Plantronics did not start as an audio equipment company, but has contributed immensely to communications technology for the world. They developed the first lightweight wearable communication device for airlines and NASA in 1961. They also designed wireless headsets using infra-red, among other inventions. Over the decades, Plantronics is a dominant electronics company in the communications segment and expanded into enterprise call centre, gaming communications. The experience makes them no stranger in developing audio products that improve the lives of users.
That was how the original Plantronics BackBeat PRO became an immense success when launched in 2014 and a product that is ahead of competitors.
In this review, I received the BackBeat PRO 2 review unit for hands-on experience, but will also include the BackBeat PRO 2 SE (special edition) which I tried out at the Plantronics launch event in Singapore.
The new Plantronics BackBeat PRO 2 looks different from the first version, with improvements in size, weight and a lower price.
- Overall design is more trendy and modern, less premium
- Oval-shaped ear cushions instead of round that delivers a more snug fit to make the headphones more compact.
- Ear cups, when fold inwards, fit better around the neck without blocking the neck movements.
- Identical headband curvature, with inner headband using thicker fabric instead for durability.
- Fewer buttons and simplified operations but maintaining same features as the first BackBeat PRO.
- Enabling Open Mic pauses music. In the first version, it will continue to play albeit softly.
- More compact retail packaging.
If you are unfamiliar with the BackBeat PRO series, here is a brief list of features:
- active noise cancellation (ANC)
- smart sensors to automatically pause or resume music when headphones are removed from the ears
- able to listen to audio with wired when battery runs out
- connect 2 devices simultaneously
- built-in dual mic for clear phone calls
- up to 24 hours of continuous listening on a single charge
- 15% lighter and 35% smaller than first version
Despite a design overhaul, there are features I prefer with the first BackBeat PRO
- Audio cable no longer includes in-line mic function. My guess is to ensure full compatibility with both Android and iOS devices.
- When switching ANC or Open Mic, the voice prompts are heard which kind of interrupts the listening experience.
- Volume is adjusted by a rotating dial while the new version is a spring dial.
The BackBeat PRO 2 easily impresses the casual listener at first try, thanks to its unusually deep sub-bass response and transparent highs. They are no reference headphones, but they sure make music sound exciting. With ANC enabled, there is slightly more low bass response compared to without. Speaking of ANC, the BackBeat PRO 2 mildly eliminates ambient noise, not as aggressive as the industry-leading Bose or the new Sony MDR-1000X.
When listening to BackBeat PRO 2 using audio cables without power, the sound character vastly differs with the powered version. The bass response is full and extends upwards, making the mids more forward, while treble quality recedes and sounds less tight. There is significantly less colour which is favoured by audio critics, but the lack of discipline in the highs make them less ideal for detailed enjoyment.
Comparing to BackBeat PRO (first generation) and PRO+
When I re-visited the old BackBeat PRO headphones, it reminded me why the BackBeat PRO was one of my favourite headphones back in 2014. Compared to the new BackBeat PRO 2, the first version of BackBeat PRO has more sparkling and transparent highs, which might be too much for some. I guess that is why Plantronics tweaked it in the new BackBeat PRO 2 to be less highs while tuning up the sub-bass a little. Frankly, without doing side-by-side comparison, any one would easily like BackBeat PRO 2. Yet, when I wore the BackBeat PRO, I get even more brilliant treble.
As for ANC, I find that first BackBeat PRO offers a little more noise-cancelling pressure felt on my ears. Having said that, the difference is rather negligible once music starts playing.
As for the BackBeat PRO+, I have previously reviewed and found it identical to BackBeat PRO.
Overall, I prefer the new BackBeat PRO 2 because the treble is less brittle, hence more enjoyable for most music genres.
BackBeat PRO 2 SE
The Special Edition is available for S$60 more than the standard. It comes in grey colour with hard case and NFC for faster pairing. The mute button is in bright red and the earcups are smooth instead of textured.
Plantronics has made the new BackBeat PRO 2 more attractive to own thanks to reduced size and price of S$319 (the SE version is S$379). Its audio balance may not be the most accurate for audio purists but is easily likable by consumers with bright forward treble and seismic bass. Over-ear cushion comfort and ANC keeps me engaged in the music while the Open Mic lets me gets into a brief conversation without removing the headphones. My favourite feature is the smart sensors that pauses music when I remove the headphones from my ears.
With any luck, you should be able to find it on sale from this week, just in time for the gifting season.