With companies ditching the headphone jack left and right, it’s painfully obvious that wireless audio is wave of the future. While we’re still not at the point where you can pick up a pair of wireless headphones at the airport for the cost of a dinner, there are tons of mid-range wireless headphones available.
Unfortunately, however, most of them still have a fatal flaw: whether it’s build quality, sound performance or a lack of features. However, Plantronics thinks it has the perfect blend of performance, features and build with its new BackBeat 500 Series wireless headphones. And, on paper at least, it does.
The BackBeat Series 500 is impressive, boasting a solid 18 hours of battery life, multipoint Bluetooth pairing and a compact on-ear design. So how do the headphones fare in the real world? Let’s explore.
The Plantronics BackBeat Series 500 feature an all plastic body with metal earcup forks. It’s obvious that the styling of the BackBeat Series 500 is targeted at a younger audience, especially compared to muted, classic styling of the headphone.
The white version we have is quite loud with its bright orange accents but the headphones come in a more conservative dark gray with silver accents and a light gray with yellow-green accents. Speaking with Plantronics about the design, we were told that the BackBeat 500 Series was targeted at a younger audience and was inspired by the company’s line of gaming headsets.
On the left earcup you’ll find playback and volume controls as well as the microUSB charging port and 3.5mm headphone jack for wired use. The left earcup houses the power and Bluetooth pairing slider as well as the microphone and call answer/decline button.
The earcups can fold flat for easy transport but the headphones don’t fold up like the , which would have been nice to make the headphones even more compact during travel. However, the headphones can twist quite a bit, so durability shouldn’t be an issue.
On the head, the Plantronics BackBeat 500 Series is comfortable for short periods but we found them putting a lot of pressure on our ears after long listening sessions. The earcups are padded with a stiff foam that isn’t as comfortable as the aforementioned Noontec and fail to seal out noise as well as other on-ear headphones. If comfort is your top priority, check out the , which come in wired and wireless models.
Sound quality is a highlight of the Plantronics BackBeat 500 Series. The headphones offer a warm, pleasing sound that works well with electronic pop, rock and rap music. There’s an obvious bass boost happening here but it works in the headphone’s favor to help block out some of the outside noise.
While there’s a strong emphasis on bass, it’s well controlled so your music doesn’t sound muddy. That said, the bass does mask some of the energy of the mids, which makes vocal-heavy music suffer a bit.
The BackBeat Series 500 have a slight U shaped tonal curve, which should please most listeners. We preferred the sound of the 500 Series versus the Zoro II Wireless, which are actually more neutral but sound crunchy and grainy.
Battery life is great as well with a rated 18 hours of playback and a staggering six months of standby time. Our testing found the 18 hour rating spot on. However, competitors like the Noontec are offering a staggering 35 hours of battery life and more features like NFC, which the 500 Series lacks.
Thankfully, Plantronics includes multipoint Bluetooth pairing, which means you can pair two devices simultaneously to the BackBeat 500 Series. As more of devices go wireless, multipoint pairing is a must-have feature.
For the price of $79 (£100, AU$120), the Plantronics BackBeat 500 Series offer great sound and just the right amount of features in a stylish package. However, the headphones just fail to stand out amidst its many competitors.
That’s not to say we don’t like the BackBeat 500 Series – Plantronics created a headphone that sounds great and has the most important features headphone buyers should be looking for. The lack of NFC and an even longer battery life shouldn’t deter you from these headphones, but poor isolation and comfort may make you reconsider plunking down for them.
If you must have peace and quiet from the outside world, the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 are excellent active noise-cancelling headphones. They’re twice the price, but offer a better experience in every way.
If Plantronics can fix the comfort and isolation issues with the next version of the BackBeat 500 Series while maintaining its affordability, it’ll have a winner on its hands. But, for now, the BackBeat 500 Series have some compromises that prevent us from recommending them wholeheartedly.