Plantronics has outdone itself with tremendous improvements to an already great product
I have been doing a long-term test of the Plantronics BackBeat GO Wireless Earbuds for over a year and they are what I would call a technological marvel. They are small, weigh almost nothing, sound great and can take an absolute beating. I have run with them for hours – many miles in hot, humid weather in rough wooded terrain and no matter how hot and sweaty they got, they kept working. In addition, the battery lasts on average about 3.5 hours – which is amazing considering you barely feel them in your hands or on your ears.
Recently, Plantronics announced the BackBeat GO 2 and in about a week of testing they have been even better than the original model. Most every complaint I had has been addressed as you will see below.
I mentioned I have put these headphones through brutal conditions – one day this meant running in what felt like a monsoon. It was cold, wet and generally uncomfortable. I decided I would listen to music regardless of the conditions. It was a big mistake because as I ran I heard the phone start to dial. I reached into my phone case, took out the phone and stopped the call. Turns out the headphones were temporarily short circuited. What you are supposed to do in such cases is turn off the headphones and perhaps place them in a bag filled with rice in order to absorb the moisture. I did none of that and discovered the next time I used them that the volume up button was shorted out permanently. I never got around to replacing them and all other functions have worked perfectly for many months since this encounter.
It’s worth mentioning that I have run on many rainy days without any other problems – before and after this incident.
Sometime back Plantronics decided to add water resistance to the device – after I had mine. The good news is the BackBeat 2 buds are considered sweat-proof and I had a chance to witness the coating used to make this possible. In tests I conducted with an eye dropper full of water, it just beaded on the surface used in my testing. Plantronics is a fairly conservative company so sweat-proof means a great deal of protection from rain – but no, you can’t swim with them.
I had no complaint about battery life with the old unit – I am at a loss as to how they worked for over three hours as it is but the new model will go 4.5 hours on a charge while listening to music or handle 5 hours of talking. Moreover, a new deep sleep mode kicks in when your phone is far away from your headphones for a certain amount of time. I did get a chance to test this feature out and it worked fine. Charging time is still quick at 1.5 hours and in a pinch you have two options. You can charge the unit for 20 minutes and receive an hour of listening or spring for the company’s lightweight stylish black and red case made of ballistic nylon with its built-in battery providing ten extra hours of listen time. The case (above) costs $20 and in addition keeps your headphones from getting tangled.
No Christmas tree in the hotel room
A major annoyance when traveling to a small hotel room is you look up at the ceiling at night and are presented with all sorts of bright flashing lights corresponding to the gadgets you are changing. Neither iterations of these headphones have a bright gaudy light – just a tasteful and functional blue/red light.
I had no problems with the sound quality of the old earbuds in-part because I realize the limits of technology. I did secretly wish they would play louder and the bass would be better. The great thing is Plantronics has achieved both of these goals with the latest iteration of the device. My loyal readers know I like to use C’Mon (Tiesto vs. Diplo) [Original Mix] to test any audio device I come across as it is a very vibrant song and can be quite “bassy.” During my listening, I found the new headset exhibited crisper sound across the frequency spectrum. Just to be sure I also listened to the latter part of the 1812 Overture from Tchaikovsky as well since you really can’t “fake” the sound of a cannon firing. With all the music I sampled, sounds were more vibrant and the music was more alive. I did confirm in my testing that earbuds may not be the ideal headphones to use when listening to cannons firing. Having said that, I give the bass response an A considering driver-size and battery life.
Regarding the volume level of the new Backbeat’s versus the old – I find I turn up the volume about half as high as I used to as the new unit does get much louder.
Music First means a great headset for talking
Plantronics will tell you that the BackBeat GO 2 is a music-first device, meaning its capabilities as an extension of your “telephone” comes second. And there are some features missing such as telling you who is calling when there is an incoming call. But this should be a secondary concern because as a telephony headset, both the old model and new one excel because you hear the caller in both ears and they hear you very clearly. Plantronics exec Lars Ahntholz says the reason for this likely has to do with the placement of the microphone so close to the mouth. Regardless, some of my best phone conversations using a headset in the wind were with the predecessor to this device and now the callers sound even better because the audio has improved.
The bluetooth range of many of the past Plantronics headphones I have tested has been great and this is important in situations where headphones are used while doing ab-work on the ground because if the phone isn’t placed on the same side of your body then you become a giant wall for the bluetooth signal to penetrate. This has tripped up other “sports” headphones in my testing but not the last model of these phones. I didn’t do any “ab” testing using the latest model but expect it to perform similarly.
I never tried pairing the past headphones with multiple devices but apparently if I had and decided to switch devices, I would have had to re-pair them. The good news is these new headphones will pair with up to eight devices without the need for re-pairing. The company decided not to allow the simultaneous pairing of two devices because this would have taken more battery power. I reluctantly agree with their decision.
I was not a fan of the old controls because the button on the side of the device used to turn the unit off and on never gave me the feedback I wanted and was actually painful to my finger to use. Moreover, the other controls to raise and lower volume were difficult to identify when running. A typical runner is navigating traffic, hoping there are no dogs coming after them, trying to avoid stepping in a ditch while simultaneously trying to adjust headset controls. This is why any improvement in headset control usability is likely very welcome by outdoor runners.
Thankfully the new controls are more pronounced and the middle button (pictured to right)is easy to find and has multiple functions including on/off.
The old model seemed to tangle more easily than this one – it was never a serious problem before but this model seems better. The case prevents any tangles at all.
In order to recharge other headset models you quite often need a knife or screwdriver to open the Micro USB charging cover. I have cut myself in the past because competitive models make a simple recharge a tough task. Both the old and new Plantronics units allow you to easily fold the protective cover back to expose the Micro USB charge port.
You probably noticed I love these headphones – I have used numerous bluetooth headphones over the years and these are my favorite – I constantly marvel at how much technology can be fit into such a diminutive package weighing 14 grams. That’s only about the weight of 60 potato chips! And now they are better. The few drawbacks are that earbuds block out a lot of sound which is a concern from an outdoor running safety standpoint. It’s why I am extra careful when exercising and try to oppose traffic whenever possible. The other challenge is there is a booming sound when your footsteps hit the ground and there is no music playing. There isn’t much the company can do about this and you eventually get used to it. I also have ears which are difficult to fit. The old model required frequent adjusting. After getting sweaty – I often felt I was twisting them in so far in my ear canal that I would hit brain. I logged four miles of running with the new model so far and they do seem to fit my ears better than the old ones.
If you are an occasional user of bluetooth headphones you can get away with the $79.99 model which now comes in white in addition to black. If you are a moderate to heavy user, be sure to get the model with a battery case for $99.99 retail.