Along with the three BackBeat Fit models that I reviewed a few days ago, Plantronics announced on Monday two new Go headsets: the in-ear Go 410 and the over-ear Go 810. The governing idea behind the two units is to bring wireless noise cancelation to the masses at a more affordable price. The company says it conducted studies with users and came away with the conclusion that 28% are looking for noise cancelation in their headsets, but 65% of them won't pay more than $150 for that. That seems about right, as I don't imagine many users have the spare cash to pay $300 or more for a pair of earbuds or headphones. That's midrange smartphone money.
The new Go 410 and 810 aren't supposed to be high-end choices, but aim to bring down the entry price of noise cancelation in both of their form factors. They're targeted at commuters, workers, and travelers who want ANC (Active Noise Cancelation) and don't plan on breaking the proverbial piggy jar to get it. Both are subtle and minimalistic in design with monochromatic colors, and they're packed with neat features. I've spent a bit of time testing them and I'm here to let you know what I think and whether Plantronics fulfilled its promise or not.
BackBeat Go 410 ($129.99)
The market for wireless in-ear noise cancelation headsets isn't as developed as over-ear models. With proper sealing, any in-ear headset can cancel a lot of noise passively, so the inclusion of an active component that will add weight, price, and battery consumption seems a little superfluous on paper. That doesn't mean that you won't get benefits out of ANC, it's just that it makes less of a difference. This is why it's tough to justify spending several hundreds of dollars on something like the Bose QuietControl 30 and why Bluetooth noise canceling in-ear headsets have been more or less an open market for lesser known brands like Linner, Cowin, and Mighty Rock, who sell units in the $70-80 price range. If you're willing to spend a little more, there's the $129 Audio-Technica ATH-ANC40BT and now, the new Plantronics BackBeat Go 410 at the same price.
The BackBeat Go 410 comes in two colors: Black or Bone (a light tan color).
The Go 410 follows the same design as most of the models mentioned above. A thick rubbery flexible cable drapes around your neck with two large modules on each side, and two thinner wires come out of it with the earbuds at the end. There's an additional small remote on the right side, which you won't find on many competing models. It brings the controls forward and makes them easier to reach, but it also adds bulk to an already bulky unit. The buttons on the remote are shallow and mushy, and I honestly didn't enjoy using them at all. For a single click, they're ok. But when you're supposed to tap and hold Vol+ to skip forward, or tap and hold Vol+ and Power simultaneously to toggle ANC, you need clicky responsive buttons. More often than not, I had to try twice or three times to skip, because I kept triggering the volume and the holding action didn't stick. I have to say I'm using a non-commercial sample though, so I hope this is fixed in the sales units.
The large modules have no controls or ports except for a MicroUSB charging port on the right unit. Plantronics ships the Go 410 with a MicroUSB to USB-A charging cable, but there's one nifty addition: the USB-A side has a hidden 3.5mm headphone jack. This means you can plug the cable in the headset and transform it into a wired unit, which doesn't consume battery power (Plantronics tells you to turn off the headset when you do this). It works in a pinch, like when the battery dies or when you want to watch a movie on an airplane's built-in entertainment system, but expect a mess of dangling cables.
The Go 410 ships with a MicroUSB to 3.5mm / USB-A cable, and different sized ear tips.
The earbuds aren't very bulky and curve to fit inside your ear nicely. Three earbud sizes come in the box to help you find the perfect seal — a crucial element for proper noise cancelation. They're comfortable to wear for a couple of hours and have magnets to stay together when you take them out of your ears. I love this feature, not only because it makes sure the headset doesn't slip on your back, but also because it's smart. Once the magnet triggers, the headset disconnects from your phone and turns off ANC to save power. When you unlatch them, the headset reconnects and turns ANC back on. This makes sure they don't lose too much power when you take them out of your ears, and they're ready to be used once you put them back in. However, it doesn't automatically resume playback, so you'll have to press play once again.
The Go 410's battery lasts 8 hours with ANC on, 12 hours when it's disabled. There's no charging pouch provided, only a regular carry bag. The headset uses Bluetooth 5.0, is sweat-resistant, and can connect to two devices simultaneously. Through the new BackBeat app you can change the equalizer from bright (treble boost) to bass (bass boost), turn on ANC to off/low/high, and set a time-out for ANC when the headset is idle.
Speaking of ANC, it does indeed help with noise isolation. You'll obviously notice it more when playing music or podcasts at lower volumes or with no audio at all. Like all ANC, it works better for hums and constant noise, not sharp sounds. My ultimate test for it is the large UPS battery system in my pharmacy, which emits a constant buzz and hum. With the buds in my ear and the headset off, it's muted a little but I can still hear it; but once I turn it on and ANC is enabled, even with no music, the sound gets silenced to nothing but a whisper. With music at 20%, I can't hear it anymore. Proof that good seal from in-ear buds does reduce outside noises a lot, but if you want complete isolation, you'll have to fork up for ANC.
As for sound, the Go 410 continue Plantronics' habit of eking good quality at lower price points versus their competitors. The sound is enveloping, powerful, and switching between the bright and bass EQ settings ensures you can enjoy bass-heavy music or podcasts equally. I just wish there was a more neutral setting or a proper equalizer to control the sound as you wish. Distortion creeps in at higher volumes and I find that the 410 gets a little too loud for its own good — the sound starts to go out of control if you raise it beyond 80%. But stay below that and you're going to get loud-enough volumes without any of the distortion.
After a couple of weeks with them, the BackBeat Go 410 left me a little annoyed and undecided. I had been using the very similar $200 Libratone Track+ (which I reviewed here) for a few months and now, I keep going back and forth between these two. If you have the dough, you'll find the Track+ sound a little better, are made of higher quality materials and less bulky, have satisfyingly clicky buttons, and come with dreamy flusher earbuds that sit very comfily in your ears. Honestly, I love the way the Track+ earbuds are designed and how they feel. However, the Track+ have less effective noise cancelation in multiple side-by-side tests. They also can't connect to two devices simultaneously, don't come with a carry pouch, and you don't get the super convenient smart magnet function that the Go 410 offer. At $70 less, the Go 410 are definitely the better value buy, but I just wish the buttons were less mushy and the design was more streamlined.
Libratone Track+ (left) vs Plantronics BackBeat Go 410 (right).
BackBeat Go 810 ($149.99)
More perplexing than the Go 410 are the Go 810. Not because there are similar products from other brands that offer some pros and cons in comparison, but because there's very direct competition from Plantronics' own line-up. The BackBeat Go 810 is now available for $149.99. The more powerful and more full-featured BackBeat Pro 2, which I reviewed almost two years ago, can be found for $169.99 on Amazon now. Better yet, it sometimes drops to $150 or even $130. When there's such a little price difference, and when the Pro 2 is cheaper, you can't make many arguments in favor of the Go 810. But, if you live somewhere where the price gap is $50 or more, the Go 810 does have a place, albeit a small one.
With that important preamble out of the way, let's take a look at the 810. Like all over-ear headphones, it has a padded headband that extends to accommodate different sizes, and large oblong cushiony ear cups. It's averagely comfortable to wear for long periods of time and wraps well around my ear, though I wish if the headband was padded throughout and not just in the middle. The build quality and materials are average to good. There's more exposed plastic here, especially in the band, compared to the Pro 2, and the design is way more minimalistic in comparison. None of those curves, embosses, or wooden effects; it's all straight to business.
The BackBeat Go 810 comes in three colors: Black, Navy, and Bone.
The right earcup has the power/Bluetooth switch, an LED indicator, and the call mute/equalizer button. The left one has the rest of the controls and ports: a 3.5mm plug for wired listening, a MicroUSB port for charging, volume up/down buttons, and play/FF/RW buttons on the outside of a rubber-covered earcup. Pressing and holding both volume buttons for two seconds toggles ANC on/off. Pressing and holding the power button for two seconds triggers Google Assistant or Siri. The former is not built-in though, like on the Bose QC35 II, so it's a little slower and less powerful (no reading of your notifications for example).
By connecting the 810 to the BackBeat app, you can choose between low and high ANC, set the time-out mode for ANC when the headset is idle, and choose between the balanced or bright EQ settings. I still wish there was a proper EQ here, and given the number of buttons available here, the My Tap feature that I described with the BackBeat Fit line-up would be more than welcome. The mute/equalizer button doesn't do much for me, I'd rather set it to launch a Spotify playlist instead.
I subjected the Go 810 to the same pharmacy UPS buzz-hum test. With the headset on my head but turned off, the sound was down to about 55%-60%. After turning it on with ANC set to High but nothing playing, it was down further to about 30%. The Go 410 was better, likely because of its sealed in-ear design. But with just a bit of music or audio playing, even at low volumes, I couldn't hear anything anymore. I tested my BackBeat Pro 2 next to it and would say the Go 810 performs marginally better, so the company did its homework and improved on its ANC technology over the past couple of years.
I don't have any complaints about the Go 810's sound quality, despite their use of a custom SBC codec instead of aptX. I didn't notice any latency while watching videos and there weren't any red flags with music. Even at high volumes, these headphones carry themselves well and distortion is minimal. They don't get deafeningly loud to my ears, unlike many other units, so perhaps there's some restraint with the maximum volume to keep it in check. Unlike the Go 410, the EQ presets don't have a bass-heavy mode, but the balanced one serves well for all frequencies and most genres of music. If you listen to a lot of podcasts like I do, you will find the bright profile suits those better.
And this brings us to the value you're getting out of the Go 810. In absolute terms, it is a good deal. You won't find many Bluetooth ANC over-ear headphones made by reliable brands in this $150 price range. As I said at the start though, the real competition comes from Plantronics itself. The Go 810 and the BackBeat Pro 2 are very close in price, and with $20 more or less either way, the Pro 2 is the better overall buy. Both headsets have 20+ hours of battery life, multipoint technology to connect to two devices simultaneously, 40mm drivers, dual-mode ANC, and come with the same accessories (fabric pouch, 3.5mm cable, charging cable). The Go 810 edges it a little bit in ANC, the Pro 2 in sound quality. The similarities end there though.
The Pro 2 uses more premium materials, has a more cushiony angled headband, wraps better around the head, and is more comfortable to wear for long periods of time. It has a better 20Hz lower frequency response (vs 50Hz on the Go 810), uses the aptX codec for lower latency (vs SBC), and has Class 1 Bluetooth for up to 100m range (vs 50m). It also has an Open Mic mode to hush music and listen to your surroundings without taking the headset off, and a smart sensor that automatically pauses the music when you remove it then resumes when you put it back on. The Go 810 lacks both of these very convenient features.
On the other hand, the Go 810 wins in just a couple of areas. It uses Bluetooth 5.0 (vs 4.1 on the Pro 2), is lighter at 189g (vs 289g), and takes only 2 hours to charge (vs 3). It can also provide up to 3 hours of listening with just 10 minutes on the charger. None of these are significant enough to offset all the other features where the Pro 2 are better.
When the two models cost nearly the same, it's really difficult to recommend the Go 810 over the Pro 2. I'd go with the latter without hesitation. However, as I said earlier, if you live somewhere where the price difference is more significant, or if the Pro 2's price goes back up to $200, the Go 810 would still be a decent choice. I just think Plantronics shot itself in the foot here. By making the Pro 2 so appealing and giving it such a long time on the market that the price fell below the $200 MSRP, it effectively negated the need for a cheaper over-ear model. The Go 810 would make more sense at $129.99, but I'm sure that would squeeze out any of the company's margins.
The conclusion with these two BackBeat Go models may not be as enthusiastic as it was with the Fit line-up. Where both units excel is at Active Noise Cancelation, and that part of the promise is fulfilled. But some corners had to be cut to bring the price down and whether or not they were the right ones is up to you. With the Go 410, I think the compromise makes sense as there's no directly comparable product on the market in that price range. Sure, the Libratone Track+ is nicer, but it's also $70 more and lacks a few features the 410 has. With the Go 810, you only have to look at the Pro 2 once to see that it's a better option overall.