Plantronics might not be a company that immediately springs to mind when you think high-end headphones, with the likes of Beats, Bose, Sennheiser and Sony usually dominating best seller lists. What it lacks in brand awareness, however, it makes up for with Bluetooth connectivity knowledge from its wireless headsets and speakerphones. A lot of this knowledge has found its way into the BackBeat Sense headphones.
In terms of hands-free calling, it’s one of the best headsets I’ve used for call clarity. Dual microphones are used for noise cancelling, meaning your voice gets picked up supremely clearly. Intriguingly, there’s also a button built into the left earcup that pauses your music and turns on the microphones, allowing you to hear your surroundings without taking the headphones off.
^The orange button lets you hear the outside world
In truth, I rarely found this useful, as simply pausing the music was usually sufficient to hear ambient sounds. That’s because the Sense is supra-aural, meaning the ear cups rest on your ears, rather than enveloping them and blocking out outside noise. Also, on many occasions, that external sound you want to hear is someone talking to you, so failing to take your headphones off could be considered somewhat of a social faux-pas. Activating the microphones to hear your surroundings does give you a slightly surreal level of super-hearing, though, as the microphones are very sensitive.
It’s the integrated proximity sensor that’s genuinely useful. When you do decide to remove the cans from your ears, music automatically pauses for you. Return the headphones to your ears and the music starts again. Thankfully, taking them off and then resting the headphones around your neck only rarely tricked the headphones into playing. In three weeks of testing this only happened twice and both times I was awkwardly bending down, causing the headphones to press against my neck. This was my favourite feature of the BackBeat Sense, especially if you get a lot of interruptions to your music-listening, such as in an office environment. It’s something I quickly missed when I wore other headphones.
In terms of design, the first thing I immediately noticed was how light the headphones were. At 140g, you can almost forget they’re on your head, which is refreshing. A lot of headphones go for a more weighty approach in a bid to feel premium. Fortunately, the BackBeat Sense doesn’t feel cheap. The Sense is afforded its light weight from a largely plastic construction around the earcups.
There’s a metal rail that the earcups slide up and down for size adjustment and there are fixed adjustment levels. If you look closely at the metal rail, you’ll actually see distinct numbered markings, which is handy if you want to adjust to a specific, consistent size. The earcups and headband use memory foam and protein leather. The headband, in particular, sat very comfortably on my head as it uses an elastic to conform to the top of your skull, meaning the band doesn’t exert much pressure. In warmer weather, the earpads don’t let a massive amount of heat escape, so my ears did occasionally tend to get sweaty after extended listening, but they at least never felt bruised by the constant pressure of the earpads.