Plantronics' BackBeat Pro are avaialble from Apple and Amazon for £199.
- Bluetooth 4.0
- 24 hours streaming battery life
- Active noise cancellation
- OpenMic 'spy mode' button
- Dual device streaming
Audiophiles, to their adorable credit, have always taken headphones way too seriously. But I am not an audiophile. To me, headphones have always been pretty simple: a functional, passive device through which I listen to music and John Roderick podcasts, and eventually break and discard.
There's no hope for me on this. I break, wash or smash every pair of headphones I acquire.
This is why I don't get on with ultra high-end audio equipment, even though I covet it and admire it: the benefits of good sound or a cool-looking brand to put on my head are just too ethereal, and immaterial, for me to bother with the hassle of having to not smash it to pieces in my bag, on a run or while waiting for a bus. I just can't be arsed, basically.
That said, there are an increasing number of headphones on the market which seem less and less like pure audio boomers, and more like wearable gadgets in their own right. They do more, interact with our voice assistants in new ways, and are made in specific, weird form factors that encourage us to think about them as devices, not as passive cans for audio consumption.
The makers of these things certainly want us to think of them that way. And with the Backbeat Pro, Plantronics might have just delivered.
For these are not a pair of headphones - not just that anyway. As it turns out they are also the Ultimate Solitude Machine.
Let's get this out of the way: I like my co-workers. I do. They're a lovely grab-bag of hipsters, nerds, newshounds, suits and bearded social media analysts.
But it also true that I work best - most often - when I have a private space. That can be - if my boss is reading and looking for ideas - a corner office, with a private bathroom and coffee on tap.
But it can also be, in a pinch, a pair of decent headphones and the new Deafheaven album. The Plantronics over-ear Backbeat Pro Bluetooth headset looks like merely the latter. They look like a pair of headphones.
But the effect of wearing them is actually like sitting in a corner office made of glass.
They are spectacular.
There are several specific features that make this so. Let's run through them.
- They are Bluetooth 4.0 headphones, but they connect to two devices at once. This means you can listen to music and take calls on your phone, but seamlessly listen into your laptop if you need to watch a video of a cat doing something adorable, for work.
- They have a Bluetooth connection range of 100metres, which is enough to get to Starbucks from my seat.
- They have active noise-cancellation which is so good it's actually difficult to hear consistent traffic if you're standing on a busy London street, waiting for Starbucks to open.
- The 'OpenMic' button on the bottom of the right can is actually a spy button. Press it and your music dips, allowing you to listen in to your co-workers sneakily, and even turn up the volume on their conversation. They'll never know. This is excellent for checking they aren't making fun of your new haircut. They were. :(
- They automatically pause when you take them off and start when you put them on.
- The battery life is ridiculous - 24 hours of continuous streaming with AIC turned on, 60 hours of ANC if you're not streaming.
- They aren't flashy, so no one will make fun of you. Unless you've just had a bad haircuit :(
- Two mics means great call quality, with on-ear buttons for receiving calls and speaking to Siri.
And yes, they sound fantastic. The audio quality is really excellent, and they ably chewed up and swallowed anything we threw at it, from death metal to the rich, deep tones of Medhi Hassan's notorious Minute. (Full disclosure: some of the team found them a bit lacking on the low end, though it personally didn't bother me.)
They also perform great on a commute, and presumably on flights too - though we haven't flown since we got our review pair.
The Backbeat Pros are also comfortable, with squishy leather padding and a strong, secure fit. We did find that they hurt our ears after extended use - but to be fair any pair of headphones aches when you're six hours deep into a power writing session.
This is the only downside in fact: they're a bit too perfect for the office. This means you're more likely to wear them than not, and that can lead to the (correct) accusation that you're being a bit anti-social. And yes, that's true. But I didn't care really, because I was having the audio equivalent of a deep bath in my lockable penthouse office suite, so go to hell office family. Go. To. Hell.
Plantronics has actually created something remarkable with the Backbeat Pro. They've done more than make a great pair of headphones: they've made a wearable device with a specific purpose, which is to create the sensation of solitude. And they've done it in a package which is smart, effective, straightforward and as a pleasant as a Club Class bacon sandwich.
They might not make you the most popular guy in the office. They're not particularly beautiful, they're a bit heavy and the sound over Bluetooth is never going to match the very high-end audio-focused reference cans on the market.
But they will make sharing your work space with this guy, this guy and this guy just that bit more bearable.* And that makes them worth every one of the (pricey) £199you'll have to pay to get a pair in your life.
* (I'm joking, they are lovely).