DRE MAY HAVE lifted his hind leg and marked his turf a while back, but nowadays it seems that every electronics firm, their cat, dog, budgie (and goldfish) are cranking out designer earbuds to deliver oonst-laden audio directly into our noggins. Some appear to have achieved this better than others, but the good news here is that all this competition and innovation has forced earbud makers to lift their game.
When it comes to cranking out cans, Plantronics is no Johnny-come-lately, and were cranking industrial headsets when Dre was still in diapers, watching Gilligan’s Island, sucking on an Eskimo pie.
Look and feel
Unboxing the Backbeat Go’s from their swanky packaging not only had me wondering just how much I’d paid for packaging rather than headphones, but also revealed just what unusual beasts Backbeat Go’s actually were. At first I struggled to put my finger on just what it was that made them such odd looking beasts, and then it dawned on me – there was no plug, the Backbeat Go’s simply consisted of a flat cable connecting both buds along with a small mic/controller smack bang in the middle. You’ve got to love Bluetooth.
From a design standpoint, there’s some really clever engineering that has gone into the BackBeat Go’s. What really impressed is just how small and light these suckers really are. This mightn’t seem like a big deal but It is pretty darned hard to achieve when combining Bluetooth and earbuds.
Not only do you have to create something capable of cranking out half-decent audio, but you’ve also got to cram a battery and the Bluetooth smarts into the spare room inside of an earbud (which let’s face it folks, there isn’t exactly a lot of to begin with), yet it’s something Plantronics seem to have managed with relative ease.
Having reviewed my fair share of Bluetooth cans over the years, I was immediately struck by just how compact and light the BackBeat Go buds were. Sure, the actual earbuds could only be charitably called XL, but in use they were comfy to the point where I often forgot they were stuck in in my ears, and this is something most wired earbud makers struggle with.
Supplied with a range of different sized silicon eartips, I was able to get a tight fit into my ear canal (which not only helped hugely to isolate environmental noise, but also delivered the best audio) using the second largest eartips. In terms of audio, I was also pleasantly surprised. Until the Backbeat Go’s I’d always found that while the audio of most Bluetooth headphones was passable, it tended to either sound flat and lifeless, or over processed and harsh.
Coupled with my trusty HTC One X, I was able to easily make calls (even on noisy windy Wellington streets, callers all said they could hear me just fine) while the music being pumped into the Backbeat Go’s felt pretty balanced in that it didn’t sound too digitised, nor did it sound muddy with too much bottom end either (after extensive testing, it appears that the secret to achieving this is not only good earbud design but also selecting the right tip for a good tight fit into my king lears).
I love the fact that these puppies are wireless. I mean let’s face it, cable clutter, or worse still, constantly untangling earbuds is about as fun as being repeatedly kicked in the nuts. Suffice to say, I am a fan of anything that makes this pain go away.
The big bonus with the Backbeat Go’s is the fact that they’re not only tangle free, but can also be used for making phone calls, thanks to the microphone which is built into the in-line remote. Another side benefit of being Bluetooth was that the Backbeat Go’s worked fine on both Android and Apple phones, and I didn’t have to dick around with adaptors or worry about plug configuration nonsense.
Charging the BackBeat Go’s was also an interesting undertaking in that finding the micro USB charging socket on the Backbeat buds was trickier than you’d think. A quick case of RTFMYI (read the f**king manual you idiot) revealed that the port was hidden under a rubber flap on the right earbud. Unfortunately, this also brought a key downside of Bluetooth to bear.
Enable it on any smartphone and battery life is almost always guaranteed to take a (albeit small) hit. Adding to this was the fact that I was only ever was able to get 4-5 hours of listening time before the Backbeat Go’s started whining for a feed from the charger (given I tended to use them on my morning commute to work, this wasn’t a biggie for me).
This wasn’t totally unexpected as their battery must be pretty tiny to fit inside an earbud. Either way this was an acceptable compromise considering their pint-sized form factor and that my bouts of listening were typically under an hour in length.
One of the beauties of testing cans out in winter in Wellington is the sheer amount of wind that one tends to encounter. Catching a 50 knot southerly in the side of my melon is definitely one way of winnowing out well designed ear gear from the also-rans. In this instance, the Backbeats actually performed surprisingly well, with audio rather than wind noise taking centre stage while I was on the go (the lack of any trailing cables probably helped immensely).
As I mentioned earlier, I was also able to make calls with relative ease regardless of the weather Wellington was throwing at me, which also speaks to the sheer amount of thought that had gone into the Backbeat Go’s mic design.
For me, their sheer portability and lack of bulk with decent audio output combined to win me over, even if they did require frequent charging. About the only downside I found was that paring them up with my phone was sometimes a tad flaky (if they powered down and were powered up at a later date I’d frequently find myself wresting with their tiny controls until I somehow achieved a workable connection).
Others may find that the controller buttons on the inline remote are a tad too small for big fingers, but once I got used to using it on a day- to-day basis, this wasn’t a show-stopper. If like me you’d rather trim nose hair with a bolt cutter than deal with heaphone tangles and cable clutter, check out the Backbeat Go’s. Chances are you wont regret it. PAT PILCHER
Read Ashley Kramer’s less cheery verdict on the Backbeat Go’s here.