Review: Plantronics Backbeat GO 810 ANC
The Plantronics Backbeat GO 810 ANC is an affordable pair of over-ear, wireless headphones with ANC (Active Noise Cancellation.) With 22 hours of power and on-ear controls that can do away with ever having to pull out your music player, this could be your best bet for convenience with affordable active noise cancellation all in one.
I really like the way the GO 810 is designed. It’s clean and has a modern, almost minimalistic look that can withstand the test of time. And that’s because Plantronics doesn’t use hoakey design colors or plaster it with big logos. Quite the opposite in fact – it’s unassumingly quietly and could almost be paired with an upscale suit if you really wanted to. The off white “bone” color with copper highlights seemed to be the most attractive, though there are “safer” colors to choose from.
The shape and curves of the headphones are really nice to look at, especially around the outer rim of the cups where the controls reside. They sit there quietly waiting to be used and don’t attract attention. It feels to me a lot like Scandinavian design, and I should know – I’ve lived in that part of the world for many years.
For all the great designing they did, Plantronics uses a plastic that feels a bit cheap and hollow. The whole top of the headband is molded plastic that you can’t adjust if your head happens to be wide. Pulling the earcups away from each other to loosen the grip has no effect, and you feel a bit afraid that it would snap if you tried.
The outer earcups are made of the same material and look fine until you tap at them and hear a hollow clack. But it’s when you get the inner earpads that you start to get some sense of luxury with a soft leatherette that screams upscale.
It’s when you see something that looks like a kind of of canvas under the headband that you wonder. Admittedly, I’ve seen this kind of thing used in upscale Danish speakers, but with those, the whole theme was canvas. Here, you have a smorgasbord of plastic, canvas, leatherette and a rubber on the left earcup where music controls are. It’s a lot to digest, if not a bit confused.
Thankfully, they feel good on the head and weigh only 189 g (7 oz), which is about half the weight of a can of soda. The soft earcups with memory foam are nice, and I can listen to music for many hours without having to pull them off – not once. And there are some headphones that clamp so tight it’ll give my left jaw a toothache, but not the Go 810. In the end, I didn’t have to worry so much about widening the earcups. I simply didn’t need to.
Having said that, there is a certain relief to occasionally removing the headphones because it does trap in heat and humidity. I guess it comes with the territory where ANC is concerned.
/ USABILITY & FUNCTION
The Backbeat Go 810 comes with a backup plan on the off chance it runs out of juice (which is hard to do with 22 hours of battery life I might add.) And that’s to plug in the included 3.5mm cable that you can bring along in the carry pouch, shielding it (and your headphones) from excess dirt and dust. Being that the cable has a 3 pole plug (meaning it’s only for playback – no mic), it’s probably intended as a backup. Even so, it’s worth nothing that Bluetooth will automatically switch off when the cable is plugged in.
As you put these headphones on, you’ll notice that they tilt inwards even though there’s only one point of contact between the headband and the cups (via the copper colored rod.) If you’re wondering how, they actually built a tilting mechanism into the cups that goes subtly unnoticed, but serves a vital function for good fit. The cups also twist toward you for the comfort of your collarbones when you hang them on your neck. If I sit long enough and start scratching my head a while, I’d say the only thing they left out was a way to fold them smaller for transport.
The on-ear controls are a great thing to have. No more fumbling around for your phone during rush hour on a packed subway. You simply push a button on your earcup to skip the crappy song that’s currently playing and press another to raise the volume – because it’s the third guy to start preaching about Jesus on this morning’s packed subway commute to work. And the controls are thus:
- the right cup has power and the equalizer selector on the outer rim.
- the left cup has three big side buttons for previous/play/next with volume controls on the rim
You’re greeted by a friendly, but neutral sounding lady when you turn on the Backbeat Go 810 with a “Power on, battery high” – or whatever the battery status happens to be. Any buttons pressed afterwards will result in a “beep” for your trouble, unless you’re turning off ANC (for which you’ll hear her say “ANC off.”) Curiously, there’s no dedicated button for this like there is for the equalizer, even though ANC will probably see more use. To be fair though, ANC can be turned on by holding the volume up and volume down buttons simultaneously, so you can do it; just not as easily.
It’s got Bluetooth 5.0 built in with a stated range of up to 164ft/50m (with Class 1 BT compatible devices). And remember the 22 hours of power? That’s with ANC enabled. Without it, Plantronics says you can listen for up to 28 hours with a full charge taking up to 2 hours.
/ APP CONTROLS
Plantronics offers a companion app called BackBeat (around 17 MB) that offers addition controls and info on your headset like battery time remaining. The options aren’t very extensive, but come in quite handy.
- ANC controls have 2 settings; high and low, where high is used for really noisy environments (e.g. in trains and airplanes) and low is for office environments with a lot of conversation. You can even set a timer for the length of time ANC is on.
- EQ controls also have two settings; bright and balanced, where bright boosts the treble and speech frequencies and balanced is used for everything else.
- Rename your headphones to personalize the beast to your liking
- Firmware updates to your headphones are possible using this app. If there ever comes a time when Plantronics expands ANC or equalizer options for example, this is what you use.
- Find MyHeadset – for lost headsets. If your Backbeat Go 810 is still connected to your phone, you can make your headphones play a tone so you can locate it. If it’s not connected, you can see a map of its location so you know where to start looking.
I also wish there had been a way to do the opposite of Find MyHeadset as I’ll admit to having had my headphones on, but have lost track of my phone. Music’s still playing, but with the long Bluetooth range, it’s impossible to guesstimate where my phone is since the music won’t cut out. Doh!
The app is a nice addition for a couple of more options, but since there isn’t a lot you can do with it, what I did was to set ANC and equalizer on my most used choice (you only have two options, by the way.) From that point on, I’d simply use the buttons on the headphones and only open the app to change settings from ANC high to low should I need to. But it’s not very often.
Every headphone sounds different, and my initial impressions of the Backbeat Go 810 was that it’s very bass heavy. Continued listening to a range of music (from classical instruments to rock and pop) and side by side comparisons confirmed this to be true, at least for my ears.
Whereas the Sony 7506 headphones (known for flat frequency response) will play a bass note that tickles slightly on the bottom side under your left jaw as the note vibrates, the Go 810 will resonate more deeply because of the stronger bass, but not as tightly in that left area. You may still feel a bit of tickling, but it’s more spread out and not too specific.
The upper frequencies sound good, but is more muted as the bass overpowers it somewhat. As you move down to the upper midrange, you’ll notice a stronger output there than at the treble – but still not to where the bass levels are at. The overall sound is pretty good for what it is, but what I’ve been describing is when the headphones are connected by a cable. On Bluetooth, the bass spreads everywhere and the slight thump has now turned into a generally loud boom.
Playing around with the equalizer can help temper the loud bass, which I found to be very loud in balanced mode. Bright mode changes that and lowers the bass considerably. At the same time, it raises the upper mid frequency, making it as pronounced as the bass was in balanced mode. In effect, the bass and treble has swapped roles, turning what was an enjoyable (and neutral) upper freq into a powerful force that can be too strong if you’re sensitive to that range.
If I can summarize the above main points, it’s that while using Bluetooth,
- In EQ Balanced mode, the bass can be overpowering
- In EQ Bright mode, the upper mids can be overpowering, plus have a loud upper bass and missing lower bass
- Using the cable might offer better balance than using Bluetooth
So far, my observations have been direct comparisons to some really good wired headphones. What I haven’t done is consider the effects of throwing in a variable as complex as ANC and the locations for which this was designed for use. While the wired headphones might sound great, they have no ANC to speak of, nor the conveniences of Bluetooth controls on the earcups. It’s also worth noting that you’ll likely hear more electric hum from your music player or phone depending on the quality of the components used and electrical interference/resistance.
Speaking of ANC, they do a pretty good job. I was just walking the streets with some music on when I became aware of a helicopter whirring above. So I turned on ANC and the noise of the rotating blades went largely silent. It’s pretty eerie for a city dweller to suddenly hear the humdrum of traffic coming to a sudden halt. It feels as if I’d walked into an almost empty concert hall with muted conversations of nearby pedestrians (the cups serve as passive noise cancellation, remember.)
In essence, the Active Noise Cancellation of the Backbeat Go 810 removed most of the constant bass hum, more so in ANC high mode. In ANC low, you can hear more of the upper bass. There are lots of places you can test out this great feature around your home or workplace too. It’s winter, and a perfect time to test this near a heater. Most HVAC and hot water heaters will emit a low humming noise, and turning on ANC will remove most of it.
Noticing that’s it gets too quiet is a surprising experience – for some, it’ll be eerie because they’re not used to the quiet, and for others, it’ll be somehow put them at ease. But the function works fairly well and is much better than trying to ignore the sound of thopping helicopters and subway rail rumblings.
The mic seems to work well during phone calls. We tested it while on a Bluetooth connection and not once did the party on the other side ask us to speak up or repeat what we just said. Having said that, we need to add that sound quality not only depends on the mic, but a lot of it depends on the mobile network carrier connection. And for that, we made sure the connection was solid before making the call.
Plantronics has a long history of making products with great quality mics. Even back in the early 2000’s, I remember them making Bluetooth earpieces for mobile phones when I used to work at Nokia. They’ve got a lot of experience as a company when it comes to that and I have no doubt that the quality is up there with the best. But in the case of the Backbeat Go 810 at least, it uses a single, wideband enabled mic.
/ TECH SPECS
The Backbeat GO 810 ANC has the following technical specs for the technophiles among us:
- Drivers: 40mm with bass tube design
- Frequency response: 50 Hz – 20k Hz
- Harmonic distortion: <3%
Sensitivity is 92 dBPL and Impedance is 32 ohms, making these headphones as easy to drive with portable audio players as it is to “drive” a self-driving car. Voice commands are available in 17 languages, and you can use multi-point connections to connect to two devices at the same time and stream from either one.
/ MISCELLANEOUS NOTES
It’s been mentioned once before but in case you forgot, the Backbeat Go 810 ANC will automatically turn off Bluetooth when the 3.5mm cable gets plugged in and will turn back on when unplugged. The Backbeat app will also exit and you’ll only be able to control the ANC manually (by simultaneous holding vol up/down for 2 seconds.) The volume control in the headphones will be different than that of the player with 14 levels of loudness.
There’s a small software glitch in Backbeat app for the ANC function. Manually going in and out of ANC using the volume buttons will confuse the app and the notifications will get mixed up. It only corrects itself when you exit the ANC menu, probably when it refreshes status.
Want to know whether you’re muted or unmuted? We do too. We haven’t found any way of knowing whether it’s on or off because there are no indicators or audio cues.
The left earcup is a dust collector. The material is made of a kind of rubber, with the controls for previous/play/next. It’s akin to static collecting on your hair when you rub a ballon around it, but the dust come by themselves. I love the feeling of the rubber, but not of the dust. And believe me, you can feel the dust on your fingertips.
The Plantronics Backbeat Go 810 ANC is an affordable alternative to expensive ANC headphones costing more than double the price. It’s great bang for the buck with good battery life, beautiful design, and all the conveniences of wireless controllability over Bluetooth. Shelling out $350 for ANC headphones can be a high price to pay. But for $150? Now that’s something exciting and worth checking out!
More Info: https://www.plantronics.com
(Test unit provided by Plantronics for this review.)
Check prices: https://amzn.to/2Srl6Hk —Amazon affiliate link
What the stars mean:
5 – Excellent (up there with the best, no flaws/issues)
4 – Very Good (better than expected, may have minor flaws)
3 – Good w/caveats (works, but has some issues/is lacking)
2 – SMH (serious issues, needs major improvement)
1 – 0_0;; (just… why?)