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Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2 review: The best sub-£200 ANC headphones

Christopher Minasians
26 Sep 2017
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
180
inc VAT

They do get a little uncomfortable during long listening session, but they're undeniably good value for money

Pros 
Beautiful design
Mind blowing bass
Good ANC capabilities
Cons 
A little uncomfortable
Might be too bass-heavy for some
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Plantronics is not a name you’d habitually associate with music headphones and consumer audio; this is a firm better known for its conference-call headsets, call-centre hardware and the like. Spearheaded by its Backbeat range of headphones, though, and with the Backbeat Pro 2 at the helm, the company is becoming quite prolific in the space.

When you think about it, though, the ability to produce personal audio gear that’s comfortable to wear for long periods should help in designing a pair of headphones like the Backbeat Pro 2. And these are headphones – with both active noise cancelling and Bluetooth wireless connectivity – that are designed for long-term commuting and travelling comfort.

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Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2 review: What you need to know

The Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2 is a set of Bluetooth headphones with active noise cancellation (ANC). The headphones aren’t perfect: they don’t provide the same level of comfort as some of rivals and its focus on bass might not suit everyone.

However, apart from these two niggles, you do get a lot of headphone for your £180. With a luxurious design, clever sensors that automatically pause your music when you take off the headphones, easy-to-use controls, excellent ANC capabilities and good sound quality, it’s hard to criticise them. If you’re looking for the best sub-£200 over-the-ear headphones with ANC, get the Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2.

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Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2 review: Price and competition

Given the features, the price of the Backbeat Pro 2 looks pretty reasonable. The headphones cost £180 per pair and they come with a generous selection of accessories: in the box is a hard case and a selection of cables that allow them to be used wired when the battery runs out, either with your smartphone or in-flight entertainment systems.

The Backbeat Pro 2’s obvious rivals are the £327 Bose QuietComfort 35 and the £290 Sony MDR-1000X, which are two of the best sets of noise-cancelling headphones on the market. However, these will cost you a hundred pounds or so more. Slightly cheaper in price are the Philips SHB9850NC, which cost £110 and are also active noise-cancelling over-the-ear wireless headphones, but come with fewer accessories and are far less advanced.

Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2 review: Design, features and function

Given Plantronics’ heritage, it’s perhaps surprising, and certainly disappointing, that the BackBeat Pro 2 aren’t the most comfortable headphones. The padding around the earcups is soft enough and they sit firmly around your ears without exerting undue pressure.

Unfortunately, the surface of the drivers inside makes contact with my ears and after a few hours of listening it all feels rather sore and unpleasant. It’s perhaps just as well that the surface is covered with a soft, silky material. The headphones are also pretty heavy, and don’t fold up very small either.

Still, they do feel well made, with a rigid, stainless steel headband offering plenty of adjustability, and they’re replete with practical features. There’s NFC built in to the left earcup for quick pairing, alongside skip, play/pause and volume controls. Nothing unusual about that, but I was pleased to see Plantronics eschewing touch controls. (There’s a time and a place for touch buttons, but headphones are most definitely not one of them.)

I particularly like the volume control, which comprises a spring-loaded textured, grey plastic ring set into the surface of the earcup. This is a triumph of form over function: it’s easy to find with your fingers without looking and difficult to activate by accident. An excellent design choice by Plantronics.

Also on the left earcup is a three-position switch allows you to enable and disable the active noise cancelling, or select a mode where audio from the built-in microphone is patched through to the earcups so you can hear what’s going on around you.

On right ear cup there’s a 3.5mm audio jack, so you can continue to listen when the battery runs out; a micro-USB port used for charging; a pairing/power switch; and a mute button for use when making phone calls. Set into the surface of the right cup, meanwhile, is a multipurpose button used to activate Siri or the Google Assistant (with a long press), or to get a quick status report as to how much battery capacity is remaining and which devices are connected (short press).

The Backbeat Pro 2 also have ear detection. Lift the headphones off your ears and audio automatically pauses; put them back on and the audio resumes. It’s a great feature and most of the time it works well, but I found that sometimes, when I’d already paused audio manually, audio would resume instead of pausing when I took off the headphones and pause when I put them back on.

Still, this is something you’ll likely get used to and adjust for, and battery life is brilliant. With a claimed 24-hour battery life with Bluetooth running, the Backbeat Pro 2’s rechargeable battery will last you the better part of a week of commuting (assuming you haven't got an insanely long journey to work), and will get you to New York and back without the need for recharging.

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Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2 review: Sound quality and active noise cancelling

Sound quality is always important in headphones, particularly those costing over £100, and here it’s a mixed bag. The first thing to be aware of is that the Backbeat Pro 2 has a lot of bass.

It has an extremely powerful sub-bass response that extends well into the lower frequencies. In EDM, house and techno songs such as ZHU's "Stardust" I found the level of sub-bass phenomenal. In comparison to the Bose QC 35 and Sony MDR-1000X, the Backbeat Pro 2 is able to deliver bass like no other headphone with ANC.

However, its mid-bass is incredibly overwhelming, which might be great if you’re into hip-hop or R&B (Young Jeezy's "Me OK", for example), but isn't so good for other types of music as it swamps a healthy chunk of the lower-mid frequencies.

In Los Lobos' "Canción Del Mariachi (Morena De Mi Corazón)", the strumming of the guitar overpowers the mid-range reproduction resulting in a pushed-back, recessed sound. If you listen to music with lots of vocals or classical music, these headphones might not be for you.

Having said that, the high frequencies do extend well, adding just the right amount of sparkle to the headphone’s sound signature. These does roll off a touch at the top end, but nowhere near as much as the Bose QC35s, which sound rather soft in comparison.

In comparison to the Sony MDR-1000X, I find the Backbeat Pro 2 lacks the open sound the Sonys are able to deliver, but their noise-cancellation capabilities are impressive. Train commutes and plane journeys become much more bearable. The Plantronics headphones can't isolate higher frequencies as well as the aforementioned Bose and Sony headphones, but they’re not far off being as good aside from that.

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Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2 review: Verdict

These might not be as comfortable or offer the same class of ANC as the Bose QC 35 and Sony MDR-1000X, but costing at around £150 less than those headphones, the Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2 offers fantastic value for money.

If you’re looking for a set of wireless headphones that have ANC, a ton of bass, a clever design and cost less than £200, get the Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2 – there simply isn’t aren’t any better over-the-ear ANC headphones at this price.

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