Wayne Thorp will speak at the 2015 AAII Investor Conference this fall; go to www.aaii.com/conference for more details.
Featherweight Bluetooth stereo headset for taking calls and listening to audio.
Regular readers of this column are probably familiar with Plantronics. I have reviewed two of their Voyager Bluetooth headsets for hands-free cellphone operation, including the Pro HD. When I was at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, I stopped by the Plantronics booth and discovered they also make Bluetooth stereo headsets for listening to audio on your smartphone or tablet as well as taking calls. Over the last year, I have become a convert of wireless headphones for listening to music during my daily commutes as well as traveling (except when on an airplane). After a couple of unfortunate turns with Phiaton Bluetooth headphones, LG won me over with their TONE+ Bluetooth Headset. A few weeks ago, I received a set of Plantronics BackBeat Go earbuds and they are giving LG a run for their money.
As impressed as I was with the design of the LG Tone+ headset, the BackBeat Go goes even farther. Whereas the TONE+ has a sort of yoke design with the earbuds attached to it with wires, the BackBeat Go consists of two earbuds connected by a flat, tangle-free cord that is roughly 22 inches long. The cord is intended to go around the back of your neck. There is almost nothing to the BackBeat Go headset, as it weighs a mere 0.45 ounces (nearly 60% lighter than the TONE+).
According to Plantronics, the BackBeat GO is built to withstand rain and sweat by a non-coating that is applied during the manufacturing process, giving the headset “liquid repellent properties.”
The headset comes with three sizes of cushioned eartips to help you get the correct fit. In addition, there is a set of stabilizers to help keep the earbuds anchored in your ear.
Plantronics also provides its standard charger and a micro-USB-to-USB charging cable. The micro-USB charging port is hidden underneath a rubber cover on the right earbud.
A couple of inches below the right earbud is the in-line controller. There are three rubberized buttons on one side of the controller: volume up and down on both ends as well as a multi-function call button in the middle. On the adjacent edge is the power/pairing button.
Before you start using the BackBeat GO, you may need to charge it. You can use the charger that is provided or plug it into a powered USB port on a computer. According to Plantronics, it takes about 2.5 hours to charge a lithium-ion battery when it is fully drained.
Once it is charged, you need to pair the BackBeat GO. You turn the headset on by pressing the power button on the in-line controller. The first time you power it on, the BackBeat GO automatically enters pairing mode (indicated by the LED light on the right earbud flashing blue and red). Once the headset is in pairing mode and Bluetooth is activated on your device, select PLT_BBTGO from the list of available devices. Once you have paired the headset with a device, it will do so automatically every time you power on the headset (assuming your device is Bluetooth-enabled).
As mentioned, Plantronics provides three sets of cushioned eartips of differing size. Like all in-ear earbuds, a solid fit is key to good audio quality. Plantronics suggests adding the included stabilizers to get a more secure fit in your ear. To attach the stabilizers to the earbuds, you must first remove the eartip, attach the stabilizer and then replace the eartip. The stabilizers took a little getting used to, but I did find that they were more of a help than a burden. Overall, I thought the eartips provided a good fit and were comfortable to wear for extended periods of time.
The in-line controller is easy to operate, once you get the hang of it. Not being able to see it will inevitably lead to some missteps, and perhaps dropped calls, as you get a feel for it. The up and down volume buttons also double as track advance/reverse buttons. Holding either the + or – button for two seconds will move the current track ahead or back. Pressing both at the same time will also toggle mute. The center multi-function button is for pausing and resuming playback, as well as call answer and disconnect.
Using the BackBeat GO headset, I have yet to experience any signal drops when paired with my iPhone 5. This is quite a different experience from many of the other Bluetooth headsets I have tested for this column. Even when carrying my iPhone in my coat pocket, the reception is strong and clear.
The audio quality of Bluetooth headsets won’t rival that of wired units, but most provide more-than-adequate audio quality. The BackBeat GO is no exception. In fact, I thought the headset provided some of the best mid- and high-range clarity of any Bluetooth headset I’ve tested for this column; even better than the TONE+. My only disappointment was the weak bass response. Some reviews complain about the low volume, but I found that the BackBeat Go is one of the few Bluetooth headsets where I found myself always turning down the volume.
Plantronics’ experience with mono Bluetooth headsets for hands-free calling carries over to the BackBeat GO. Compared to other stereo Bluetooth headsets I’ve used for making calls, the BackBeat Go sounds more natural than the tinny sounds I’ve experienced. Unlike the LG TONE+, with its hard neck strap, you are able to pull the BackBeat GO’s cord around to position the mic closer to your mouth, making it easier for the person on the other end of the call to hear you.
According to Plantronics, the BackBeat Go offers up to 4.5 hours of talk time and four hours of listening, as well as 10 days of standby time. This is where the BackBeat Go’s lightweight design is a drawback, as there isn’t room for a bigger battery. By comparison, the LG Tone+ offers up to 10 hours of music listening and 15 hours of talk time. On more than one occasion, my battery ran out on the way to work in the morning because I forgot to charge the headset overnight after just a couple of days of use (no more than four hours of use).
When you pair the BackBeat GO with an iOS device, a battery meter bar automatically appears on the top of the screen.
After using the BackBeat GO these last few weeks, the LG TONE+ has been relegated to the bench. This headset offers an excellent mix of audio quality, ease-of-use and comfort. My only complaint is the battery life, which is a casualty of making the BackBeat GO so light. I would prefer a bit more bass response as well, but I can overlook that since the overall sound quality is so impressive for a Bluetooth headset. At $79.99 (cheaper from e-tailers such as Amazon), the Plantronics BackBeat GO offers the best combination of functionality and value of any Bluetooth stereo headphones I’ve used.
$79.99 (currently $63.98 from Amazon.com)
Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of "Gadget Corner." All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.