Plantronics BackBeat Sense Smart Headphone Review

Everything needs to be enhanced these days to stand out from the crowd—everyone needs a schtick. Potato chips need wacky truffle-oil flavoring, cars need a carbon fiber wrap, and well, most celebrities keep their plastic surgeons on speed-dial. Even headphones need a hook to make a splash in the over-saturated market. While the Plantronics BackBeat Sense wireless headphones look like ordinary headphones, they are packed with enhancements, including knowing when they’re on or off.

The Plantronics BackBeat Sense headphones ($180) are on-ear, Bluetooth-enabled headphones. Plantronics is known for business-related headsets, and the BackBeat Sense has plenty of phone integration. However, the most notable enhancement is its ability to sense when the headphones are on or off the user. When removed from the ears, the headphones automatically mute and pause playback if connected via Bluetooth. This is brilliant if the headphones are used in an office environment—especially if you’re listening to music your boss might find objectionable. While traveling, it’s also invaluable if you frequently listen to audiobooks—never lose your place because the flight attendant came by for your drink order. This feature also helps conserve power by going into standby as soon as you remove the headphones—it can be disabled if desired.

Another really cool feature is a button on the bottom of the left earcup that turns on a built-in microphone so you can easily hear what’s going on around you without removing the headphone—very handy for in-flight announcements.

The BackBeat Sense is a very comfortable design. It’s extremely lightweight—140 grams, and they use memory-foam earcups and a flexible, self-adjusting headband for a comfortable, yet secure fit. They’re available in black or white, and come with a stylish carrying bag with a separate compartment for cables. The left and right earcups are clearly and cleverly marked in the perforations on each cup. They come with a USB-to-micro USB charging cable, and a standard audio cable to use if the battery fails or you’re connecting to a non-Bluetooth device. The audio cable has a built-in remote so you’re still able to control music playback and take calls. With all of these impressive features, it’s also nice to see up to 18-hours of playback—that’s a lot for wireless headphones. There’s a battery status meter, but you can also press a button on the headphones and get a voice indication of battery level.

The list of stand-out features goes on: the BackBeat Sense can be simultaneously connected to two Bluetooth devices, making switching between a computer and phone very simple. It uses Class 1 Bluetooth 4.0 +EDR with a range of about 330 feet. There’s even a feature to help you locate the headphones if you’ve misplaced them. I need that for my keys. And phone. And wallet…

As beauty, and features are only skin deep, the real question is how do they sound? Luckily, the BackBeat Sense not only have an impressive feature-set, they sound really quite nice. On acoustic rock, they have a very pleasant, natural sound. I checked out the latest from Mumford & Sons and felt they were ideal for this type of music. The treble was clean and clear, but more impressive was the bass. It was natural and balanced. Perhaps too restrained for serious dance beats or hip-hop, but on pop and rock it felt very tight, impactful and cohesive. Listeners expecting an overblown, bloated bass response will have to look elsewhere. The BackBeat Sense have a smooth sound, coupled with a comfortable fit, which made for hours and hours of listening with little listener or physical fatigue.

While some enhancements seem unnecessary (cue any clip from TMZ), the added features on the BackBeat Sense all work to make a very user-friendly headphone. From a company known for reliable and good-sounding headsets, it makes sense for Plantronics to jump into the fray with a feature-packed product. They know what works in the office, and how to make it practical for all users, and it’s apparent that they also know how to make a good-sounding headphone. The BackBeat Sense just make sense.