They say you can tell a lot about a person by how they sign their name. John Hancock-style signatures with oversized characters and large, exuberant loops and flourishes signify gregarious, outgoing people. Those with a tighter address tend to be more introverted. You could argue the same thing about the headphones that someone chooses to wear; the difference between people who wear large cans with thick, branded bands across their heads, and those who prefer a more discreet option.
Plantronics' BackBeat Go headphones are for people who prefer the latter — there isn't a lot of headphone here, after all. Plantronics manages to fit the entire package into two small ear buds and a cable of about a metre connecting them. Sold in a demure black colour, these headphones disappear from vision when worn, especially by people with longer hair. A charging port is concealed behind a rubber seal on the right-side ear bud, and there is a small controller on the cable. There's a microphone, too, for hands-free calls, but good luck spotting it without a closer look.
This design is hard to fault. The unit is compact, lightweight and unobtrusive. Plantronics opts for a slightly thicker cable so that it doesn't tangle in your bag between uses. Turning it on and pairing it with an external device, like a smartphone, couldn't be easier. The headphone set enters pairing mode as soon as you switch it on, and it doesn't require a password to create the connection.
Plantronics is a company best known for its hands-free accessories — Bluetooth headsets, mostly. The BackBeat Go set feels like something different, though. It still has hands-free functionality, and this works well, but the Go is also being marketed as a pair of headphones. This opens an entirely different can of worms than it would otherwise as a device dedicated to phone calls. Often when we review Bluetooth headphones, we acknowledge that the earpiece is capable of playing music (usually mono audio only), but we test the calling functionality most rigorously. This time, the equation is flipped.
This is where the BackBeat Go headphones fall over. Bluetooth audio processing isn't awesome, and although the audio we've streamed from our phones to the Go came across seamlessly, it sounded pretty thin compared to any pair of wired headphones we had lying around. Music comes through sounding really flat and tinny on default audio settings in the music player, and rumbling and messy when we opted for a bass-boosting sound profile.
You won't notice it as much when you're taking a phone call. Anyone who has used a Bluetooth headset will be familiar with the hollow-sounding "in the bathroom" audio you get with a hands-free headset. It's no different here, but it was clear enough for trouble-free conversations.
The problem lies in its lack of flexibility. We accept that Plantronics is stuck with the audio limitations of Bluetooth, but it doesn't offer an alternative for those of us who want convenience sometimes, and awesome sound at other times. A wired adapter in the box with the headphones could have gone a long way to giving the Go wider appeal, and given us a better idea of what these headphones are really capable of. As it stands, the Go headphones are just for people who want the convenience of wireless at any cost — even the quality of their music.