Plantronics BackBeat 500 On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones Page 2


Sound Quality Wired
Plug 'em into my phone, turn 'em on, and...hey...these sound okay. A bit boring, maybe...that's usually a good sign. Remember these are $79 wireless headphones, how good can they be?

First impression of the BackBeat 500 is warm; slightly dull; and a bit cardboard sounding. Bass has good strength and punch, but bleeds into the mids a bit—not bad, though. Midrange is pretty good up to the middle of the presence area...maybe 2kHz, and then it starts to dive off some. Getting the beginnings of vocal presence and then loosing it makes things sound like paper or cardboard to me. It also means vocals can get a tad shouty when you turn it up.

Thing is, on the wire they seem pretty tight and clean bass through mids and into a bit of treble. Dynamics are good, and imaging is forward and up of the line between the ears with nice width. While it's missing sparkle up top, and has a bit of bloat in the bass, elsewhere its very good for a headphone at this price.

Sound Quality Bluetooth
Well, it doesn't go to hell in a hand basket (like many do) but sound quality does take a bit of a smack going off the wire. Bass boosts increases, leaving neutral heading for basshead territory. Fortunately, the bass intrusion on the mids actually lessens relative to wired mode, in fact doesn't really intrude at all. On the down side, the bass isn't as tight as in wired mode. I wouldn't say it becomes loose and flabby, it's just not as good as when wired.

The treble rises to about where it belongs unwired, but the presence area (1kHz to 2kHz in this case) come up as well. The BackBeat 500 gets even more shouty and in-your-face than in wired mode. Now it begins to border on un acceptable. To make matters worse, measurements show more energy in the dreaded 7kHz area, causing them to teeter on fatiguing. But again, at $79 one could do so much worse. As long as you don't go cranking the volume, wireless is just okay.

Overall I tend to see these headphones as fairly good in wired mode and okay off the tether...which is surprisingly good for a wireless headphone at this price where so many are absolute crap. To tell you the truth, I've been impressed by the offerings from the telecom makers, the Jabra Move and Plantronics BackBeat 500 are solid offerings in a sea of incompetence. There are a few folks who've managed better offerings here in my view, however.

The Noontec Zoro II Wireless will remain my go to Wall of Fame recommendation in the sub-$100 price range for this type of can. Not only is does it have modestly better sound quality, it folds to become much more compact and easily stored. If you can finagle the extra cash, for around $140 the Sennheiser HD 4.40 BT over-ear Bluetooth headphone not only sounds better, but is more comfortable and folds compactly for storage and transport.

The $79 Plantronics BackBeat 500 is a handsome and well built headphone; a nice example of what can be done by a quality manufacturer even at this low price. Comfort is quite good, but you may have to bend the aluminum adjustment arms a bit to get there (see review on page one). Bluetooth pairing and functionality is very good.

On the wire, sound quality is a bit boring, but in a good way—no major annoyances, just a bit of bass boost bleed into the mids; a modest shoutyness in the presence region, and the treble rolls of some above 3kHz. In Bluetooth mode degrades some. Bass boost becomes bordeline excessive; treble rises to more neutral levels but presence area increases along with it producing a shouty character at higher volumes; and a just a bit of piercing 7kHz begins to appear. So wired is pretty good and wireless is just okay, but at this price point there are few better.

The BackBeat 500 just makes the recommended list, more due to the fact that it lives at a price point populated with utter junk rather than on merit alone. I reckon it would work fairly well as a daily driver around the home and office for someone looking for a bit more pizzaz than the Jabra Move has to offer.

View on YouTube here.

Plantronics home page and BeatBack 500 product page.

Plantronics, Inc.
345 Encinal Street
Santa Cruz, California 95060

gibtg's picture

Thanks Tyll for taking the time to review some more reasonably priced offerings!