Plantronics BackBeat 505 review
Ditching the headphone jack doesn't have to mean expensive wireless headphones.
When Apple announced that it was ditching the 3.5mm headphone jack in the iPhone 7, manufacturers of Bluetooth headphones must have popped champagne bottles and cheered in celebration. While you can use a Lightning adaptor to use corded headphones or earbuds, the simple fact is that Bluetooth headphones offer the best solution to that particular Apple feature.
Plantronics has been doing Bluetooth for a while and its stereo Bluetooth headphones are generally considered to be some of the best you can buy. While the BackBeat Pro 2 is targeted at the premium user and the BackBeat Sense tackles the mid-range, Plantronics hasn't really had an entry-level pair of Bluetooth headphones for users looking to cut the cord without spending a significant amount of money. The BackBeat 505 are designed to fill that gap, with a launch RRP of $119.99.
The BackBeat 505 are designed to cater for a younger crowd, with a striking hard angled design on the plastic above the ear pads. It's on the outside of the frame, so it doesn't impact the comfort of the headphones, but instead creates a rather attractive look.
They are available in three colour schemes. You can choose from White (with grey highlights), Grey (with lime green highlights) and Dark Grey (with black highlights). The headphones feature a soft, memory foam over-ear design that is comfortable for extended wear. The pads are fairly small, so while it's technically an over ear design, it does feel more on-ear to wear them.
Like the other models in the BackBeat lineup, the 505s feature on-ear controls for all of the necessary functions for controlling your music playback. The left ear cup features a central play button on the outside, with track forward and back buttons to either side. The side of the left ear cup features the volume buttons, as well as the Micro USB port for charging and a 3.5mm headphone socket for those occasions you run out of battery.
Over on the right ear cup, there's the power switch, which can be pushed a little further north to activate Bluetooth pairing, plus a dedicated button for answering calls and activating your phone's voice assistant, whether it's Siri, Google Assistant or Microsoft's Cortana.
Naturally, the headphones' ear cups fold down, so that the padding rests on your collarbones when you're not wearing the headphones on your ears, which is a standard feature for Plantronics headphones these days.
Setup and Sound Quality
The BackBeat 505s let you pair up to eight devices to the headphones, and connect two devices at the same time, with seamless switching between. Pairing is as simple as pushing the power button up, and listening to the voice prompts to tell you the headphones are in pairing mode. Then you connect using your device's Bluetooth settings mode.
The Plantronics BackBeat headphones have always been robust on the sound quality front, and the 505s are no different. While there's no active noise cancellation, the over-ear design does a good job of passively muting out the outside world, and the sound reproduction doesn't distort, even at maximum volume.
The sound quality is a way off being classed as audiophile quality, but that's to be expected from a $120 pair of Bluetooth headphones. The truth is that there's a remarkably good balance between the top and mid-range, and while the bass can sound a little washed out at times, it's still distortion free and better than you might expect for this price point.
Plantronics has accomplished some remarkable things with battery life. Despite the fact that the BackBeat 505s only weigh 155 grams, you can expect 18 hours of listening time from the embedded battery. I certainly had no issues using the headphones for a few hours every day for a full work week before needing to recharge.
When the battery does start to get a little low, there is a nice little voice prompt in your ears that you should recharge the headset, so you shouldn't be caught unaware by a flat battery. If you get stuck though, you can always plug in the included 3.5mm cord to keep listening.
What's more, when the headphones aren't in use, the battery goes into "Deep Sleep" mode, which can see a charge last six months. Obviously we haven't tested this, but incidentally I did leave the headphones on all weekend, and the battery was still classified as "high" on the Monday when I realised my mistake.
Plantronics has been doing Bluetooth connectivity for a long time, so it's hardly surprising that the Bluetooth connection is robust and reliable. On more than one occasion when I had mistakenly left the headphones on at the opposite end of the house to my phone, the connection remained strong enough that it took me a moment to work out why my phone's audio wasn't playing through the phone speaker.
The included wideband microphone worked well for phone calls, with clear audio on both ends. That said, I did run into some trouble using the Google Now voice control on the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, with half of my commands being incorrectly interpreted. I tend to have a fairly high miss rate with voice controls anyway, so this is probably less the headphones and more the voice recognition software, but it's worth mentioning given the fact there's a dedicated button to activate the function.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the BackBeat 505s is the price. At $120, these headphones are remarkably accessible for a pair of high quality wireless headphones.
Admittedly, there are cheaper options on the market for people looking for a budget pair of Bluetooth headphones. But the reality is that the balance between audio quality, build and affordability is on point for the Backbeat 505.
The Plantronics BackBeat 505 Bluetooth headphones are not a flagship pair of headphones. There's no active noise cancelling, there's no automatic pause functionality and they aren't covered in bling. But what you do get is fairly well balanced audio, capable of filling your ears with your favourite music comfortably for an extended period of time.
And more importantly, you get a pair of wireless headphones that deliver robust sound and great battery life at an attractive price point.