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Plantronics BackBeat Sense Review

Publish Date:

Thursday, July 30, 2015 12:13 pm PDT


News Organization:

PC Mag

Source URL:


Plantronics BackBeat Sense

Plantronics is better known for its Bluetooth headsets than for its headphones, but the company has made some strides in the field of gear intended primarily for listening to music and not talking to people. The BackBeat Pro$179.98 at Amazon over-ear wireless headphones were cleverly designed, with solid noise cancellation technology and very good sound quality. They were also bulky, as many over-ear headphones tend to be. The new BackBeat Sense are far from that. These on-ear Bluetooth headphones don't feature active noise cancellation, but they're incredibly light, very comfortable, and sound excellent. At $179.99, they're also a bit more affordable than the BackBeat Pro, though the Editors' Choice Jabra Move Wireless$95.76 at Amazon trumps them both.

The headphones are incredibly small and light for their on-ear design, weighing just under five ounces (less than half the weight of the BackBeat Pro). They're available in black with espresso-colored padding, or white with tan padding. The headband is a sturdy, flexible strip of steel connecting the plastic arms and casings of the earcups. An elastic band with a memory foam pad stretches across the inside of the steel headband to help ensure a secure fit, and to keep the cold metal from touching your scalp. The earpads are also memory foam, and while the padding is thin, they remain exceedingly comfortable for long periods of time. This is a set of on-ear headphones you can easily forget are there.

The right earcup holds a micro USB port for charging and a 3.5mm input for using the headphones via wire (and without the need for battery power). A large Call Answer/End button sits on a rubber circle on the back of the earcup, and a small Power switch that doubles as a Bluetooth pairing switch rests just below where the earcup meets the plastic arm connecting to the headband. The left earcup has a springy dial to control volume, and a set of Play/Pause, Back, and Next buttons on its own large rubber circle. A small button on the underside of the left earcup, just below the volume wheel, reduces the volume of whatever you're listening to and uses the built-in microphone to enhance sounds around you, so you can stay aware of your surroundings and listen for announcements.

Features and Accessories
The Sense doesn't collapse, but the ear cups fold flat, and the whole assembly fits securely in the included heavy canvas carrying pouch. The pouch has two compartments: a large one to hold the headphones, and a small one to hold the included micro USB and 3.5mm cables. No USB wall adapter is included, so you'll need to use your own or connect the headphones to a computer to charge. The carrying pouch is very sturdy, but the zippers are angled slightly and have large flaps that make inserting or removing the headphones feel slightly awkward.

Plantronics BackBeat Sense

Plantronics includes many of the same useful features here that were introduced in the BackBeat Pro. The headphones have sensors that detect when you put them on or take them off, and can play/pause/answer calls based on their position. You can connect two devices simultaneously to the Sense, and I had no problem using the headphones seamlessly with both my smartphone and tablet.

Plantronics claims an 18-hour battery life for the headphones. In testing, I found that I could use them fairly regularly for several days before I had to charge them. Even if the batteries die, you can still use the headphones with the 3.5mm input and the included cable.

Performance and Conclusions
The headphones handle deep bass very capably. They played our low-end test track, The Knife's "Silent Shout," at maximum volume without a hint of distortion. They didn't get quite as painfully (and dangerously) loud as some other, often wired, headphones can get, but they were certainly loud enough to give me the start of a thumping headache.

The funky bassline of Scissor Sisters' "Ooh" was warm and thumping, staying prominent in the mix without overshadowing the crisp highs of the snare or the tenors and falsettos of the vocals. The result is a punchy sound with a lot of warmth and clarity that's weighted a bit more toward the low-end than a completely flat or perfectly balanced sound profile.

Yes' "Roundabout" was similarly full-sounding, with a slightly bass-heavy signature that still offered enough high-end to sound crisp. The acoustic guitar strings of the intro came through clearly, though the lingering of the lower notes stood out just a bit more than normal. When the synth bass and high-hat kicked in, they played well against each other, and the tinking of the cymbals stayed prominent even against the slappy rumble. The headphones seem to bring the high-end out slightly more than the high-mids, which creates an even sound that can still result in a very slight dip for instruments and vocals not intended to cut directly through the mix.

The BackBeat Sense headphones offer excellentif not perfectly balancedsound in an incredibly light and comfortable on-ear frame. If you want to spend a bit less, and don't mind a bit more bulk, the Jabra Move Wireless is a compelling alternative. If you really want to go all-out, the Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless$399.99 at Amazon offers some of the best wireless headphone performance we've heard, but with a $400 price tag attached. 

Multimedia Files:

Preview image
BackBeat SENSE in Black/Espresso
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