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Plantronics' BackBeat 500 is the budget Beats alternative

Publish Date:

Friday, March 31, 2017 5:04 pm PDT

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The Plantronics BackBeat 500 is an attractively designed, affordable on-ear wireless Bluetooth headphone that's fairly comfortable and sounds good for the money. It has good battery life at 18 hours, works decently as a headset, and comes with a carrying pouch.

Not as comfortable as the step-up BackBeat Sense; finishes on darker colored models are prone to showing scratches over time.

Small drawbacks notwithstanding, the Plantronics BackBeat 500 Series raises the bar for entry-level on-ear wireless headphones.

Plantronics' BackBeat 500 Series headphone is a Bluetooth on-ear model that's attractively designed and priced at a relatively modest $80, £100 or AU$120. It comes in three colors -- white, gray and a dark gray that looks more like black -- and is relatively comfortable for an on-ear headphone.

Plantronics isn't doing anything too groundbreaking here, particularly from a design standpoint -- there are other models, such as the Jays u-Jays, that look very similar. But the difference is that the Jays headphone goes for $120 on Amazon while this Plantronics costs $40 less. Urbanears Plattan ADV Wireless runs $90 to $100.

Usually Bluetooth headphones in the sub-$100 range suffer from mediocre sound quality. But I was pleasantly surprised that the BackBeat 500 sounds as good as it does for the price. It's not in the league of over-ear models like Plantronics' own BackBeat Pro 2, but it's a pretty well-balanced headphone with decent detail and relatively punchy, meaty bass (there's a touch of bass push). It clearly seems designed to compete with Beats' Solo3 Wireless, which lists for $300 but costs around $220 online.

The Beats offers best-in-class battery life (40 hours), but the Plantronics BackBeat 500 comes in with a solid 18 hours at moderate volume levels.

As a phone headset, the BackBeat 500 isn't as good as the BackBeat Sense or BackBeat Pro 2, but it's decent for an entry-level Bluetooth headphone with a single microphone and no noise-cancelling capabilities. In other words, it'll work well in quieter environments, but don't expect it to filter out the wind or street noise.

I found the Beats slightly more comfortable -- the earpads are softer and incorporate higher-grade memory foam. Still, the BackBeats 500 is relatively comfortable for an on-ear headphone (the BackBeat Sense is more so) and fairly lightweight at 5.4 ounces or 153g.

I wore them during my commute on the New York City subway and through the streets and found them pleasant enough, both in terms of fit and sound quality. I also appreciated that they came with a carrying pouch, particularly since I think the finishes on the gray and dark gray models are susceptible to showing scratch marks.

No, this is not a better headphone than the pricier Beats Solo3 Wireless, which features better build quality and durability, a fold-up design and better overall sound. The Solo3 sounds richer and more refined overall, with better clarity and better defined bass.

But at about a third of the street price of the Beats, the Plantronics is a very good value nevertheless. Small drawbacks notwithstanding, the BackBeat 500 is a recommendable headphone for those who are looking for an affordable on-ear that sounds better than most sub-$100 headphones do. Hopefully, in time, we'll see it shed $10 or even $20 online, which would make it an even better bargain.

BackBeat 500 key specs

  • 40mm drivers
  • Memory foam ear cushions
  • Stream up to 10 meters (33 feet) from compatible phones and tablets with Bluetooth 4.1
  • Ear cups rotate to lay flat for compact storage in a bag or backpack
  • DeepSleep hibernation mode helps maintain a battery charge for up to six months when your headphones are out of range or left on.
  • 18 hours of battery life
  • 3.5mm jack and included analog cable can be plugged in as backup without disrupting listening.
  • Automatically connect up to two devices simultaneously and pair up to a total of eight devices.
  • Take calls with a wideband-enabled mic, as well as access Siri, Google Now or Cortana.
  • Carrying pouch included
  • Available in three colors (white, gray and dark gray)

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