Plantronics Backbeat Pro+
Great sound, plenty of adjustment for differently shaped heads
I spend a lot of time wearing headphones, working in the library, on planes and at other times when I want to enjoy some time alone. For that to work, I need headphones that are comfortable, do a good job of blocking ambient noise and let me enjoy the music I’m listening to.
Plantronics has a long pedigree of delivering great audio for a number of different environments. The Plantronics Backbeat Pro+ are active noise-cancelling headphones that deliver excellent sound.
Connectivity to the iPhone 6s I tested with was via either a 3.5mm cable – a technology that is rumoured to be on its way out, replaced by either Lightning or Bluetooth, in future iPhones – or via Bluetooth. The supplied 3.5mm cable has an inline controller that delivers volume control as well as play/pause. The headphone and cables can be carried in the soft bag that comes in the box.
Bluetooth pairing was quick and easy and, if you aren’t an iPhone user but have a different smartphone that utilises NFC (near field communication), you can pair the headphones using that technology. I wasn’t able to test that, but others I spoke with who did use this feature said it worked as intended.
The active noise-cancelling function requires power. That’s supplied with the integrated battery that’s recharged using a micro-USB cable that’s also supplied. If you want to conserve power or are listening in a quiet environment, you can turn the noise-cancelling off using a small switch on the left side. Battery life is rated at 24 hours – more than enough for a long haul flight or a few days of local commuting. They take about three hours to fully recharge.
In order to test the noise-cancelling capability, I played a loop of ambient sound from Boeing 777-300 at increasing volume levels and compared the performance with a pair of Bose QC15 headphones I’ve owned for some time. The Bose headphones are widely acknowledged as being at the premium end of the market and provide a good reference for comparison.
The Backbeat Pro+ did an excellent job of blocking out the aircraft noise at all but the loudest volumes. This wasn’t surprising as the combination of active noise-cancelling with the padding and shape of the ear-cups worked together to supress ambient noise.
Sound quality was excellent. My usual test playlist of classical, pop and hard rock music was crystal clear and my new favourite music, the soundtrack from the musical Hamilton, came through loudly, crisp and clear. Unlike many popular headphones, the bass was not overpowering so I could hear higher pitched instruments and vocals clearly.
My main criticism of the Backbeat Pro+ is the weight. At 340g, these are not the lightest headphones around. Although there’s plenty of padding I did find them heavy after about 90 minutes of use. There’s a lot of adjustment for different sized heads and the headphone cups tilt enough to make the unit comfortable. I wasn’t able to wear the headphones on a long-haul flight, but I suspect 10 hours in these headphones would not be particularly comfortable.
That said, I’ve not found a set of headphones that I can wear for that long yet other than smaller ear-buds.
One other problem I encountered was a slight buzzing from the left side when noise-cancelling was enabled. Turning noise cancelling off and on cleared it, but it did recur. This seemed to be an issue with the switch rather than the noise cancelling algorithm so, if you decide to buy these headphones, I’d test them out before tossing the receipt.