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Plantronics Backbeat Go Bluetooth Headset (Black) review: Plantronics Backbeat Go Bluetooth Headset (Black)

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It's hard 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 Backbeat Go (Black)
6.7

Plantronics Backbeat Go Bluetooth Headset (Black)

The Good

The <b>Plantronics BackBeat Go</b> is a compact wireless stereo headset that sounds decent, is attractively designed, and is reasonably priced.

The Bad

Battery life isn't great (4.5 hours); buttons on the inline remote are small; and the LED that indicates when the device is on or in pairing mode is tiny.

The Bottom Line

There's a lot to like about the BackBeat Go wireless stereo headset, but some notable shortcomings temper our enthusiasm.

That's a challenge Plantronics has endeavored to overcome with its $99.99 BackBeat Go wireless stereo headset, one of the smallest and lightest stereo Bluetooth headsets out there, which features two slightly oversize earbuds joined by a flat, fettuccine wire that's designed to cut down on tangles.

First, the good. The BackBeat Go is attractively designed and offers a pretty comfortable fit. I was able to get a tight seal with the largest of the included silicon eartips and while I used the optional "wings" that are supposed to help keep the earphones securely in place, I didn't feel they had much of an impact on the fit.

As for sound quality, it was decent for a Bluetooth stereo headset and the performance of the headset was good (callers said they could hear me well). Overall, the sound was pretty balanced and didn't have a harsh edge or overemphasized the bass (there's not a ton of bass, but it's ample so long as you get a tight seal).

On a more critical note, I did feel the sound was a bit restrained (most likely because of the earphones' small size -- they have 6mm neodymium drivers) and I could have used a bit more volume when I was outside on the noisy streets of New York.

Editor Brian Bennett, who also tried out the product, said he didn't have an issue with the volume, but he wasn't in love with the Backbeat Go's fit.

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. That was the case here as well, and this model does not feature the aptX codec, which can offer improved Bluetooth sound quality with mobile devices that also feature aptX (the iPhone 4S does not have aptX, but some Android models do).

The BackBeat Go comes with a selection of eartips and "wings," but no carrying case. Plantronics

As I said, this is a headset that you can use for making cell phone calls. The microphone is integrated into the cord as part of an inline remote, which works with both Android and Apple iOS devices. The earphones charge via USB (the port is hidden in the right earphone) and offer only about 4.5 hours of listening time, which is pretty mediocre (again, it's hard to get a bigger battery in such a small unit). However, I did appreciate that there was an onscreen battery meter at the top of my iPhone's screen (the onscreen meter is tiny, but it's there).

A lot of people like to buy Bluetooth headphones for running and gym use. For lighter workouts, these would work, but they are less than ideal for more-active workouts. Plantronics reps told me that the BackBeat Go is for more casual use, for someone who's simply "on the go." The company's BackBeat 903+ Stereo Bluetooth Headset is still on the market, and that larger model is sweat-resistant and can be used for more-active workouts.

The buttons on the inline remote. Sarah Tew/CNET

Conclusion
For better or worse, this is one of those products that seems to get mixed reviews from users. Some people really like it while others find fault with everything from the cord that links the earbuds (some people think it's too long, whereas others don't like the feel of it against their neck) to the size of the earbuds themselves (yes, they stick out of your ears more than typical earphones) to the so-so battery life. The buttons on the inline remote (volume up/down, answer/end call) are also a little small and may be difficult for some people to operate by feel. It's also worth noting that the on/off button, which is on the side of the inline remote, is truly tiny, and the minuscule LED in the right earphone that lights up when the headset is on -- or flashes when it's in pairing mode -- can be hard to see, especially in bright light.

Personally, I didn't find any of the flaws to be total deal killers, but it's easy to see that the product could be improved and that the next version of the BackBeat Go will be better and easier to recommend at this price point (about $80 online). I do hope Plantronics makes a BackBeat Go 2 or BackBeat Go+ (or whatever it chooses to call it) because this could be an excellent product with some refinements.

The earphones do stick a bit more than typical earbud-style headphones.

Plantronics Backbeat Go (Black)
6.7

Plantronics Backbeat Go Bluetooth Headset (Black)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 6