I have a new pair of favorite headphones and they aren’t intended for someone my age. They’re Plantronics BackBeat Pro noise-cancelling headphones and they’re comfortable, wireless, have excellent on-headphone controls and only cost $250. I’m going to make a prediction: these are going to be the best headphones I try for the rest of 2015 all the way through 2016 (and possibly beyond). That’s how much I love them.
I actually had my doubts about these headphones when I first saw them online. They looked… clunky. I thought they might be a case of function over form. There was an older guy modeling them (at least two decades older than me), they were pure black (no bright, trendy colors) and their main feature was noise-cancellation (which admittedly, most millennials probably aren’t looking for).
But I’m not most millennials. I’m a blogger/vlogger and I work from home and from coffee shops. Home isn’t always the quietest place in the world with an awesome toddler running around. And coffee shops are generally anything but relaxing (well, the good ones where people actually show up). On top of that I do a fair amount of travel — and an airplane is one of the best places I can think of to use noise-cancelling headphones.
But I have to admit one more reason why I wanted to snag the BackBeat Pro headphones for a test. I’m newly obsessed with a startup called Brain.fm which provides brainwave training in the form of music that helps you focus, relax and sleep. Yes it sounds like a gimmick. Yes it works (read what I wrote about it the other day to see what I’m talking about). So having some wireless, noise-cancelling headphones for my Brain.fm sessions seemed like the perfect compliment. And ya, they pair very well together.
There are times when I really like background noise and there are times when the littlest noise can break my concentration or make me lose the thought I was just on the verge of grasping. For those times when I just need to be able to melt into my own thoughts and bang out three articles in a morning I decided I needed some noise-cancelling headphones. So I set about making some product review requests. And thankfully the first pair that arrived in my UPS box were the Plantronics BackBeat Pros.
I was so excited about checking them out that I asked my wife to drive home so I could open them on the way (that happens quite a bit I must admit… but hey — getting new gadgets in the mail every day is exciting). From the second I tried them on and hit play I wondered how I ever lived without them — and I knew we were going to get along juuuust fiiiine.
Let’s talk sound first. These headphones sound every bit as good as the near-$500 earphones I tested just a week or two ago. I’m not going to delve too deeply into audio specifics in this review — not only do I get rather sick of that (hey, you would too if you reviewed as many speakers and headphones as me every month) — but it’s really not worth going over with a fine tooth comb. The sound is great — highs, mids and lows. I’m impressed. There’s nothing to nitpick about sonically and I’m going to leave it at that. Fine — one more sentence: they sound as good as you’d expect $250 headphones to sound.
So how about the noise-cancellation? It’s 95% effective. With noise-cancellation enabled I was still able to faintly hear some of the noises around me — no question there — but they were significantly reduced. When you combine the active noise-cancellation with the fact that these are over-the-ear headphones, you end up with a pretty effective sound barrier.
There’s a nifty button you can press that will un-cancel the noise-cancellation. It’s really cool and it works great; you can then hear (very clearly) everything going on around it. When you’re having a conversation with someone this way, though, it does sound like they are on the other end of the phone — or something. But it’s not bad, not at all. It’s perfect for talking to people without having to take your headphones off.
This feature is also perfect for flying. Admittedly it’s a first-world non-problem, but I hate taking my headphones off (or earphones out) when I’m on a plane and I want to hear what the captain, crew or people next to me are talking about. It’s a pain. But with these headphones, problem solved.
I absolutely LOVE the controls on the BackBeat Pro headphones. LOVE. I’ve tested lots of seemingly-clever controls schemes on headphones from dozens of companies and this is BY FAR my favorite. There’s no touch-sensitive surfaces (which tend to be glitchy or get bumped accidentally).
There are two large buttons in the center of each side — one for play/pause and one for taking phone calls (and for Bluetooth pairing if you hold it down for a few seconds). They press easily and have a satisfying click and — unlike the buttons on the, cough, House of Marley Liberate XLBT’s — they are really sturdy.
Around each of the large buttons are some rotating wheels — again one on each side. One controls the volume and one controls moving through tracks (moving forward or backward).
There are also two small switches for activating the noise-cancellation and turning the power on or off.
And let me take a paragraph to mention how well these headphones work with Siri! They work better with Siri than any other headphones I’ve ever used. Normally with Bluetooth headphones there’s a GIANT lag between initiating talking to Siri and being able to actually talk to Siri. But here the lag is very, very minimal — almost realtime (but not quite). It’s usable, though, and that counts for a lot. I can use these headphones for voice dictation without losing my mind.
Everything about these headphones feels high-quality. There’s nothing — nothing — cheap about them. They look and feel premium and rightly so: they are, indeed, premium headphones.
The leather ear cups are quite comfortable. Not the most comfortable I’ve ever experienced — my ears did develop a slight bit of fatigue after a couple of hours of straight use — but they’re more comfortable than 90% of headphones I’ve tested.
Now the BackBeat Pros aren’t the most fashionable headphones on the planet. Again, they’re not targeting the same fashion-conscious audience that Beats is after. But you know what? They’re not bad: not at all. In fact, I don’t mind them at all. The all-black look is classic and the leather accents clearly state that these aren’t cheap. That said, they do stick out a bit more than I’d like — but for the features I can easily let it slide.
I like the carrying bag that comes with these headphones. You can fold the sides of the headphones flat for storage and they fit nicely inside the bag.
I also, rather oddly, appreciate the accent color associated with this product: purple. Okay, so maybe I wouldn’t pick purple, personally, but while there’s barely a hint of purple on the actual headphones themselves, the purple cords that come with them are easily distinguishable in a sea of black cords and cables.
Yes — I said cables, plural. There’s a charging cable, of course, but there’s also a traditional headphone cord which you can use if you run out of power (and yep, it’s got a remote and mic).
But you don’t need the cable to make phone calls. The BackBeat Pro is fully capable of making and taking phone calls. And, for Bluetooth headphones, calls sound pretty decent (although I’ve yet to meet a Bluetooth accessory that people on the other hand have been truly happy with).
One small, but very useful, detail that I love about the BackBeat Pros is the clear labeling of which side is Right and which is Left. On some headphones it’s nearly impossible to tell. On others it’s glaringly obvious (but who wants to see that). On the BackBeat Pros there’s a large L and R inside each earpiece which is brilliant because it’s easy to see when you’re putting them on and then completely invisible once you’re wearing them.
I also appreciate the voice that gives you status updates. When you turn the headphones on, you’ll get a breakdown of how much battery life is left.
One insanely awesome feature? The ability to pair to two devices simultaneously. So I can be listening to music on my Mac and also take calls from my phone. That, my friends, is AWESOME.
Finally, I really like the price point on the BackBeat Pro headphones at $250. That makes them $50 cheaper than the cheapest Bose noise-cancelling headphones (which range up to $400) so naturally these could be great alternatives to Bose headphones.
So if you’re looking for excellent noise-cancelling headphones, I wouldn’t pass up the BackBeat Pros from Plantronics. They are all-around high-quality headphones that are comfortable and come with some innovative features. Perfect for frequent travelers and/or people who work from home or at busy coffee shops — like me.