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Plantronics' BackBeat Pro 2: A premium wireless noise-cancelling headphone for less (hands-on)

The Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphone is significantly improved over the original and costs far less than its competitors.

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Premium wireless noise-cancelling headphones from Bose, Sony, Sennheiser, Parrot and others tend to cost at least $350 (about £285 or AU$455). But not everybody wants to pay that much for a headphone, which is where Plantronics' BackBeat Pro 2 comes in.

Priced at $200, £230 or AU$250, the BackBeat Pro 2 is being positioned as a premium headphone for less. The original BackBeat Pro was, too -- and it was a good headphone for the money, despite being pretty bulky and not all that stylish. Nevertheless, it had a strong following among techie types who cared more about how it performed than how it looked.

What you get in the box.

Sarah Tew/CNET

With this new model Plantronics has slimmed the headphone down by about 35 percent, reduced its weight by about 15 percent, and made it more attractive. It also sounds great for a Bluetooth headphone, with relatively clean, dynamic, well-balanced sound that rivals the quality of its higher-priced competitors.

It's comfortable, too, and has sensors that pause and resume your music when you take the headphones off or put them on. And while the noise-cancelling isn't as effective as the Bose QuietComfort 35's, it does a decent job muffling ambient noise without creating an audible hiss.

I've been using it in the office for the past few days and haven't suffered any listening fatigue -- from either the sound or the fit. It's definitely a good work headphone and is ideal for an open-office environment if you want to shut out noisy co-workers. And it also played well outside -- in the streets of New York in my case -- though it will make your ears steamy on warmer days.

The controls on the left ear cup.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The control buttons, including a ring for adjusting volume levels, are on the left earcup, along with a button that you can switch on to activate an open microphone mode that allows ambient noise into the headphone and lets you hear your surroundings better.

As you might expect from a Plantronics product, the headphone is designed to receive calls. It works very well as headset, with a sidetone feature that lets you hear your voice in the headphone as you talk.

Battery life for music playback is rated at a healthy 24 hours at moderate volume levels. There's an included cable so you can use this as a wired headphone, and it comes with a nice cloth carrying case. Plantronics also makes a special-edition model that costs $50 more and includes a hard carrying case. It also has NFC tap, so you can pair the headphone with devices that support it.

All in all, this is a significantly improved headphone over the original BackBeat Pro. It's an excellent alternative for those who don't want to spend $350 or $400 on full-size noise- cancelling wireless headphones from Bose, Sony or Sennheiser.

I'll have a full review after testing it for a little longer.

Specs and features

  • 35 percent smaller and 15 percent lighter than the previous generation model
  • New ear cups for better ergonomics and ear coverage, a flexible ear cup mount, and a headband and yoke that distribute weight evenly around the wearer's head
  • Smart sensors that automatically pause or resume your music as you remove or put on your headphones
  • Connects up to two devices at once and can easily switch between devices
  • Built-in dual microphones for phone calls
  • Foldable ear cups and protective sleeve for travel
  • Battery lasts for 24 hours of continuous listening and up to 21 days on standby
  • Hibernates for up to 6 months if it's left on by mistake
  • 3.5mm cable so you can use this as a wired headphone if your battery runs out
  • 100-meter (328-foot) range if you pair it with a Class 1 Bluetooth device
  • Price: $200, £230 or AU$250 (coming to Australia in mid-November)
  • Special edition BackBeat Pro 2 SE with NFC pairing, more premium finishes and a hard travel case will be available in graphite grey for $250, £250 or AU$350 (available in Australia in mid-November)

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