You'd be hard pressed to find a Bluetooth headset with more features than Plantronics' BackBeat Pro+. Active noise canceling? Check. NFC? Sure. Bluetooth and 3.5mm plug? Yes, definitely. Multipoint technology? Oui. And the list goes on and on. Name any option and the Pro+ likely has it. If you're looking for a jack of all trades headset, you'll waste a lot of time trying to find one more versatile and feature-filled than the BackBeat Pro+, but there's more to this pair of headphones than gimmicks and long feature lists. The Pro+ shines in some instances that I didn't know I'd appreciate and falls flat in some other places where I had higher expectations. The result is that I love it but can't recommend it because there's a better option hiding not so far away.
|Battery Life||Up to 24 hours wireless streaming, 60 hours noise canceling only, 21 days standby time, 180 days in DeepSleep mode|
|Noise canceling||Controllable Active Noise Canceling (ANC) plus Digital Signal Processing (DSP) and dual microphones|
|Audio||aptX® low latency codec2, AAC codec2, 40mm dynamic drivers, Frequency response 20-20kHz|
|Smart sensor technology||Automatically pauses/resumes play, sends calls to/from headphones, and helps to conserve battery power|
|Multipoint technology||Switch between two simultaneously connected Bluetooth devices (2H2S)|
|Class 1 Bluetooth v4.0 + EDR||A2DP for audio streaming, AVRCP for music controls, Hands-free v1.6 for wideband, and Headset v1.2|
|Other features||NFC connectivity, OpenMic, Class 1 Bluetooth USB adapter|
|Wired listening||Angled 3.5mm audio cable with in-line controls|
|Charging||Rechargeable battery, MicroUSB connection, takes up to 3 hours|
|Carry sleeve||Large travel pouch|
I am not a lover of large headphones. I am not even accustomed to wearing them for more than an hour and I'm definitely not the kind of person who would go out and seek such a headset. I like small in-ear earphones, the smaller the better, and I hate feeling pressure against my ears or carrying any weight on my head. The Plantronics BackBeat SENSE though, that I reviewed last year, changed my perspective a little. I loved a lot of things about them, but hated the on-ear design, so I kept the brand on my radar until I could get my hands on an over-ear model that should, on paper, be easier for me to manage.
And I was right. Even though the Pro+ weighs 340g to the SENSE's 140g, it is more comfortable for me to wear for longer periods of time because it doesn't exert any physical pressure on my ears. I have listened to more than two hours of music on it, non-stop, without any complaint. I won't deny that I felt some relief by the time I took it off, but at least I wasn't tempted to rip it as far away as possible from my head in less than 10 minutes. That's a big nod of approval for any headset I try. But I'm getting ahead of myself here so let's go back to the beginning of the story.
Packaging and Design
The BackBeat Pro+ ships in a huge box that just screams badass. Even the presentation of the headset, once you open the box, is impressive with that faux-rock effect. It's nice, but most importantly, it keeps the headset safe during shipping.
Inside the box, you'll also find the carry sleeve, 3.5mm cable, MicroUSB cable, and Bluetooth USB adapter. The latter is basically all that differentiates between the regular BackBeat Pro and Pro+: it's already paired with the headset and makes it easier to stream audio from any computer, regardless of whether or not it has Bluetooth connectivity.
The Pro+ looks superb with those different shades of grey (no pun intended) mixed together. The headband is fully padded and extends on both sides in up to 12 increments to adjust to your head size.
The earcups don't fully rotate like the SENSE's, they just turn 90 degrees in one direction to fold flat and make the headset easier to carry. The earcups though are a little flexible, pushing on and off the main headband by about 5 degrees as you can see on the left earcup in the left image below.
Each earcup is completely round and very thickly padded to add to the comfort of wearing it. That design choice is something to look out for when purchasing the Pro+ because larger and longer ears won't fit in. Compared to the V-Moda Crossfade M-100 for example, the earcup is wider but shorter. This means that the Pro+ will likely be a mix of on-ear/over-the-ear for people with longer ears.
Round earcups (right), side-by-side comparison with the V-Moda's hexagonal shape (left)
The right side houses the power switch, a large call button, and a big black volume ring. Unlike the SENSE, the volume button rotates instead of using a flick-like mechanism. You rotate it slowly to change the volume step-by-step, or you fully turn it to cause more volume change. I love the feedback on this dial: it's smooth but still won't be triggered by mistake.
The left side is home to the ANC (Active Noise Canceling) switch, a big Play/Pause button, the NFC tag, and the same rotating black ring for skipping and rewinding a track. However, this one follows the flick system: one flick up acts as Fast-Forward and one flick back is Rewind.
Both earcups have additional controls and ports on the bottom. The right one has the OpenMic switch that lowers the volume of the music and lets you listen to your surroundings through the 2 microphones without removing the headset. The left one houses the MicroUSB port and the 3.5mm plug.
There are hidden LEDs on both earcups behind the metallic grill. These act as visual cues for power, pairing, connecting, and battery life.
Features, Comfort, and Usability
As I mentioned at the top of this review, this is the first pair of headphones that I can even tolerate wearing for more than a few minutes, and dare I say I do enjoy that too. I'm not dumping my small Sennheiser in-ear earphones anytime soon, but at least I know that over-the-ear headphones can work for me, as opposed to the pressure of on-ear ones.
Sure, the earcups are round and thus shorter than other over-the-ear headsets, but they work fine most times. My only complaint was when I put the BackBeat Pro+ on while wearing earrings… Searing pain. But then again, that was my mistake for not remembering that earcups could push the dangling earrings into my skin.
And there's a lot more to enjoy about the BackBeat Pro+, not the least of which is the smorgasbord of features included. I like having a headset where I don't keep wishing for a missing option. I connected the Pro+ to my iMac and my S7 Edge and I didn't face any problem with the music stopping from the iMac when I got a call on my phone. Plus, since I'm using these at work at my pharmacy, I don't have to worry about pausing and resuming the music each time a customer comes in. The smart sensor just does it for me when I slide them down my neck then put them back on.
And the battery life is phenomenal to say the least. I didn't charge them when I got them and I've been listening for about an hour each day in about 8 days. I even forgot them on Standby over the weekend. I still have 14 hours of battery life left. That's astounding. Not to forget the versatility of using the 3.5mm cable whenever the battery runs out.
NFC pairing works like a charm, and like it should really. You forget about manual pairing and just tap your phone to the left earcup to get the music or audio through. The USB dongle also worked flawlessly on my iMac. I only had to get into the Sound preferences and pick it as an output device and I was good to go: it was pre-paired with my headset.
Choosing the Plantronics USB adapter as the sound output device
This kind of versatility allows you to take the BackBeat Pro+ with you and connect it to any computer by just plugging in the adapter without worrying about Bluetooth antennas and finicky connections. My iMac for example has a stupid habit of not automatically using a connected Bluetooth headset as a stereo sound device, but that issue is completely gone with the dongle. No matter how many times I unplug it and replug it, when the dongle isn't used the iMac routes the sound through its own speakers, but when it is the sound goes to it and thus the headset. No more messing with the Bluetooth menu each time to select the Pro+ for sound.
The only real downer for me when it comes to the BackBeat Pro+'s usability is the size. They're huge and they don't fold that well. Compared to the V-Moda Crossfade M-100 (as an example of over-the-ear headphones that fold), they're gigantic and stay so even when you rotate the cups and fold them flat. The M-100, however, becomes much more compact and travel-friendly.
Plantronics has a Hub application for its headsets that doesn't do much for stereo headphones (it's more geared toward mono headsets), but that's still a little helpful. You can decide to show or hide a notification on your phone each time the Pro+ is connected and keep an event history and log to make it easier to find your headset.
The latter is actually the most interesting feature of the app. It can play a striking sound to help you find your headset and it keeps track of connections and events and appends locations to them so you can trace back the last time and place your phone and headset were within range.
This is what you're here to read about, right? The sound quality makes or breaks a headset, and in the case of the Pro+, it's a mixed bag.
I am not an audiophile, I also wouldn't be able to tell the difference between distorted and non-distorted lows and mids and highs. To me, the BackBeat Pro+ sounded mind-glowingly excellent. But I decided to pack them up and take them to a friend of mine who specializes in audio equipment. His reaction was a lot less enthusiastic.
According to him, the Pro+ falls flat in terms of sound. There's distortion on higher volumes and there's lack of depth on both lows and highs. To help me understand the difference, he gave me the pair of V-Moda Crossfade M-100 that you saw in a few of the photos above, and that's when I noticed it. By themselves, the Pro+ sound really good, but their sound profile is a lot more dull compared to the M-100. The best way I could describe it is that music through the Pro+ sounded like it was coming out of a nearby speaker, but through the M-100 it felt like the guitar and drums were playing live next to me: richer and more vibrant. But take the V-Moda away for a few minutes and I go back to being impressed by the Pro+. The lesson here is that if you are not picky about sound, you won't likely find any fault with this headset.
Active Noise Cancelation works well and both me and the audiophile friend appreciated it. It doesn't completely remove all sounds, but it drowns them considerably, especially when there's music playing. Some Amazon reviewers are citing hissing with ANC on, but neither of us noticed it. In terms of day to day use, I like staying slightly aware of my surroundings, so I didn't use ANC extensively. But on a couple of occasions when I was trying to focus, I turned it on and completely forgot everything around me. It did its job.
I love the versatility of the Plantronics BackBeat Pro+. I can use them via Bluetooth or wired, pair them with NFC or with the USB dongle, connect them to a computer and a phone simultaneously, turn on or off Active Noise Canceling, use the OpenMic to listen to my surroundings without removing them, or rely on the smart sensor to pause and resume my music when I take them off. Some of these options might sound like gimmicks to you, but they turn out to be very convenient in daily use and they open up the Pro+ to more use scenarios.
The big question mark though is sound, and whether they're worth the admission price of $277 (MSRP $300). Let's look at it from a couple of different angles.
If you're an audiophile, or if you can tell the difference between good and average sound without direct comparisons, walk away slowly and silently. You won't find something to wow you here. You're better off with the V-Moda Crossfade Wireless at $300.
If you're mostly interested in Active Noise Canceling, then it'll depend on whether or not you're willing to compromise on the Bluetooth aspect. If you are, you might be better off with the wired Bose QuietComfort 25 for $299. They're also more compact and come with an airline adapter which can be handy if you plan on frequently traveling with them. The BackBeat Pro+, by comparison, are huge to truck around and are a little less efficient at noise canceling.
If you're not in either of these demographics and you're really swayed by all the features of the BackBeat Pro+, then you won't be disappointed by them. Whether you want this headset to listen to music at work and drown out the office noise, or to play endless hours of games without being disturbed, or to listen to music from your computer while also staying connected to your phone, or for casual use around the home or office or while commuting, the Pro+ fills its end of the promise well, and you'll love the sound if you're just an average listener like me.
But don't click on that Buy button just yet. See, like I said, the BackBeat Pro+ costs around $277 on Amazon, but the regular BackBeat Pro is just $140 now (MSRP $250). The only notable difference is the Bluetooth USB adapter. You get the same design (though completely black), smart sensor, NFC, battery life, ANC, multipoint technology, and so on, but you don't get the small USB dongle. Is that worth almost doubling the price? No. Sure, it's more convenient and more reliable when connecting to computers, but I'd rather pay half the price and get all of the rest of the features without it.
For $140, the BackBeat Pro is a lot more value for the money and this is where my recommendation lands today. If the difference though becomes around $40-50, then I'd say go for the Pro+ because the dongle will take a lot of guesswork and trouble out of connecting to any computer.