image: © Plantronics

Coming in at just 140 grams, these headphones are extremely light and small, making them perfect for those who prefer to listen to their music on the go. They’re available in black with espresso pads or white with tan pads, so there’s not much diversity in terms of colour options, but they are at least neutral reasonably attractive colour schemes that offer a nice twist on the standard black and white. The earpads are memory foam, clearly labelled L and R, that stay very comfortable for long periods of wear. The comfort of the memory foam in conjunction with the lightness of the headphones themselves mean it’s actually very easy to forget you’re wearing them at all. The right ear has a USB charging port, a headphone jack for when you don’t want to go wireless, and power button that doubles as a Bluetooth receiver switch. The left ear is your control station, with a twisty volume dial, and pause/play and song skip buttons.

Features and Performance

The headphones come with a thick canvas carrying pouch which, whilst protecting the headphones and looking good, is a bit bulky and awkward to use. The ear cups are able to be folded flat, making it easier to store the headphones in their pouch, but I found myself forcing them and pulling them more than I would normally like to when trying to store and remove them.

Image: © Plantronics

On the underside of the left ear cup there is a handy little button that when pushed, starts up the headphones’ built in dual microphones, reducing the sound of the music and enhancing sounds around you, so you don’t have to remove the headphones to have a conversation. Or you can just pick up on conversations in public places if you’re feeling nosy. I call it the ‘casual spy’ feature.

The ear cups also come with built in sensors so that if you have to take them off quickly to do something, the music you’re listening to pauses, waiting until it senses they’re back on your ears to start playing again. It’s features like this that let you see the communications device history of Plantronics behind their headphones; although they aim to focus on the music experience of their product, they also make sure to build in neat little features that don’t make the music experience a completely isolating one and make staying connected with the outside world effortless. These are the easiest headphones to use in a public place because although their sound is excellent, it’s much more convenient to stop what you’re listening to and converse with someone than it is with other headphones I’ve tried. Using them on a flight this weekend, I found that I could simply press the microphone button when I was asked if I wanted a drink, rather than go through the fuss of pulling out my headphones and tangling myself in my rush to not be my usual awkward self. The entire process just felt smoother.

Image: © Plantronics

The headphones use Bluetooth v4.0, allowing you to connect to two devices simultaneously and switch between them, which was a reasonably easy task. They do claim a wireless range of 330 feet which I imagine they would easily achieve in an open space, but I found that in my small flat all it took was one particularly solid wall to break the connection. That wall has admittedly proved to be a bit of a bitch for wireless and Bluetooth so I can’t imagine it’s purely down to the quality of the headphones and must in part be due to the suspicious solidity of my bedroom wall. In any reasonably laid out indoor environment I would imagine a range of 60 to 70 feet would be easily achievable; not quite the extended range promised.

If you don’t fancy using Bluetooth all the time, there is the option to connect them to your device using a cord. It’s unlikely you’ll find yourself forced to do this against your will much, as they have a very respectable 18 hour battery life.

For their price of £149.99, the BackBeat Sense headphones are excellent. One feature that many might really expect to see as standard in their Bluetooth headphones is missing from the BackBeat Sense, however, and that’s noise cancellation. That might be something you consider paying a little more for, but it’s rare that you’ll find the comfort and sound quality BackBeat Sense provide at this price point. The sound they provided was clear and natural, handling bass very well at all volumes. The many genres of music I played through the BackBeat Sense all sounded really good – though they do sound best when not at maximum volume, so if you like a “share your music with the entire tube carriage” level of sound, these might not sound quite as good to you.

Plantronics BackBeat Sense headphones will be available this month in the UK directly from the Plantronics site and other retailers like Amazon, for £149.99.


Main Image: © Plantronics