The Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 wireless, active noise-canceling headphones were obviously designed and built by engineers who actually use their own products and thought long and hard about exactly what features they wanted to see in a pair of headphones. They're not cheap at $199, but they're designed to compete directly with the Bose Quiet Comfort 35 headphones that sell for $349.
Let's start with the on-demand active noise canceling feature. It's effective but not as pronounced as the Bose, which many have considered the industry standard. As you pass through the first-class cabin when you're boarding your flight home for the holidays, you can keep count of the rich guys in suits with Bose around their necks.
I'm convinced that Plantronics designed the active noise cancelation feature to work exactly as it does because the BackBeat Pro 2's feature sounds better than the weird inside-an-aquarium sensation you get with Bose. You cut down on the engine noise on a flight but also get much less ear fatigue from an extended listening session.
I find the difference to be a huge improvement. If you want that Bose sensory-deprivation experience, Plantronics thinks you should go buy a Bose.
There's another strong aesthetic choice going on with the BackBeat Pro 2 headphones. Plantronics has been making audio communications equipment since the early 1960s and have been big suppliers to both NASA and the military. These headphones go all-in with a throwback '70s design that wouldn't look out of place with the vintage office equipment that Chas uses in The Royal Tenenbaums. It's all brown pleather and fake woodgrain on the ear cups, an unapologetic rejection of the black-and-chrome aesthetic that took over tech design in the '80s. Again: another design choice made by someone with a definite point of view.
They come with a soft padded case, a standard audio cable for plugging into (soon-to-be-deprecated) audio jack and a micro USB charging cable. The headphones fold flat to slide into the bag. I've traveled with them and didn't miss a rigid case, but you can upgrade to the BackBeat Pro 2 SE for $249 and get a hard-sided case and NFC pairing capability.
There are several more compelling features that make these a pleasure to use. There's a 24-hour battery life with the active noise cancelation turned on. You'll get more time if you're not using the ANC and there's a six-month sleep mode if you leave them in a drawer after forgetting to turn them off.
The headphones pause your music when you take them off your ears. There's also an "open listening" switch that turns on the microphone so you can have a conversation with a flight attendant without pausing your movie.
There's a textured mechanical volume wheel on the left earpiece, a feature that's a huge improvement on the swipe touchpads that are showing up on other headphones lately. The play/pause button is also mechanical and it's easy to find by touch and there are raised plastic pieces that make it easy to use the forward and back skip buttons.
The headphones have a 100 meter range and they tend to handle walls and doors better than most Bluetooth devices. The BackBeat Pro 2 can connect to two devices at once and switch back and forth between them effortlessly. This is especially useful if you're watching a movie on a tablet and a call comes in on your phone.
Plantronics has historically been in the radio and telephone call business and these are also the rare over-ear headphones where call quality isn't an afterthought. There are dual microphones with DSP (digital signal processing) and these headphones approach dedicated phone headset call quality. There's also a dedicated mute switch on the right earpiece if you need it during a call.
One last great feature: the left and right earpieces have a giant L and R printed inside, making it easy to put them on without having to think about which way they should go over your ears.
Wireless headphones have been improving rapidly and we've almost reached the point where they're going to be the standard for mobile devices. The BackBeat Pro 2 headphones are a well-priced, versatile option. They're great for train or airplane travel, great for taking a call while you're watching a movie and feature amazing battery life. Plantronics may not be the first brand that comes to mind for dedicated audio gear, but these headphones are a revelation and a great deal at $199.