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Plantronics BackBeat Go 2 stereo Bluetooth headset review: Improved sound -- and now water-resistant

The company brings better sound and some design tweaks, including a water-resistant coating, to version 2.0 of its affordable wireless earphones.

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David Carnoy
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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.

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When I reviewed the original Plantronics BackBeat Go stereo Bluetooth headset back in 2012, I said it was easy to see how the product could be improved and that the next version of the BackBeat Go would be better and easier to recommend for what it cost ($79.99).

Plantronics_BackBeat_GO_2_35823597_35823596_35823598_01.jpg
7.8

Plantronics BackBeat Go 2 stereo Bluetooth headset

The Good

The lightweight, reasonably priced <b>Plantronics BackBeat Go 2</b> wireless stereo headset improves upon the Go 1, with better sound quality and a sweatproof design, The step-up <b>BackBeat Go 2 + Charging Case</b> includes a protective case that has a built-in battery for charging on the go.

The Bad

Battery life isn't great (4.5 hours); no carrying case included unless you buy the BackBeat Go 2 + Charging Case ($20 more).

The Bottom Line

While its short battery life keeps it from true greatness, the Plantronics BackBeat Go 2 is a superior wireless Bluetooth in-ear headphone.

Well, I'm happy to report that with the BackBeat Go 2 Plantronics has fixed most -- though not all -- of the small flaws found in the original, and indeed, it is easier to recommend at its $79.99 price point.

Alas, the engineers didn't improve the so-so battery life (4.5 hours), but Plantronics is offering a battery extension solution in the form of a bundle that includes a charging case (BackBeat Go + Charging Case), so you can juice up on the go. If you already have an external battery charger for your phone, the $20 extra you'll spending for the charging case may not be worth it, but for a lot of folks it will be.

Design and features
This model looks very similar to the original BackBeat Go, which remains one of the smallest and lightest stereo Bluetooth headsets out there, featuring two slightly oversize earbuds joined by a flat, fettuccine wire that's designed to cut down on tangles. That said, Plantronics has made a few small changes to the design. For starters, the inline remote/microphone has been tweaked so the buttons are easier to operate by feel.

The headset has a cord between the two earpieces but the connection to your Bluetooth-enabled device is wireless. Sarah Tew/CNET

A closer look at those buttons reveals that the middle button serves as a call/answer end button, redial button, and it pauses your music during playback. The volume buttons do double duty as skip track forward/back buttons (you have to hold the volume up button down for a second to advance a track and hold the volume down button a second to restart a track).

It's also worth noting that after you pair the headset with your Bluetooth-enabled device once, it will remember the device and automatically pair with it. With Bluetooth activated on your device, you just have to hold down the call/answer end button for a second to turn the headphones on and they'll automatically pair after that. However, be sure not to hold the button down too long or the headphones will go into setup mode (for a new device) and won't automatically pair with the device you've already set up.

The inline remote/microphone has been redesigned. Sarah Tew/CNET

That may all sound a little complicated, but it isn't, and voice prompts alert you when the headset is on, when it's connected, and how full the battery is. A small, more accurate battery-life indicator for the headset is also displayed toward the top of the screen on iOS devices, though not Android phones.

One small change a lot of people won't notice is that Plantronics made the little LED on the earpiece brighter, so you can see it better now. It was hard to tell if the headset was charging because the LED was so faint, but now it's clearly visible (it changes from red to blue when the battery is fully charged).

The Go 2 also is available in white. Sarah Tew/CNET

Aside from the tweaks to the inline remote/microphone and LED, the other notable difference is that the earphones are now covered in a coating of P2i moisture-protection technology that makes them water-resistant, so you can sweat on them while you're working out or take them outside when it's raining. In the 10 days or so I used them, they seem to be pretty durable, but they're certainly not indestructible.

The final new feature addition is "DeepSleep hibernation mode," which allows the headset to hold a charge for up to six months, so you don't have to worry about the battery draining if you don't use them for a few weeks. How long that battery will last in the long run, I can't tell you, but it will eventually wear out and not take a charge, like all lithium batteries.

The USB charging port is hidden in the right earpiece. Sarah Tew/CNET

The other changes are on the inside. Plantronics says this model is equipped with a 6mm third-generation speaker that's an improvement upon the first-gen 6mm speaker in the original BackBeat Go. I could definitely hear the difference. The headphones now play louder and sound better, though it's crucial to get a tight seal or you can end up losing a good deal of bass.

As with all in-ear headphones, some people will be able to get a better -- and more comfortable -- fit than others. I thought the earphones were pretty comfortable and didn't have a problem wearing them during my daily 30-minute commute to work. I was able to get a tight seal with the large ear tips and easily paired the headphone with both an iPhone 4S and a Samsung Galaxy S4, streaming music wirelessly from both devices with only minor hiccups. To be clear, while there's a cord that goes between the earpieces, these earphones don't plug into anything; they're indeed wireless and you can make calls with them.

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. 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.

Plantronics_BackBeat_GO_2_35823597_35823596_35823598_01.jpg
7.8

Plantronics BackBeat Go 2 stereo Bluetooth headset

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Sound 7Value 8
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