Here's a little surprise: the BackBeat Pro active noise cancelling (ANC), wireless, over-the-ear headphones for $249.99. Here's a bigger surprise: they come not from Apple (nee, Beats), whose Studio Wireless active noise cancelling headphones run north of $350, or from Bose, whose AE2w Bluetooth headphones are around $250 but do not include active noise cancelling -- just to name two obvious competitors -- but from Plantronics. And they are shipping starting today.
The surprises don't stop at the cash register. The BackBeat Pros can run on a single charge for 24 hours, according to Lars Ahntholz, the company's product marketing manager. 24! As in an entire day. As in playing continuous music in noise cancelling mode, at normal volume. That sounds preposterous, if you'll pardon the pun. Beats claims 12 hours for its wireless ANC headphones, and Bose claims 7 hours for its non-ANC headphones.
In case 24 hours isn't enough, you can also use the included 3.5 mm audio cables, which are really more helpful for plugging into a laptop or the audio system on a flight, for example. (Beats provides these, too.)
The BackBeat Pro is an addition to a growing family of consumer headphones from Plantronics and follows products such as the BackBeat Go, Go 2, and the more recent BackBeat Fit -- the wireless, in ear sport headphones that our colleagues at Tom's Guide gave high marks recently. The Pro is Plantronics first foray into over-the-ear headphones for the entertainment space, although the company has an entire lineup of gaming headsets.
At the risk of gushing too abundantly, the BackBeat Pro uses Class 1 Bluetooth, giving it a range of 330 feet (100 meters), not the 10 meters many of its competitors provide (via Class 2).
Because I am not an audiophile, and did not have a stack of competitors to compare it to, I will save conversations about audio quality for the hard-core, expert reviewers. I have had a test unit for a mere half day, and while my pedestrian ears were satisfied, do not read that as a tacit endorsement. Clearly I was also unable to test the battery claims in less than a day. I did send someone a few hundred feet off with my smartphone in hand to verify the distance claims (verified).
One important downside, however, is the BackBeat Pro's heft -- at 340 grams, it's heavier on paper than the Beats offering (260 grams) and the non-ANC Bose (149.6 grams), and while I didn't have either to try, the BackBeat Pro started feeling heavy on my head within about 5 minutes. I wore them for a few hours and I think I went up an entire neck size. And while I'm dinging, the BackBeat Pros don't fold up onto themselves, all fancy like the Beats Studio Wireless headphones, although the ear cups do swivel 90 degrees forward.
The product has a few other useful tidbits, including sensors that automatically stopped music play when I removed the headphones. The BackBeat Pro's multipoint feature lets the headphones communicate with more than one source at a time. I listened to music from my iPad, and when a call came into my smartphone (also paired to the headphones), I was able to answer the call while the music faded and paused, picking back up when the call was done.
If you're at all familiar with some of the latest Plantronics consumer products, the BackBeat Pro's knobs and buttons are similar, writ large. The left side's earpiece holds a large button to pause or play music, with a dial for forwarding to the next track or back. You can turn ANC on or off with a switch. The right side has an exterior button for answering or ending calls and a dial for microphone gain. There is also a switch to activate an OpenMic, which lets you fade the music and amplify your surroundings (using the microphone gain). Again, having nothing to compare the BackBeat Pro's ANC with leaves me with little to say on that score; however, wearing them on a noisy train through various parts of Los Angeles, turning ANC on and off, I can say that . . . well, noise was cancelled. The headphones shut out the ongoing hum and thrum of the train. I was in my own little world.
Plantronics products give you a wealth of information in your ear at device startup, including the general battery level (high, medium, low) and whether you're connected to your mobile device. The BackBeat Pro provides five LED battery level indicators at startup, as well. But until you're running out of battery, whereby you'll get an audio alert, there's really no way, other than restarting the headphones, to determine your battery level. With 24 hours of battery life, that's probably less of an issue with the BackBeat Pro, but it seems like an easy enough thing to add.
By the way, Ahntholz said that Plantronics has tested the BackBeat Pros with active noise cancelling on, but not playing any music, and found that the headphones will work for 60 hours without needing a charge. Turning off ANC will extend the battery life, of course, and when you remove the headphones, ANC turns off automatically, also saving battery life. Not using them for 90 minutes will put them into a hibernation mode -- and they'll last up to 180 days in that mode.