Plantronics is better known for its mono wireless headsets but it's been making a push into the wireless stereo headphone arena with its BackBeat line. Everything so far in that line has been in-ear (such as the BackBeat Go 2, or BackBeat Fit), but now the company's going big with the BackBeat Pro. It's a $250, £250 or AU$349 over-the-ear wireless active noise-cancelling headphone that competes with the likes of Bose and Beats.
I've been playing around with the Pro for the last few days and have been generally impressed with the comfort level, sound quality, and feature set. Not everybody's going to like its look -- it does have a sort of ungainly business professional vibe to it -- but it seems well built (it's not a light headphone). It has very good battery life too, with up to 24 hours of juice with Bluetooth and noise cancelling engaged, and Plantronics says you can get up to 60 hours if you use the headphones in wired mode with the noise cancelling on.
I wouldn't say the sound is quite as good as that of the Beats Studio Wireless, which offers similar features but costs about $100, AU$130 or £80 more. The BackBeat Pro delivers strong bass though, and has a little treble push that amps up the detail. It's a fairly aggressive headphone, which means it's a little short on warmth, but it's the type of sound profile that's in vogue with mainstream users these days.
The noise cancelling isn't up to the level of the Bose QuietComfort 15, but it's decent (I used the headphones on a flight from San Francisco to New York) and stronger than the Beats Studio Wireless in this respect. It's also worth mentioning that with a touch of a button you can activate an OpenMic mode that "pushes the music to the background and amplifies environmental sounds," allowing you to have a conversation with the headphones on.
The headphone is loaded with features -- it's right up there with the Parrot Zik. The controls can easily be operated blindly, with a ring around the right earcup serving as a volume control and a ring on the left earcup serving as a transport control (track skip forward and back). I also liked how when you take Pro off your ears and rest it around your neck, your music pauses. The music resumes when you put the headphones back on.
There's NFC tap-to-pair technology for Android phones that support it and Advanced Bluetooth technology that extends the wireless range to up to 330 feet (100 meters) when using a smartphone or tablet that supports the technology -- that's 10 times as much as the usual 33-foot (10-meter) range of Bluetooth. If you're wondering what the flavor of Bluetooth is, it's v4.0.
The headphones fold flat and come with a sturdy, well-designed carrying pouch. As you'd might expect from a Plantronics product, it works well as a headset (yes, there's a built-in microphone for taking calls). Then again, the Beats Studio Wireless does, too.
Why Plantronics instead of Beats or Bose?
According to Plantronics, the brand has a loyal following among business professionals who use their mono wireless headsets in the office and on the go. Those folks are candidates for Bose headphones, but currently Bose doesn't make a wireless QuietComfort noise-cancelling headphone. And wireless is what people want (although I suspect that Bose has a wireless QC model in the works).
As noted, the BackBeat Pro is more affordable than the Beats Studio Wireless, and lots of folks are simply anti-Beats. There are some other choices, such as the Nokia Purity Pro by Monster, in this growing category of full-size Bluetooth headphones with active noise cancelling, but they tend to cost more than $300.
In all, while its design won't appeal to everyone, I think Plantronics has done a good job making the BackBeat Pro an intriguing option if you're in the market for this type of headphone. It's comfortable, sounds good for a Bluetooth model, has well-designed controls, and its battery life appears to be excellent.
The BackBeat Pro is available now in the US and elsewhere in the world from October. It'll cost you $250 in the US, £250 in the UK, AU$349 in Australia and €250 in the rest of Europe. We'll post our final review, with a rating, after more fully testing the battery life.