Tech Reviews

Plantronics Backbeat SENSE Review

Throughout the past couple of years, I have really started getting into headsets. With kids now taking over my house, the use of headsets is not only welcome, but oftentimes imperative if I want to hear anything when I’m reviewing a game, or when I want to drown out some temper tantrums and listen to some music.

I used to think headsets were only some for audiophiles who wanted to literally drown out the rest of the world and hear nothing except the music or movie/tv show/game they were watching. Turns out, as I have learned recently, they offer so much more.

I’ve had the opportunity to review a ton of different headsets; off the top of me head, I can name Turtle Beach, Steelseries, Bose, Kidz Gear, Razer, and Plantronics. Each of them offers their own pro and cons; Turtle Beach, for instance, is clearly geared towards gaming with a variety of features that balance out in-game audio with over the mic chat. Bose is the clear choice for audiophiles, with excellent noise cancellation and blistering clear sound. For convenience, however, without giving up sound quality, I have to tip my hat to Plantronics.

Rather than go after the top dogs and make the “best quality ever” headset, or release a line of gamer focused sets, Plantronics has instead release a line of headsets that straddles a middle ground in terms of quality, but is unmatched in sheer convenience in everyday use. In essence, as it states on the box, it is a “smart wireless” headset, with an emphasis on “smart.”

The set in question is the new BackBeat SENSE. If you recall, I reviewed the BackBeat PRO last year and loved it. I thought that the BB Pro could easily stand up to any super high end headset, and had a ton of features that makes it stick out from the competition.

Everything about it just screamed quality, and to this day, it is my go to choice when it comes to headsets. As far as my favorite headset, the BB Pro is hard to top, and I’m glad to see that Plantronics has not tried to oust the BB Pro. Instead, a new headset has now launched which joins the Backbeat line of products, and sits comfortably in the tier right below the Pro. Meet the Backbeat SENSE.

The SENSE is considerably smaller than the Pro, and features a cup that sits atop the ear as opposed to cupping and surrounding the ear. Immediately, I was in love with the comfort. The Pro’s surrounding design was plush and comfortable, but I wear glasses and am a generally sweaty person; things got annoying at times.

With the SENSE, I never hit a point where the side of my glasses were pressed uncomfortably into my head, and any sweating was done without interference from the ear cup. I don’t know how many people have experienced sweating when wearing an over the ear cup, but no amount of comfy, plush material works if it gets soggy. With the SENSE, it’s not an issue.

Plantonics SENSE review

In addition to the smaller and more comfy cups, the material is a nice memory foam. As soon as you place them onto your ears, you can feel the cups sinking into place and settling in, filling in the gaps. While this doesn’t provide the same level of noise cancellation as an active noise cancellation system, it’s still better than stiff cups that leave gaps. Considering this is a considerably more affordable headset than its BB Pro big brother, that’s something I’m more than willing to overlook, especially when you consider how well it still blocks out outside noises.

Earlier I mentioned how the BB SENSE is tackling the issue of convenience. This is demonstrated in a number of different features, the first of which is the battery life. The BB SENSE can churn out 18 hours of wireless streaming, have enough juice for 21 days of standby time, or last up to 180 days in DeepSleep mode.

Essentially, this is a device where once you charge it up all the way, you don’t have to worry about having power again for a long, long time. Contrast that to my phone, a Moto x 2nd Gen which can barely last me through the day, and forces me to constantly consider where my nearest power source is. When you’re always keeping an eye open for a charging outlet, you’re not truly “wireless,” are you? The SENSE ensures that you are truly “wireless.” Smart wireless device indeed.

In addition to fantastic battery life, the SENSE also provides an incredible amount of Bluetooth range, up to 330ft, depending on where you’re using the headset. To best illustrate how amazing this range is, I need to compare it to my Moto 360 smartwatch. Prior to the latest update, my Moto 360 needed to be within range of my phone in order for it to function fully and receive notifications, a range of approximately 30 feet.

This meant that as soon as I left my kitchen to go to the bathroom across the hall, my watch would buzz, letting me know that I was out of range. If I put my phone on the charger and wanted to use my watch to receive messages, I better be sure that I was in the exact same room otherwise my connection to the phone would be lost. It’s almost a bit pointless, no?

Many other wireless headsets that I have used ran into the same issue. It’s nice to not have a mess of wires to deal with, but if I’m forced to always be holding my phone and can’t even charge it across the room without losing my connection, then that ruins things a bit. Like before, it’s not truly “wireless” if I’m tethered by distance.

The BB SENSE eliminates that concern. With 330ft of range, I can easily be upstairs in my bed with my phone downstairs on the charger if need be, something I actually tested out. If I’m listening to a podcast and am also moving around the house, I want to be able to listen uninterrupted.

I don’t want to have to bring my phone with me; I already have my hands full with cooking my lunch or doing my laundry. The SENSE gives me the freedom to move about as I please and not worry about losing my connection. A couple of interesting points; I was actually able to leave my house and get the mail without losing the connection, though it did start to stutter a bit. However, when I went into the garage to get something, the connection got a bit hairy.

There’s probably a lot of interference coming fromt hat side of the house, but it was a tad bit disappointing since the garage is actually pretty close to the kitchen where I had my phone charging. You miles will vary, but I would say 9 out of 10 times, you’ll get the range you need without any worries.

Continuing with the idea of a smart headset, we come to the automatic play/pause feature, which is by far one of my favorite things in both the BB SENSE. With sensors built into the ear cups, you never have to press play or pause. As soon as the headset senses that you have removed the SENSE from your ears, whatever you’re listening to is immediately paused. Pop the SENSE back on, and your music resumes without any input from you.

It’s a small feature that I never really knew that I wanted, since pressing play/pause from the earpiece really isn’t very difficult, but once you realize how much easier the automatic feature is, it’s hard to go back. There’s something to be said about taking the headphones off and tossing them on the counter, then coming back, putting them back on, and having your podcast resume without you ever pressing a button. If anything, it’s just COOL.

As a parent of small children, the Open Mic feature is an absolute lifesaver, and is easily the single feature that would make me buy a SENSE over any competing headset, regardless of price. With this feature, a quick press of a button underneath the left ear cup activates the microphone, allowing outside sounds in and turning the volume of whatever you’re listening to way down. A perfect example is once both my kids are in bed.

They’re snoring in their beds upstairs and I want to watch Top Gear downstairs, but I’m not a huge fan of blasting my speakers to the point where the house shakes. The alternative is watching with the volume down low and the subtitles on, but what’s the fun in that? The whole point of Top Gear is to hear the presenters and listen to the roar of car engines, not watch in silence and read subtitles.

If any of you have ever dealt with trying to get infants and toddlers down for the night, then you know the decision is a no brainer; it’s the low volume option all the way. There’s no way I’m risking waking either of my kids up.

With the BB SENSE, I can now blow my eardrums out and be able to keep an ear on the kids at the same time. Every few minutes while watching a TV show or movie, I can simply press the Open Mic button, listen for a few seconds, then click the button again to resume my show.

The show doesn’t pause and I can still hear what’s going on, but I can also hear my surroundings and any crying kids if need be. Is my wife trying to talk to me while I’m listening to Sweet Cyanide? No problem, simply activate OpenMic, listen to what she has to say, respond, and continue head banging. The headphones never have to leave my ears.

The rest of the features include being able to pair the SENSE up with two devices simultaneously, and your typical phone call/answer features. Having two devices connected at the same time is another one of those features where I never knew I needed, until I started using it. Playing a game on my Vita is great, but 1) I can’t hear my phone if it’s ringing, and 2) if I do someone notice that someone is calling me, I have to pause the game, remove the headset, find my phone, and answer.

Being able to connect two devices means I can be playing Persona 4 Golden on the Vita, then be alerted to a phone call, pause the game, simply click the right ear cup to answer the call, click again when I’m finished, then resume my game without ever having to remove the headset or get up to find my phone. The 330ft of range means my phone can basically be anywhere in the house and I can still answer calls.

The BackBeat SENSE is small, light, attractive, convenient, and powerful enough to meet my daily needs. It even comes with an attractive canvas carrying case that fit both the headset and charging cable/3.5mm audio cable. It’s extremely comfortable to use and allows me the freedom of enjoying all my media at a volume I want, and also being an attentive father and husband at the same time. Sure I can simply take the headphones off, but who wants to do that? Leave ‘em on and do everything you were meant to do, all while sporting the BackBeat SENSE on your head. “Smart wireless” has arrived, and it’s better than ever.

more info: bestbuy