The BackBeat Sense are a pair of wireless on-ear headphones from Bluetooth audio specialist Plantronics. Like so many audio manufacturers in recent years, Plantronics clearly wants a piece of the lucrative headphone market and has already proved with its BackBeat Fit and Pro ranges, that it knows what it's doing from a sound and design perspective.
The Sense headphones have been available in the US for some time, priced at $179. Finally, they've landed in the UK and for a very reasonable £140 – that's cheaper than a pair of Bowers & Wilkins T7 or Sennheiser Momentum 2.0.
But don't write them off because of the price tag. The Backbeat Sense Plantronics are great pair of headphones, which offer a few nice surprises.
Plantronics BackBeat Sense – Design and Features
The Sense headphones are available in either Black/Espresso or White/Tan colour combinations. Both offer a Momentum-esque approach to styling with the dash of colour breaking up an otherwise fairly serious, suit-friendly look.
But it isn't the styling that really makes an impression here, it's the fact that the BackBeat Sense are supremely light and comfortable to wear.
The 140g weight is well distributed around the matte plastic body and the frame of the metal headband. Add in the soft memory-foam padding around the headband and ear cushions and you get a snug and far from clamping fit. A big "L" and "R" sits on the perforated area of the cushions, ensuring you place them on your head correctly first time around as well.
There's a decent amount of flexibility that makes it easy for you to tailor them to fit. The adjustable metal headband offers 10 size extension levels. The ear cups also swivel, making it easy to slip the headphones into the front pocket of a plane seat, or store them in your bag.
Physical controls are built on and around the the outside of the ear cups. On the left you'll find buttons for skipping tracks and play/pause. Twisting the outside of the ear cup allows you to adjust volume.
Just below the cup is a red metallic button, which unlocks Plantronics' OpenMic feature. OpenMic lets you activate one of two built-in microphones to hear the outside world, without having to remove your headphones.
It's a surreal experience. The range and reach of the microphones is impressive and I was able to hear conversations with decent clarity from desks two or three rows away from me. The feature is weird – but in a good way.
Over on the right ear cup is a big Call Answer button. The button lets you use the Sense like a headset. Another switch close by lets you to toggle between turning the headphones on and syncing them over Bluetooth.
The headphones are best optimised with phones and tablets. It is possible to connect them to a desktop as well, but the onboard controls a won't work when you do.
In terms of inputs, the headphones feature a micro-USB charging port and 3.5mm headphone jack, with cables provided in the box for both. A two-pocket canvas bag is also included.
The built-in proximity sensor is a key selling point for the BackBeat Sense headphones. The feature made an appearance in the BackBeat Pro headphones. The sensor is built into the BackBeat Sense's left earcup and lets the headphones know when they are no longer on top of your head. When its senses the headphones have been detached the sensor pauses music playback until you put them back on.
It works well, but not perfectly. I did find that on the odd occasion music continued to play when the headphones were around my neck. While paired to a MacBook Air and listening to the Spotify web app, taking the headphones off and then putting them back rather irritatingly launches iTunes. But, stick to mobile playback and you'll have no problems.
The Sense rely on 32mm dynamic drivers and what they deliver is surprisingly great sound. It's bright, punchy and well balanced with plenty of detail for those who don't appreciate a more bass heavy sound. You can arguably get a little more power and a wider soundstage from something like Sennheiser's Momentum, but I was pleased to use them working at my desk or during my commute.
The offer versatile sound quality that will work with most types of music. If you want the bass, there's enough. Need more character? Vocals and dialogue are produced with great clarity. Crank the volume up and you do lose a little of the stability, but generally it's barely noticeable and only those who are accustomed to owning a really expensive pair of headphones would notice the slight sound quality dip.
They won't let you down when you do have to cut a Spotify session to take a call. Call clarity is superb, with voices clear enough to block out ambient noise. Dedicated Bluetooth headsets will offer superior performance, but the BackBeat Sense are great for those impromptu calls.
Plantronics does offer a companion app, but it's not to customise or enhance sound. Instead, the Hub iOS app lets you to check on battery life and connectivity status. There's also a Find MyHeadset app that you can use to help track down your headphones if they go missing. It works by sending a tone to your headphones or seeing where they were last used with the help of Plantronics' BackTrack mode.
The Sense lacks active noise cancellation, but that's not surprising considering its price. Instead you get the passive option, which still does a solid job of drowning out the world, with little signs of sound leakage.
Plantronics claims the BackBeat Sense headphones will offer 18 hours life. The quoted live is optimistic, at least in my experience. How much power you get will depend on how frequently and how loud you listen to music on the headphones. The BackBeat Sense will comfortably get you through a week of listening in stints of two to three hours a day, which will be plenty for most.
Pressing the button on the right ear cup will deliver a voice notification of how much battery life remains – though the notification will only let you know if it's low, medium or high. This is backed up by an LED display that also appears on the right ear cup, providing a visual indication of how much battery you have left.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a better pair of Bluetooth headphones for £150. They're sleek and comfortable, offer fantastic battery life and, more importantly, they sound great as well. All the extras, such as the onboard controls, play/resume sensor feature and OpenMic mode, only add to the value.
Some might prefer headphones with a little more oomph on the audio front, along with some noise cancelling, but such features would likely push their price over the £200 mark into Sennheiser Momentum territory.
Bottom line, if you're in the market for Bluetooth headphones and have a sub-£200 budget, then these are the headphones for you.
The Plantronics BackBeat Sense are feature-packed Bluetooth headphones that deliver superb sound at a competitive price.