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Review: Backbeat Go Stereo Bluetooth headset

  • Great remote control for iPhone and Android
  • Ribbon cable to reduce tangling
  • Reduce 'Robot-Ear' look
Written by Adam Wajnberg
22/08/2012

Bluetooth headsets that don't make you look like a low-rent extra on a BBC sci-fi series might be the holy grail for smartphones. Being able to answer calls, play and pause music, go back and forward on tracks and initiate calls with voice commands - all while your phone stays in your pocket. No sane smartphone user could turn their nose up at that! Getting a pair that fit easily in your pocket and that don't look ridiculous- another matter entirely.

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                                                   bluetooth

 

The evolution of less-weird bluetooth has gone something like this: first there were mono units that went into one ear, made you look like an idiot, and lit up with red and blue LEDs. They also had a snappy little microphone boom to make you look SUPER AWESOME FUTURISTIC/socially awkward:

 

                                    old bluetooth

                                                It's called STYLE, duh

The first step was to eliminate the boom mic, by using 'jawbone' technology advanced by Jabra, a maker of headsets. This uses a combination of vibrations from your jawline, and ambient noise picked up by a microphone lodged in the handset, to adequately transmit your voice. It works well enough, and has improved over time. Most importantly, it gets rid of the need for the boom.

The next step is to make the whole thing smaller. Bluetooth is open source, so within a short time, a bevvy of Chinese parts manufacturers had micro modules ready to roll off the production line.

Stereo

Then we need to look at Stereo. Bluetooth might have a reputation as an accessory for corporate high flyers, but it does duty as a safe alternative to wired headphones for people exercising or running errands. Motorola was the first to bring out a relatively low key stereo headset that people would actually want to use, the S9 that came free with some phones:

               motorola s9

 

The module was all stored in that big backside which sat around the head, but the set stayed in your ears and delivered decent sound. The S9 also had buttons along the side that worked with pretty much every phone, including the iPhone 4 (Not the 3G or 3GS, to the dismay of many). You could answer a call, play and pause music, skip tracks - all with the combination button touches along the side of your head (this is a Bluetooth protocol known as AVRCP - Audio Visual Remote Control Protocol).

The S9 is still popular, but Plantronics went one step further with the BackBeat range, starting with the 903+. The bluetooth modules were housed inside each stereo section, to mostly sit behind the ear- but instead of a rigid plastic band around the head, the BackBeat 903+ used a flexible wire. This made them much more comfortable.

                            backbeat 903+

 

Unfortunately, the BackBeat 903+ was maybe a little unready for market. Call quality was not great, and the set had a habit of dropping out. The AVRCP controls along the edge of the left-hand speaker were hard to press, especially when compared to the remote control on Apple's wired headphones that come free with the iPhone.

Now we're talking - BackBeat GO

                      backbeat go headphones

 

The BackBeat Go by Plantronics attempts to marry up most trends in headphone tech into one attractive package, and it does it pretty well. From the popular Beats by Dre line it 'borrows' the innovation of using a ribbon cable, which prevents the whole thing from tangling.

The bluetooth modules have been stuffed into some very small units, which will ATTEMPT to make these as un-robot like as possible - they'll look like regular old ear buds, which no-one can make fun of. But they fail a little bit in execution. The Y-shaped build has them sticking out quite a bit, making them actually more noticeable than the 903+, which hid most of the business behind the ear.

But Plantronics have at least successfully improved on the AVRCP controller, which is now along the cable rather than on the ear piece. The soft-press buttons make them easier to control when doing stuff, which is the point of Bluetooth after all.

The micro-USB charging cable plugs in to a port hidden behind a flap in the right ear bud, which is pretty de-rigeur. The Go gets an impressive 5 hours of use in our test between charges, but will last about 30 hrs with infrequent use.

Sound

I found the BackBeat Go to be almost the answer to all my prayers for Bluetooth. The sound lacks bass and volume, but that's one of the concessions made with Bluetooth- the technology is still geared towards clarity over audio fidelity, and that means more treble.

 

Pairing

Pairing is pretty basic. There's a dedicated switch located on the remote control. Press and hold for 5 seconds to put the headset into pairing mode. A tiny LED on the inside of the right bud will flash Red/Blue.

Go to settings>Bluetooth on your phone. We tried it with an iPhone and a Samsung Galaxy Note, and both found the headset no problem, and paired without need for a password (which 0000 if it does ask). The Note was able to re-find the headset after dropping out, but the iPhone (which has notoriously dotty bluetooth) needed us to "Forget" the device on re-connection, and then connect again. This added a few extra seconds, but it's definitely something we'd hope the next iPhone improves upon - though Bluetooth is one of those messy, techy solutions that Apple seems to despise.

Range

I found the headset to work well from more than 10 metres away, and through brick walls. After that, it started to break up a bit.

Fit

These are in-ear buds, with some noise cancellation. They're a little 'full' in the ear - the 903+ were a bit more pleasant, sitting in the canal and relying on the over-the-ear clip to keep it in place. I've mixed it up with smaller rubber pieces that it came with, but overall it's a little uncomfortable.

        backbeat go headphones

           Yeah, note the poufy hair. These things DO stick out a bit

Overall

Bluetooth is a good solution for people who need convenience above audio fidelity. That said, the sound on these is pretty good, even for music. Calls are very good, and spoken word (such as podcasts, lectures, radio, etc) are crystal clear. The Go headset is about the only set we've seen that properly fit in the pocket the way a set of wired ear buds would, and for that alone they deserve praise.

Where?

Like most niche tech, these can be hard to find. Harvey Norman are the only major retailer that carry them, but it's worth calling your local store to see if they carry stock. Plantronics includes a list of local retailers here in Australia on the website. They go for $100 US, usually around $139 AUD.

 

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