Plantronics BackBeat Go 2

While its short battery life keeps it from true greatness, the Plantronics BackBeat Go 2 is a superior wireless Bluetooth in-ear headphone.


7.8
CNET Rating


When I reviewed the original Plantronics BackBeat Go stereo Bluetooth headset back in 2012, I said it was easy to see how the product could be improved and that the next version of the BackBeat Go would be better and easier to recommend for what it cost.

Well, I'm happy to report that with the BackBeat Go 2, Plantronics has fixed most, though not all, of the small flaws found in the original, and indeed, it is easier to recommend at its US$99.99 price point.

Alas, the engineers didn't improve the so-so battery life (four and a half hours), but Plantronics is offering a battery extension solution in the form of a bundle that includes a charging case (BackBeat Go + Charging Case), so you can juice up on the go. If you already have an external battery charger for your phone, the extra you'll spending for the charging case may not be worth it — but for a lot of folks it will be.

Design and features

This model looks very similar to the original BackBeat Go, which remains one of the smallest and lightest stereo Bluetooth headsets out there, featuring two slightly oversized earbuds joined by a fettuccine wire that's designed to cut down on tangles. That said, Plantronics has made a few small changes to the design. For starters, the in-line remote/microphone has been tweaked so the buttons are easier to operate by feel.

The headset has a cord between the two earpieces, but the connection to your Bluetooth-enabled device is wireless.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

A closer look at those buttons reveals that the middle button serves as a call-answer/end button, redial button and it pauses your music during playback. The volume buttons do double duty as skip-track-forward/back buttons (you have to hold the volume-up button down for a second to advance a track and hold the volume-down button a second to restart a track).

It's also worth noting that after you pair the headset with your Bluetooth-enabled device once, it will remember the device and automatically pair with it. With Bluetooth activated on your device, you just have to hold down the call-answer/end button for a second to turn the headphones on, and they'll automatically pair after that. However, be sure not to hold the button down for too long or the headphones will go into set-up mode (for a new device) and won't automatically pair with the device you've already set up.

The in-line remote/microphone has been redesigned.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

That may all sound a little complicated but it isn't, and voice prompts alert you when the headset is on, when it's connected and how full the battery is. A small, more accurate battery-life indicator for the headset is also displayed towards the top of the screen on iOS devices, although not Android phones.

One small change a lot of people won't notice is that Plantronics has made the little LED on the earpiece brighter, so you can see it better now. It used to be hard to tell if the headset was charging because the LED was so faint, but now it's clearly visible (it changes from red to blue when the battery is fully charged).

The Go 2 is also available in white.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

Aside from the tweaks to the in-line remote/microphone and LED, the other notable difference is that the earphones are now covered in a coating of P2i moisture-protection technology that makes them water resistant, so you can sweat on them while you're working out or take them outside when it's raining. In the 10 days or so I used them, they seemed to be pretty durable, but they're certainly not indestructible.

The final new feature addition is "DeepSleep hibernation mode", which allows the headset to hold a charge for up to six months, so you don't have to worry about the battery draining if you don't use them for a few weeks. How long that battery will last in the long run, I can't tell you, but it will eventually wear out and not take a charge, like all lithium batteries.

The USB charging port is hidden in the right earpiece.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

The other changes are on the inside. Plantronics says this model is equipped with a 6mm third-generation speaker that's an improvement upon the first-gen 6mm speaker in the original BackBeat Go. I could definitely hear the difference. The headphones now play louder and sound better, although it's crucial to get a tight seal or you can end up losing a good deal of bass.

As with all in-ear headphones, some people will be able to get a better, and more comfortable, fit than others. I thought the earphones were pretty comfortable and didn't have a problem wearing them during my daily 30-minute commute to work. I was able to get a tight seal with the large ear tips and easily paired the headphone with both an iPhone 4s and a Samsung Galaxy S4, streaming music wirelessly from both devices with only minor hiccups. To be clear, while there's a cord that goes between the earpieces, these earphones don't plug into anything; they're indeed wireless, and you can make calls with them.

You get a charging case if you step up to the US$129.99 bundle.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

Like the original BackBeat Go, the new model comes with little "stabilisers" to get a more secure fit. While they work pretty well, I think Plantronics could come up with better stabilisers that really keep the earphones in your ears even more securely, especially when you're running. For instance, I liked the stabilisers found on the Monster iSport Immersion and Audio Technica's SonicSport ATH-CKP500. However, both those are wired in-ear sports headphones.

As far as accessories go, these guys come with three different-sized ear tips, plus a USB charger. They're available in two colours, white or black, and there's a version that comes with a charging case for US$129.99 or US$20 more.

The included accessories.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

The idea behind the case is that it not only protects the earphones, but it has a built-in rechargeable battery for charging on the go. When fully charged, the case can charge the headphones twice, which gets you up to 13 hours of battery life, although you won't be able to use the headphones while you're charging them. I personally thought the case could stand to be slightly larger to accommodate the headphones more easily (you really feel like you're stuffing them in there), but that's a small gripe.

Performance

The original BackBeat suffered from some performance issues, the biggest of which was that it didn't play very loudly (I felt I could have used more volume when I was outside on the noisy streets of New York).

I didn't have that problem with this model, and overall, the sound was fuller and more dynamic, although I can't say it's incredibly open or detailed. The bass was pretty punchy, but again, if you fail to get a tight seal, the earphones will sound thin.

The loop "stabilisers" could be better designed to offer a more secure fit.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

For those new to stereo Bluetooth, it's worth noting that Bluetooth does compress audio files and has a tendency to flatten out your music, leaving it sounding less dynamic. But Bluetooth headphones are getting better, and while this model doesn't feature the aptX codec, which can offer slightly improved Bluetooth sound quality with mobile devices that also feature aptX (no iPhone models have aptX, but many of the new Android models do), I thought it sounded good for a Bluetooth earphone at this price point. It's relatively natural sounding, fairly well balanced and lively. It may not satisfy the most critical listeners, but it can hold its own with a lot of wired in-ear headphones.

Comparing it with the significantly more expensive Jaybird BlueBuds X Bluetooth earphones, the two models sound very similar. That model has a cord-management feature and claims better battery life, but it's not worth the extra dough.

As for call quality, Plantronics hasn't changed the microphone, and the performance of the headset was good (callers said that they could hear me well, though it obviously helps to pull the microphone closer to your mouth).

Conclusion

It's a challenge to design really small wireless Bluetooth earphones because you have to cram a battery and some extra electronics into a compact housing the size of something that's not much bigger than, well, an earbud. Plantronics' first-generation BackBeat Go was pretty good, but it did have a few rough spots, particularly with its performance.

Cosmetically at least, the BackBeat Go 2 really isn't different from the previous version, but with the tweaks in the design to the remote/microphone and the addition of the moisture-protection coating, there have been some notable improvements, although battery life still isn't great. But the most important change is to the sound quality; it's right there with the sound quality of competing products, such as the Jaybird Bluebuds X Bluetooth earphones, which retail for a good deal more.

While the Go 2 still has room for improvement (a slightly smaller design, better stabilisers and better battery life), it's a nice step up from the original and strongly worth considering if you're looking for an earbud-style wireless headphone.

Via CNET.com



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