The second-generation Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 headphones show a device maturing – fixing a few mistakes made in the past while continuing to offer sound quality that holds up well to the competition.
The original Plantronics BackBeat Pro earned plenty of praise: they weren’t perfect but they were feature rich, sounded great, and providing excellent active noise cancellation (ANC). With the BackBeat Pro 2, Plantronics is keeping what’s good and fixing what was bad (like bulk and weight) – and you can’t ask for much more.
While the Sony WH-1000XM2 (and indeed the newer model) and Plantronic’s own BackBeat Go 810 are well worth weighing up too, for $200 (£230, AU$250), the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 remains one of the best pairs of travel headphones for the price.
Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2: design
Because of its somewhat straightforward nature, you’re likely to either love or hate the design of the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2. The headphones feature a dark brown color palette, which will understandably be a bit polarizing.
Then there’s the faux wood accent that probably would look more appropriate inside a Buick than on a pair of noise canceling headphones – it looks rather cheap and out of place, but the accents do at least help the headphones stand out from the even-more-generic-looking Bose QuietComfort 35.
As for the earcups, glittery silver mesh rings feature on each, housing the headphone’s noise-canceling mics. The sparkling silver is an odd design choice against the muted browns and blacks, and stick out like a sore thumb. A black mesh would have been more appropriate, but hey – this still works.
On the left ear cup are controls for playback, volume and a toggle for active noise cancellation. The right ear cup has a power/pairing slider as well as a big button for answering phone calls.
Volume is controlled via a textured ring that rocks back and forth – you rotate counter clockwise to turn up the volume and clockwise to turn it town. The volume control ring is a little harder to grip than the first generation, but that’s a minor quibble and not a particularly noteworthy issue.
Active noise cancellation can be toggled on or off on the left earcup. Turning it off will give you a little bit of extra juice between charges, and we should point out that the headphones still work in wired mode if the battery dies. This toggle also features an open mic mode, which pauses your music and lets you hear what’s going around you without having to take off your headphones.
We found the open mic feature pointless as we could simply take off the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 headphones – which automatically pauses the music – but since you have the same option on much higher-end headphones (like the Sony MDR-1000X), it’s nice to have it included here too.
The BackBeat Pro 2 headphones come lined with leather around the earcups as well as on the headband, making them extremely comfortable, and we had no issues wearing them throughout an eight-hour flight.
Compared to the original Plantronics BackBeat Pro headphones, the Pro 2 are much smaller and lighter (290 grams vs the original’s 340 grams). This is great news for travelers who have limited space and don’t want to be fatigued after long listening sessions. They’re also more compact and lay flatter when folded down for transport, which is another point in their favor.
The headphones come with a soft zippered carrying pouch, which has a super soft lining to protect the headphones from scratches, and a second compartment to store your microUSB charging and 3.5mm headphone cables (a nice touch).
A hard case would have been even better, but again, it’s not really a deal breaker. It should be noted, however, that a hard case is available in the more expensive BackBeat Pro 2 Special Edition, which cost $50 (about £40, AU$67) more and come in a gray color.
Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2: performance
The original BackBeat Pro headphones offered a fun, slightly bass heavy sound signature. Plantronics carried over this sound signature to the BackBeat Pro 2, which most users will probably find pleasing to the ears.
Audiophiles will quibble about the overbearing bass but will be happy to know that using the BackBeat Pro 2 in wired mode tames the bass quite a bit.
We were pleasantly surprised to find ANC still works when playing music in wired mode, which means you can save a bit of battery when you don’t mind going wired for a period. A little added bass emphasis helps block out external noise so we can understand why Plantronics decided to go for a bass-heavy sound signature.
Highs are a bit rolled off, making them sound slightly veiled, but that’s actually preferable for long listening sessions since the highs won’t be fatiguing. Similarly, mids are good, but they can be muted by the heavy bass. Soundstage is average, so don’t expect an out-of-head listening experience.
With active noise canceling enabled, we did notice a slight hiss when no music is playing. The Bose QC35 still offer the best noise cancellation in the industry but the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 can do an admirable job of blocking out noise.
Putting them to the test, the BackBeat Pro 2 dulled the deafening roar of the 777 jet engines on a flight from San Francisco to New York, helping us to keep our sanity as we attempted to get some sleep. The sound quality of the headphones wasn’t impacted by the active noise cancellation, which hasn’t always been the case with ANC headphones in the past.
As for battery life, we were extremely impressed by the longevity of the BackBeat Pro 2. The original also offered incredible 24-hour battery life but the second generation sips even less power when idle, offering a claimed 6 months of DeepSleep (up from 180 hours).
Despite regular use, we struggled to completely drain the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 headphones on a week-long vacation in New York – they lasted through both flights, a couple of train rides and random listening sessions throughout the week with ANC enabled at all times. For frequent travelers, the BackBeat Pro 2’s impressive battery life is its killer feature.
For $200 (£230, AU$250), it’s hard to fault anything about the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2. The looks might not be for everyone, and the bass-heavy sound won’t please audiophiles but the BackBeat Pro 2 does just about everything right for travel headphones.
The headphones’ staggering 24-hour battery life delivers and is a killer feature for travelers who can’t be tethered to an outlet, and while the active noise cancellation isn’t the best in the industry, it’s still very good at muffling the sound of the noisy, sleep-depriving outside world.
It’s clear Plantronics was listening to user feedback when redesigning the BackBeat Pro 2. Just about every quibble we had about the original has been addressed – and, even more incredibly, despite all those changes Plantronics’ latest pair of cans launched at a cheaper price point than the original headphones.
Audiophiles won’t like the bass-heavy sound signature, though bass can be tamed by using them in wired mode if you feel it’s necessary.
Similarly, you’ll either love or hate the styling of the BackBeat Pro 2 headphones: their brown color palette, fake zebrawood and out-of-place silver mesh give the headphones an eclectic design language.
If you don’t want to drop $350 (£290, AU$500) on the Bose QuietComfort 35 or $400 (£330 or AU$700) on Sony’s flagship MDR-1000X, the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 should be on the top of your shopping list. Sure, the Bose still offers better noise cancellation and Sony offers a bit better sound, but the Plantronics do just about everything else right.
In terms of value, the BackBeat Pro 2 are basically a steal. With the BackBeat Pro 2, you’re getting travel headphones with incredible battery life, supreme comfort, the ability to pair two device at once and, most importantly, good sound quality for the cost.