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Plantronics' new BackBeat 500 raises the bar for cheap on-ear Bluetooth headphones

With its new $80 BackBeat 500 Series, Plantronics is trying to attract younger users with an affordable, stylish on-ear model that undercuts Beats products.

David Carnoy
David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews

Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.

Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
2 min read

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I got an early review sample of Plantronics' new BackBeat 500 Series headphone, a Bluetooth on-ear model that's attractively designed and priced at a relatively modest $80, £100 or AU$120. It comes in three colors -- white, grey and dark grey that looks more like black -- and is comfortable for an on-ear headphone.

Plantronics isn't doing anything too groundbreaking here, particularly from a design standpoint -- there are other models, such as the Jays u-Jays, that look very similar. But the difference is that the Jays headphone goes for $120 on Amazon while this Plantronics costs $40 less.

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The BackBeat 500 comes in three color options.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Usually Bluetooth headphones in the sub-$100 range suffer from mediocre sound quality. But I was pleasantly surprised that the BackBeat 500 sounds as good as it does for the price. It's not in the league of over-ear models like Plantronics' own BackBeat Pro 2, but it's a pretty well-balanced headphone with decent detail and relatively punchy, meaty bass (there's a touch of bass push). It clearly seems designed to compete with Beats' Solo3 Wireless, which lists for $300 but costs around $220 online.

The Beats offers best-in-class battery life (40 hours), but the Plantronics BackBeat 500 comes in with a solid 18 hours at moderate volume levels.

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Here's what you get in the box.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I've made a few calls with the headphone and while its headset performance isn't as good as the BackBeat Sense or BackBeat Pro 2, it's decent for an entry-level Bluetooth headphone with a single microphone and no noise-cancelling capabilities. In other words, it'll work well in quieter environments but don't expect it to filter out the wind or street noise.

I'll have a full rated review in the coming days. In the meantime, have a look at the BackBeat 500 Series' key features, according to Plantronics:

  • 40mm drivers
  • Memory foam ear cushions
  • Stream up to 10 meters (33 feet) from compatible phones and tablets with Bluetooth 4.1
  • Ear cups rotate to lay flat for compact storage in a bag or backpack
  • DeepSleep hibernation mode helps maintain battery charge for up to six months when your headphones are out of range or left on
  • 18 hours of battery life
  • 3.5mm jack and included analog cable can be plugged in as backup without disrupting listening
  • Automatically connect up to two devices simultaneously and pair up to a total of eight devices
  • Take calls with a wideband-enabled mic and access Siri, Google Now or Cortana
  • Carrying pouch included
  • Available in three colors (white, grey and dark grey) on Plantronics.com for $80, with additional availability from authorized Plantronics retailers coming soon
  • Will be £100 in the UK and AU$120 in Australia
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