Finally, there is a wireless headphone that raises the bar for the category in both features and usability. The new Plantronics BackBeat SENSE (released today for $180) are so-called smart headphones that actually know when you are wearing them or not. Plus, two device connectivity is possible, but more importantly simplified. Also, they are extremely lightweight, comfortable and stylish, yet there is so much more to tell.
If you’ve ever used any Bluetooth or wireless product, you probably know connecting them and re-connecting can be a major pain. Pairing to a second device is usually a nightmare, and even answering a call with or without paired headphones never works like it should. Fortunately, Plantronics has solved all of these problems with the first wireless headphones that are actually a joy to listen to and use.
Initially pairing is easy, but the beauty is how they stay connected, switch connections, or even disconnect when needed. It’s the sensor(s) that make it all work flawlessly. Even basic call answering is easier, because you can answer from your phone or headset and talk directly into either without a second thought. Sounds logical, yet most, if not all Bluetooth headphones to-date force you to answer on the headphones or force you to manually select an option on your phone.
I previously mentioned SENSE connects to two devices, which doesn’t seem that important, but is actually a game-changer because of how it intelligently switches between devices. It automatically plays from the device closest to you (that is last played). If you’re like me, you may have some music on your phone and the rest on a laptop. Or you may have a phone and a tablet. In any case, let’s say you happen to be in the room with your iPad, you can pick it up, tap play, and music plays right into the headphones. Better yet, if you’re headphones are close by, but your devices are in another room you can just put the headphones on for instant listening. Because BackBeat Sense has a 100 foot range, which is over 3 times the usual distance of standard Bluetooth, you can use them all around the house, back yard, or at the gym.
A pleasant voice tells you the battery level and connection status upon power-on. If you’ve already paired once, it finds you device(s) every time and re-pairs them lightning fast so you never have to fiddle with your phone’s Bluetooth settings again. But the amazing part is they just plain work when you expect them to. You can start playing music by pressing the “play” button on the left earpiece. Play/pause, track forward/back and volume up/down are at all your disposal on the ear-piece. The volume ring is easy adjust, while the other buttons have a tactile feel so you know what you’re pressing without looking. But the beauty is you don’t necessarily have to press anything at all. If you merely take them off while listening, audio automatically pauses. Put them back on (within about 30 minutes) and music starts playing right where you left off — no button press needed. There is a smart sensor in the right earpad that detects when they’re on/off your head that instantly pauses when not worn. That is not only amazingly cool, but also saves battery life and potentially bandwidth if streaming from Spotify, Apple Music, etc.
SENSE’s 18 hour battery life is also nothing to sneeze at. In the real world that likely means you re-charge them every 2-3 weeks if you listen around an hour per day. I used them for a week and battery went from high to medium, and I never recharged them. A wired headphone cable with mic/controls is included, which will ensure the headphones are operational should the battery completely die. Also, the wireless mic is actually decent for hands-free calls.
With so many features to discuss, I haven’t even mentioned the sound quality, which is surprisingly good for an on-ear. There is a noticeable bass emphasis, but it’s not over done, which gives the sound a pleasant, full-bodied characteristic. I can’t claim voices are pitch perfect, nor highs as detailed as I’d like. But the overall sound quality is good enough that I can say they outperform for their price point. I also suspect buyers will absolutely love them.
Needless to say, I’d definitely recommend the $179.99 BackBeat SENSE to any wireless headphone buyer — even over the more expensive Bose SoundLink On-ear and Beats Solo2 Wireless. Not only is SENSE more feature packed, user friendly, and comfortable, I think most people will think they sound even better.