Plantronics BackBeat Go 2 + Charging Case stereo Bluetooth headset review: A stereo Bluetooth headset done right

You get a charging case if you step up to the $99.99 bundle. Sarah Tew/CNET

Like the original BackBeat Go, the new model comes with little "stabilizers" to get a more secure fit. While they work pretty well, I think Plantronics could come up with better stabilizers that really keep the earphones in your ears even more securely, especially when you're running. For instance, I liked the stabilizers found on the Monster iSport Immersion and Audio Technica's SonicSport ATH-CKP500. However, both those are wired in-ear sports headphones.

As far as accessories go, these guys come with three different-size eartips, plus a USB charger. They're available in two colors -- white or black -- and there's a version that comes with a charging case for $99.99, or $20 more.

The included accessories. Sarah Tew/CNET

The idea behind the case is that it not only protects the earphones but it has a built-in rechargeable battery for charging on the go. When fully charged, the case can charge the headphones twice, which gets you up to 13 hours of battery life, though you won't be able to use the headphones while you're charging them. I personally thought the case could stand to be slightly larger to accommodate the headphones more easily (you really feel like you're stuffing them in there), but that's a small gripe.

Performance
The original BackBeat suffered from some performance issues, the biggest of which was that it didn't play very loudly (I felt I could have used more volume when I was outside on the noisy streets of New York).

I didn't have that problem with this model and overall, the sound was fuller and more dynamic, though I can't say it's incredibly open or detailed. The bass was pretty punchy, but again, if you fail to get a tight seal, the earphones will sound thin.

The loop 'stabilizers' could be better designed to offer a more secure fit. Sarah Tew/CNET

For those new to stereo Bluetooth, it's worth noting that Bluetooth does compress audio files and has a tendency to flatten out your music, leaving it sounding less dynamic. But Bluetooth headphones are getting better, and while this model doesn't feature the aptX codec, which can offer slightly improved Bluetooth sound quality with mobile devices that also feature aptX (no iPhone models have aptX, but many of the new Android models do), I thought it sounded good for a Bluetooth earphone at this price point. It's relatively natural-sounding, fairly well balanced, and lively. It may not satisfy the most critical listeners but it can hold its own with with a lot of wired in-ear headphones that are in the $30 to $70 range.

Comparing it with the significantly more expensive Jaybird BlueBuds X Bluetooth earphones ($169.99), the two models sound very similar. That model has a cord-management feature and claims better battery life, but it's not worth the extra dough.

As for call quality, Plantronics hasn't changed the microphone, and the performance of the headset was good (callers said they could hear me well, though it obviously helps to pull the microphone closer to your mouth).

Conclusion
It's challenge to design really small wireless Bluetooth earphones because you have to cram a battery and some extra electronics into a compact housing the size of something that's not much bigger than, well, an earbud. Plantronics' first-generation BackBeat Go was pretty good, but it did have a few rough spots, particularly with its performance.

Cosmetically at least, the BackBeat Go 2 really isn't different from the previous version, but with the tweaks in the design to the remote/microphone and the addition of the moisture-protection coating, there have been some notable improvements, though battery life still isn't great (that weakness is offset somewhat by the inclusion Charging Case in this bundle, which is why you see a slightly higher rating on this review). But the most important change is to the sound quality -- it's right there with the sound quality of competing products such as the Jaybird Bluebuds X Bluetooth earphones, which retails for a good deal more.

While the Go 2 still has room for improvement (a little bit smaller design, better stabilizers, and better battery life), it's a nice step up from the original and strongly worth considering if you're looking for an earbud-style wireless headphone.

Editors' note: The reviews of the standalone BackBeat Go 2 and the BackBeat Go 2 + Charging Case are very similar, but the model reviewed here (with the case) got an extra point in its features rating and ended up with a slightly higher score.

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