Plantronics BackBeat Sense Review

Pros

  • Light, comfortable design
  • Strong battery life
  • Bright, detailed sound quality

Cons

  • Proximity sensor can activate when around neck
  • Some optimising issues when listening from PC/Mac

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £149.00
  • 18-hour battery life with 21 days' standby time and 180 days in Deep Sleep Mode
  • Control two Bluetooth devices at once
  • Proximity sensor can pause music when you take them off
  • Bluetooth 4.0 support up to 330ft/100m
  • aptX-enabled support
  • Up to 2.5 hours to fully charge
  • Passive noise cancelling
  • Digital signal processing and dual microphones
  • Spoken alerts

What are the Plantronics BackBeat Sense?

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 5
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.

Plantronics BackBeat Sense 19

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.

Plantronics BackBeat Sense 13

Plantronics BackBeat Sense – Sound quality and battery life

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.

Plantronics BackBeat Sense 9

Should I buy the Plantronics BackBeat Sense?

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.

Verdict

The Plantronics BackBeat Sense are feature-packed Bluetooth headphones that deliver superb sound at a competitive price.

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