Plantronics Backbeat Pro Over-Ear Wireless Headphones Review
These wireless, noise-cancelling headphones go toe-to-toe with Bose for way less money
The Plantronics' Backbeat lineup has a pair for every type of person: the Backbeat Fit for the active user, the Backbeat Sense for the user who appreciates simplicity, and the Backbeat Pro (MSRP $249.99, on sale via Amazon for $144.95) for the audiophile.
The Backbeat Pros are less portable than the Sense (and certainly the Fit) and feature noise cancellation, which makes them better-suited for stationary use. In other words, if the Backbeat Sense are built for the subway, the Pro are built for the office.
They look good, sound even better, and pack a ton of hours into each charge. Unfortunately, they're also heavy, ill-fitting, and their noise-cancelling capabilities are ho-hum at best.
But with current prices at just under $150, there's a ton of value packed into the Backbeat Pro. So even though they don't excel at everything they try to do, these are still one of the better options in this price bracket.
What We Like
Despite their size, the Backbeat Pro have a sleek look.
I’m a sucker for headphones that take a fashion-forward approach to design, and although the Backbeat Pro aren’t nearly as stylish as their younger sibling, the Backbeat Sense, I appreciate the care that went into their look.
The Pro’s most notable design flourishes are their purple highlights, which grace the inside of each ear cup as well as the optional cable which users can jack in if they prefer wired listening or if the battery’s on its way out.
Purple isn't often used in electronics, and I almost wish Plantronics had gone a little further with the purple highlights. As is, they're hidden while the cans are in use; a little more visibility would've been a nice change.
Color aside, the Backbeat Pro are about as sleek as a bulky pair of over-ears can get. I still prefer the more minimal look of the Bose QC35s, but Plantronics successfully kept things to a minimum.
Performance that’ll rock your world
I'm gonna cut to the chase: the Backbeat Pro sound really, really good. The first thing you'll notice is how big everything sounds—to my ears, the Pro seem have a knack for separating pieces of instrumentation and injecting some air into the mix, which opens the door to new, aural discoveries in otherwise familiar songs. I've heard the track "Tobiume" by Susumu Yokota before, but I've never heard the warm, repetitive synth noise in the background quite as clearly until I listened on the Pros.
The Pro bring out the best in highs and lows without over-emphasizing either end. This might turn off folks who crave bass, but as a listener of a ton of bass-heavy music, I certainly appreciated a studio-quality sound free of excess bass.
And it's not just the Pro's sound quality that makes 'em a fine choice: battery life is superb as well. After about a week of listening in the mornings and afternoons at work, I was finally forced to charge the Backbeat Pro. I'd estimate that I was able to squeeze about 20-25 hours of wireless use out of the Pro before needing to charge them up. When they ran out of juice, I just plugged in a wire and used them the old fashioned way.
What We Don't Like
For over-ears, they could stand to be more comfy and secure
After reviewing the lightweight Backbeat Sense (which honestly fit like a glove), I was anxious to see how the Pro stacked up from a comfort standpoint. The Sense have a distinct advantage in the comfort department given their slimmer profile and on-ear cups, but over-ears tend to go a little easier on the ears since they gently cup your ears rather than sit directly on top of them.
I was disappointed, then, when the Backbeat Pro began to wear on me after about an hour of use. Part of the issue is that the cups don’t fully envelop my ears, making their presence a regular distraction.
The cups and band are also quite heavy, which makes lengthy listening sessions a somewhat difficult endeavor. Between the weight of the band and the tightness of the Pro’s cups, these cans tend to make the skin on and around my ears hot and achey after a while.
The weight of the band also causes the Backbeat Pros to slide around atop my head, too. In order to get proper ear-coverage, I need to adjust the size of the headband to accommodate my big, stupid head. And when I adjust the headband to accommodate, the whole unit has the tendency to slip and slide back-and-forth, particularly when I'm out-and-about walking around.
They're certainly not the most uncomfortable pair of cans I've ever worn, but the combination of a less-than-secure fit and a heavy, tightly-configured build isn't great.
The playback controls are an issue.
The Backbeat Pro's playback controls are in roughly the same configuration as the Backbeat Sense: You can play and pause music by clicking the center of the left ear cup and twist a ring embedded around the edge of the same ear cup to adjust the volume.
We found the Backbeat Sense's volume ring to be troublesome because of the loose, spring-like mechanics that caused it to audibly knock around while we walked.
Although the Backbeat Pro corrects this mistake with an infinitely-spinning volume ring, the ring itself has so much tension and the volume adjusts in such slow increments that it feels like you're giving your fingers a tiny workout every time you want to turn the tunes up or down.
The Pro are rocking the same smart sensors as the Backbeat Sense, which pauses audio whenever the cans are taken off and resumes playback when they're put back on your ears. Its a feature that doesn't work 100% of the time and often works when you're hoping it won't (like, say, when I'm adjusting the ear cups because the fit is too snug).
Disappointing active noise-cancellation
One of the reasons the Backbeat Pro cost a pretty penny is the inclusion of active noise-cancellation—a feature that elevates them to higher class than your standard, garden-variety on- or over-ear headphones. Unfortunately, the Backbeat Pro’s ANC software doesn’t quite live up to the high-level noise-cancellation we’ve seen in competitors like the Bose QC35s.
Outside noise—particularly higher-pitched sounds like the shriek of a ambulance siren—find their way into your ears regardless of whether or not ANC is switched on. Having it enabled certainly cuts down on noise, but the software can’t produce that stuck-in-an-isolation-chamber type sensation that the QC35s achieve.
Should You Buy It?
Yes, but only if you're willing to put up with some key shortcomings.
The Backbeat Pro are available on Amazon right now for about $150. That alone is a great price compared to the $350 Bose QC35s (which I'm inclined to say are their chief competitor). For that, you're looking at excellent performance, a fairly stylish design, and decent noise cancellation for a couple hundred bucks less than what you'd otherwise have to pay.
But honestly? I'd rather throw roughly the same amount of money at the Backbeat Sense, which are on Amazon for about $150, too. My reasoning may not resonate with people hunting for noise-cancelling over-ears, but I just find the Sense to be infinitely more comfortable to wear whether I'm out-and-about or hunkering down at the office. They look better, too.
The Backbeat Pro are no where near as comfortable and their ANC skills aren't as polished as the QC35s. Bose's wireless, noise-cancelling over-ears might be the most comfortable cans on the market right now, and they block out noise like no other.
Pound-for-pound, the Bose are the better pair, but the vast difference in price might render that point moot; the Backbeat Pro offer fantastic value despite their less-than-ideal fit and less-than-ideal noise-cancellation.
Spring for the Bose QC35s if comfort and ANC performance outweighs price. Go for the Backbeat Pro if your priority is keeping the cost low. It's very hard to find wireless, noise-cancelling over-ears that sound good for this price.
Get Our Newsletter
Real advice from real experts. Sign up for our newsletter
Thanks for signing up!