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Review: Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2

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Oct 18, 2016, 3:00 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   @phonescooper

The BackBeat Pro 2s are an affordable pair of Bluetooth headphones from Plantronics. Features such as active noise cancellation, long battery life, and respectable sound quality make the Pro 2's low price point seem like a mistake. Here is Phonescoop's in-depth report.

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Intro

The Backbeat Pro 2 from Plantronics is a second-generation over-the-ear Bluetooth headset for those who prefer solace and sound quality over portability and fancy fitness functions. These high-end cans compete with similar models from Beats and Bose, and promise to transport you to a tranquil space where music takes center stage.

Background

Active noise cancellation (ANC) has become a critical feature in today's best headphones. It's not enough to provide the widest frequency response and an immersive sound stage — these don't matter if they are drowned out by background noise. Active noise cancellation typically helps eliminate a high percentage of ambient sound to deliver a cleaner listening experience. The technology helps do things like dull the roar of airplane engines, but is equally helpful in reducing the din of noisy coffee shops, crowded subway cars, and so on.

Bose has long set the standard for active noise-cancellation headphones. Bose's Quiet Comfort series provide incredible noise reduction and accurate sound, making them the favored headphones of travelers and audiophiles that can afford them.

Plantronics' new entrant looks to compete with Bose on features and performance, but particularly on price. The Backbeat Pro 2 boasts more tricks than Bose's vaunted headphones, especially business-friendly functions such as open listening mode, and yet costs far less. You don't have to be an executive to enjoy the Backbeat Pro 2.

Form Factor

Full-sized cans aren't for everyone, but they are by far the most comfortable style of headphones to wear for hours on end. This larger, over-the-ear form factor allows for a wider range of designs and materials, and supports bigger drivers for superior sound. This type of headphones is simply the best option for anyone who values comfort and audio quality. Over-the-ear means the Backbeat Pro 2s fully encapsulate your outer ear, insulating them from exterior sounds more so than would “on-ear” models, which rest on top of your ear.

The Backbeat Pro 2 has a padded, flexible headband, padded leather ear cups, and just the right amount of tension to keep them on your head comfortably without squeezing your brain. Adjusting the ear cups to fit your head is simple; Plantronics allows for plenty of travel in the headband. The cups are mounted on swivels. The main purpose behind the swivels is to allow the muffs to fold flat for easier storing. The added bonus is they allow the headset to conform to the shape of your head that much better.

Plantronics said it worked hard to reduce the size and weight of the BBP2's when compared to the original model: they consume about 35% less volume and weigh 15% less. They are, indeed, significantly smaller than the outgoing model. This makes them more comfortable to wear over long periods of time. For example, I wore the BBP2's for several hours while doing yard work over the weekend. The headphones never got in the way, didn't feel too heavy as I moved around, and did not slip off my head. On the downside, my ears worked up a pretty good sweat underneath that layer of leather and padding. Speaking of padding, the original BBPs had round ear cups, but the BBP2s switch to oval cups for a better fit.

The controls are simple to use. The left cup includes a slightly-indented play/pause button in the middle, with skip/back buttons to either side. Press the front-facing button to advance a track and the rear-facing button to go back a track. It makes perfect sense. A patterned jog dial surrounds these controls and is what you use to adjust volume up or down. It's better than the analog dials that were on the original BBP, but not by a lot. The back of the left cup has a switch for turning ANC on or off. The switch works well.

The right cup has one large button on the outer side for answering/ending calls. It's impossible to miss and travel/feedback are okay. The on/off switch is on the back of the right cup and mirrors that of the ANC button on the left. The very bottom of the right cup is where you'll find the microUSB port for charging the internal 680mAh battery. The BBP2's also include a 3.5mm headset jack for when the battery has completely drained. This can be a lifesaver. (Sound via the 3.5mm headset jack will vary depending on the power of your phone's amplifier.)

The BackBeat Pro 2s come with a high-quality storage bag, headphone cable, and USB cable.

Plantronics did well with the overall design of these headphones. They don't match the raw street style available from Beats, but are more interesting to look at than the rather dull Bose QC35s. Moreover, the BackBeat Pro 2s are exceptionally well-made. I appreciate the quality of the materials and how strong the entire headset feels. By comparison, the QC35s come off as rather flimsy.

Performance

Plantronics gave the BBP2s 40mm drivers, one in each ear. Large drivers within roomy enclosures are the chief benefit of over-the-ear cans. The bigger the drivers, the more air is being pushed into your ear. This has a direct impact on sound quality. Frequency response is fairly typical of most modern headsets at 20 to 20,000 Hz. That means the headphones reproduce a good range of lows and highs.

The BBP2s sound great. As much as I enjoyed the originals, the 2s have punchier bass and clearer treble. The sound stage is a bit wider and this gives music more breathing room between your ears. I streamed music from iTunes and Spotify on an iPhone 7 Plus and from Google Play Music and Spotify on the LG V20. Music streamed from the V20 was noticeably better than from the iPhone. Movies sounded really good, too. I enjoyed the immersive cinema-like sound from the BBP2s when watching the latest Star Trek movie over the weekend.

I think the best part is that you don't have to do any work to get good sound from the BBP2s. They sound great right out of the box and don't require futzing around with ear tips, fit, in-ear seals, and wonky third-party apps. Drop them on your head, and go.

Active noise-cancellation is playing a helpful role here. The headphones use a mic to listen to ambient sound and then issue an opposing signal to cancel out the background din. This has the immediate effect of allowing you to listen to lower volumes (to protect your hearing). The BBP2's ANC performance is very, very good, but falls just short of Bose's incredible QC35s. With the QC35s, everything around you just goes dead silent. With the BBP2s, a bit more of the surrounding din makes it through to your ears. Even so, the BBP2s are excellent at reducing noise so the drivers can work their magic on your lugholes.

The BBP2s support the A2DP v1.2 stereo Bluetooth profile with the aptX classic and aptX low-latency codecs. These codecs will give Android phones that also support aptX a nice boost in audio quality.

From a pure music-listening standpoint, the Bose QC35s are the most balanced and have the best clarity. The BBP2s are much better than the originals, but not quite up to par with the Bose. If you love bass above all else, perhaps look at the Beats Studio Wireless, which, as part of the brand's identity, push the bass to the ridiculous.

Plantronics out-guns Bose on several core features. For example, open-listening mode. With this feature turned on, you can hear select things around you such as voices or announcements. This means you won't miss that boarding call for your flight, or the gentle "excuse me" of someone nearby seeking your attention, even if you're playing music rather loudly. Perhaps even better are sensors that automatically stop/start music when you take the BBP2's off and put them back on. That's clutch if your phone is buried in your pocket, where it might be difficult to hit "pause."

Other niceties: The BBP2 can pair with two mobile devices, such as a phone and a tablet. This is called multipoint and it is particularly helpful if you're watching a movie on your tablet, but have to answer a call from your phone. Answering the phone call pauses the movie on your tablet, and the movie will automatically resume once you end the call. That's cool. The headphones also offer audible status updates about the battery level when first powered on.

The Bluetooth radio itself performs admirably. I connected the BBP2s to a variety of devices and didn't encounter any pairing issues. Moreover, connections remained strong with absolutely no drops. The Class 1 BT transmitter can maintain connections across 300 feet, which is 10 times further than most wireless in-ear buds. (The phone has to support this, too.) I was able to leave my phone in my upstairs office, go downstairs, and walk outside to the end of my street while still listening to music. The Bose QC35s dropped the signal before I get half that far.

Lastly, battery life: The PPB2s deliver a full day of music playback with ANC turned on. That's more than 24 hours, or two roundtrip flights from NYC to London. Turning off ANC doubles battery life, and the headphones can rest in standby mode for up to 6 months. If your battery fails, use the backup 3.5mm headphone cable for unlimited, analog playback from your favorite media device.

The Bose QC35s come up short in terms of battery life. They call it quits at about 20 hours. You can't turn off ANC on the Bose to extend battery life, but they do provide wired backup for analog listening.

Pro, Pro 2's, QC35s

Pro, Pro 2's, QC35s

Discussion

Plantronics did a fine job in refreshing the BackBeat Pro line. The company's second-generation headphones sound better than the first, are more comfortable to wear, and offer a refreshing array of useful features.

Plantronics' design team doesn't have quite as much cred as Beats' team does, but the BackBeat Pro 2's are well-made, from fine materials. Most people will find the leather cups comfy and the headband is soft, yet firm. The controls are simple to find and activate without looking, and the reduced size and weight make the Pro 2's easier to travel with.

Sound quality is much improved over the original Pros and easily surpasses the bass-heavy experience from Beats as far as I am concerned. Bose's headphones do sound better overall, but not by a big margin. Moreover, the Pro 2's outshine the competition in Bluetooth wireless performance and battery life.

The Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2s, available immediately, cost $199. That's $150 less than Bose's best and about $70 less than the comparable Beats model. That makes the BackBeat Pro 2s a steal by comparison. If you're looking for a feature-rich pair of over-the-ear headphones that deliver balanced performance, look no further than the BackBeat Pro 2s.

Our Ratings

4
Overall
 

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