Plantronics BackBeat Go Review - Almost the Perfect Bluetooth Earbudsby Brian Klug on August 27, 2012 6:00 PM EST
Plantronics rates the BackBeat Go as having up to 4.5 hours of talk time when used for Bluetooth calling, and 4 hours of play time when used as an A2DP device. That’s not a whole lot of battery life, but that’s the tradeoff that gets made when you’re talking about a Bluetooth device with very little volume that can be dedicated to battery.
|Plantronics BackBeat Go Battery Life|
|User Manual Cited||Tested|
|Stereo A2DP Playback Time||4.0 Hours||3.4 Hours|
|Talk Time (HFP/HSP)||4.5 Hours||-|
Of course, I’m not satisfied with just citing manufacturer specs for battery life, and went ahead and measured the BackBeat Go audio playback time. To do this, I paired the earphones with an HTC One S and played an album on repeat, with the volume on the earphones set to 70%. I then placed the earbuds next to the One S (so there was good Bluetooth signal) with one of the earbuds inside a bag with a microphone.
In this manner it was possible to easily measure how long until the BackBeat Go battery died. I ran the test twice, and wound up with an average run time of 3.4 hours, which is just short of the cited 4 hours for A2DP, but relatively close. It’s possible they’re citing that number based on the earbuds being driven at a lower volume level, though 70% is where I often listened on the BackBeat Gos partially because of the lack of great isolation.
It’s hard to be overly critical about the audio performance of the BackBeat Gos since they’re so volume constrained. Inside each earbud is a ton of volume dedicated to battery and the Bluetooth controller, and relatively little volume dedicated to the actual 6mm neodymium drivers.
On the whole, sound quality is nothing to be terribly excited about, but is good enough for casual listening. I’ve never been dissatisfied with A2DP at the maximum bitpool on any device, though at the same time there is a perceptible difference between A2DP and a good analog output. I would say that sound quality on the BackBeat Go is more gated by its earphone performance and construction than the use of SBC codec.
Most of my complaints about the BackBeat Go sound quality boil down to the lack of a good seal between the earbud’s small rubber sleeve and the ear canal. With a good seal, I found the listening experience surprisingly enjoyable. Mids and bass are decent, though somewhat lacking compared to either of my usual go-to IEMs (Shure SE115 or SE 535). That said, I’d characterize the experience as more than adequate for casual listening. Given the small size of the drivers, I’d say the BackBeat Go audio quality is actually surprisingly decent.
Without a good seal, I found suppression less than ideal and bass and mids very underdriven. This is really the overarching problem I experienced with the BackBeat Go – the earbuds either slowly slide out of my ear canals, or movement of my head perturbs them, and I lose the seal and soundstage entirely. That obviously makes use while exercising challening. Thankfully there isn’t much sound communication between the cable and the earbud either; there's no noise transmitted through the cable when moving around with the cable rubbing on clothing.
Input latency is the other big concern, and on the two devices I tested, there wasn’t enough to distract from watching Netflix or YouTube videos. Some of this is a function of what the encode implementation is like on the host device, but on iOS and the HTC One X I was able to watch Netflix without perceptible audio lag.
You can also of course use the BackBeat Gos to talk on the phone as there’s a microphone in the controller midsection. I called a few people and asked how I sounded, and audio quality wasn’t super great. I was told that I sound like most car audio Bluetooth solutions, so I suspect some of this is just a reflection of the handsfree protocol quality. The BackBeat Go does include some DSP noise reduction and echo rejection, though this isn’t a two microphone solution. Again, how good at rejecting noise the system ends up being for the other party depends on whether your handset also will do further processing. For example the Audience sound processors have a port for Bluetooth audio in which will get used in conjunction with the other onboard microphones to cancel noise.