If You Read This And Still Buy Expensive Bluetooth Headphones, You’re An Idiot

 

Do you actually care about how good the music you are listening to sounds? Do you like to have the price of stuff you buy at least somewhat of make sense to what the quality of the product is?

If you do care and you are still using Bluetooth audio, then you’re an idiot.

I do not understand why anyone would pay a premium for reduced quality and the minimal convenience of not having a headphone cable, yet many companies seem to be offering them. They are becoming ubiquitous in the same way 3D was among television manufacturers in 2012.

Despite this, I don’t see many people actually wearing them around, even in a pedestrian packed city where headphones are on nearly half the people I see walking around.

 

wiredheadphones

Image by TheeErin, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 (CC by 2.0).

I think I know why: the cost increase combined with the quality trade-off is not appealing to most people.  And when it comes to the Bluetooth-enabled Backbeat Senses, a recent entrant by Plantronics, there are just too many issues.

For example…

Sound Quality.

rating: 4 out of 11

(Image by Brendan Henry, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

The sound quality on the Backbeat Sense’s is acceptable, when the headphones were wired.  Not great, certainly not terrible. But they’re definitely overpriced at $180!

Maybe it’s just me.  As someone who gives half-a-shit about the fidelity of sound (I get it, most people just ‘skim through’ music), the audio quality from streaming via Bluetooth causes a huge reduction in my enjoyment from listening to music.

I’m impressed by how well the Senses isolate outside noise, with cushiony earpads doing most of the heavy lifting.  The sound quality is also decent for making calls, and I was impressed with the embedded microphone.  The person on the other end of the line had no idea that I was using anything different than what I normally use (a built in mic on my Sony Xperiz Z3 or my Plantronics Voyager earpiece).

That said, the quality of the audio is greatly reduced compared to wired use.  Not only is the sound compressed and tinny, but there were interruptions in the form of gaps of silence.

Wired use produced decent sound.  The Senses are slightly weak in the midrange frequencies and strongest in the highs. The bass level was adequate.  Personally, I don’t like exaggerated bass from headphones, so the blended outcome was satisfactory.

Now, if you switch from 3.5mm stereo cable to the Bluetooth option with the Plantronics Backbeat Senses, you can expect the following:

1. Noise and interference

2. Flat and tinny sounding drums

3. Bass that lacks smoothness and only has punch-y-ness to it

4. Guitars that sound way too treble-y and dull, sort of like a washboard

5. Vocals that get lost in the mix and do not sound organic, at all

6. Interruptions and gaps in your audio

7. The headphones will go silent and need to re-connect

Connectivity/Bluetooth.

rating: 2 out of 11

Image by Muhammad Taslim Razin, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Image by Muhammad Taslim Razin, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

I had a number of issues with the Bluetooth maintaining a connection on the Senses, even on a full charge.  This was more of a tedious issue than a deal-breaker for me.

Perhaps more annoyingly, there were times when I felt the motion sensitivity getting in the way of the experience.  For example, the headphones have a feature that pauses and plays the music when the headphones go from a resting position (around the neck or laying on a table) to actively being used.  There would be times that I had to take the headphones on and off, then wait for the little chime, to indicate that they were active again.

The Backbeat Senses are made to connect to two devices at a single time, but I found that this capability mainly interfered with audio quality.  The experience shifted to degraded audio quality anytime there were more than one devices actively connected, and people on the other end of the line suffered as a result.

Value.

rating: 3 out of 11

Image by Steven Depolo, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Image by Steven Depolo, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

I’m in the minority for even caring about audio fidelity.  But with the Backbeat Senses, there’s a significant reduction in quality that even an untrained ear can detect.  Not only that, there’s generally cost increase for Bluetooth-based audio products, whether it be Bose, Beats, JBL, Marshall, Bower and Wilkins, whatever.

Despite this onslaught of involvement, Bluetooth seems to be the ultimately equalizer of mediocrity.  With Bluetooth-based listening, the quality of the brand ultimately has little effect on the quality of the sound.  There’s only so much EQing that can be done to a compressed signal, and that ultimately affects the ‘high end’ imprimatur.  In other words: “you can wrap a turd in gold, but it’s still a turd.”

Looks/Build Quality.

rating: 7 out of 11

This person sure looks they're enjoying the headphones. But that's kinda their job...

This person sure looks they’re enjoying the headphones. But that’s kinda their job… What’s she looking at anyway while holding her phone like that?

 

The style of them is fairly plain, which I like.  If you read my last headphone review, you already know I’m not a fan of headphones that are overly plastic, and more focused on cosmetics than decent fidelity.

 

Functionality.

rating: 4 out of 11

At least this guy thinks they're functional

At least this guy thinks they’re functional

The headphones have a really interesting feature: push a small button on the bottom of the left earpad, and it activates a microphone to amplify the noises of the world around you.  Interesting, but perhaps this is a classic ‘technology in search of a problem’.

This feature is designed to allow the listener to keep the headphones on while still interacting with outside noise.  Let’s say I’m wearing headphones and I notice someone trying to speak to me.  But in this scenario, it’s easy to shift one of the earcups off the ear.  In fact, that takes the exact same amount of effort as pushing the button, which is why I question the point of it.

Additionally, few know that this technology exists, especially on this particular set of headphones.  So, for me to push a button that suddenly lets me hear someone without removing my headphones, sort of makes me look like an asshole. Presumably, you would think I was ignoring you or just trying to read your lips.

 

Battery Life.

rating: 1 out of 11.

Image by lungstruck, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Image by lungstruck, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

The battery on the Backbeat Senses is horrific!

I use the app PLT Hub on my phone to give me an approximation of how many hours of use I will get before needing to recharge.  The results aren’t spectacular:  PLT will say 12 hours after fully charging, despite Plantronics advertising 18 hours of music streaming on a full charge.  If I actually got 12 hours, I wouldn’t be complaining, but that is not the case.  After about 45 minutes of music streaming, a 10 minute phone call and another 20 minutes of music streaming, my battery went from having 12 hours remaining to only 8 hours remaining.  I’m not a mathematician, but something here isn’t adding up.

Here are the specs, in case you care:

  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0 +EDR, AVRCP, A2DP, HFP 1.6 Wideband, HSP 1.2
  • Multi Point: Connects to two devices
  • Wireless Range: Up to 330 feet from device
  • Battery: Lithium Ion (Claimed to provide at least 18 hours of streaming, only could do closer to 12 hours)
  • Charge Time: 2.5 hours
  • Noise-Cancellation: Passive, DSP, dual microphones
  • Voice Alerts: Available in 14 languages (US and UK English, Cantonese, Danish, EU-French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Norwegian, Russian, EU-Spanish and Swedish) depending on which region you purchase them in.

 

TLDR/Overall Thoughts

rating: 3.5 out of 11

So, would I recommend the Plantronics Backbeat Sense headphones?  I don’t know, they’re not bad, but they’re not worth over 100 bucks either.  If you find a pair in the $30-50 range, I’d say “why not” with about as much enthusiasm as I’d recommend drinking some water if you’re feeling a bit thirsty.

I’m not saying that Bluetooth products should never be purchased.  They make for great phone headsets for calls, a safer option for driving while using the phone.  It’s also handy have one of those little Bluetooth speakers for music, as long as you don’t spend more than $15 bucks on it.

But what do we really gain from using Bluetooth audio, aside from slight convenience?  Is that slight convenience enough for you to cough up a premium price for mediocre quality products?  I can say that I would never have paid $180 for these and I probably wouldn’t even be reviewing them if Plantronics didn’t provide them for the purpose of this review.

 

Here are the specs, in case you care:

  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0 +EDR, AVRCP, A2DP, HFP 1.6 Wideband, HSP 1.2
  • Multi Point: Connects to two devices.
  • Wireless Range: Up to 330 feet from device.
  • Battery: Lithium Ion (Claimed to provide at least 18 hours of streaming, only could do closer to 12 hours)
  • Charge Time: 2.5 hours
  • Noise-Cancellation: Passive, DSP, dual microphones
  • Voice Alerts: Available in 14 languages (US and UK English, Cantonese, Danish, EU-French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Norwegian, Russian, EU-Spanish and Swedish) depending on which region you purchase them.

 

21 Responses

  1. XT Dream

    “This is just a bash against one particular product for the most part… you are not an idiot if you do your research and find use from the product. Although a lot of this is could true depending on your use and listening ear; there are a lot of benefits for Bluetooth headphones and earphones. Fitness seems, for me, to be the best for Bluetooth use. Monster makes awesome Bluetooth headphones that don’t sacrifice sound quality and battery Life is legit. So, just cause this article title says what it says, don’t be discouraged.”

    Reply
  2. Wow

    Wow, you’re blaming an entire technology because one headphone you tried is bad. I have a Jabre Revo BT headphone, and the sound quality is very good, the batter life excellent, and I never lose connection with my iPhone.

    Also, in your specs, you say the rang is 330 ft; that’s not correct. It’s about 10m or 33 ft.

    Reply
  3. Anonymous

    Did some competitor pay you to feature this article? Because it’s stupid.

    Reply
  4. Max

    I spent £20 on wireless headphones from Amazon – don’t look stunning but the connectivity is amazing – up to 20metres, easy to pair and never drops out or picks up interference. The sheer power of them is incredible, with actual clear bass and highs coming through. Battery life without a recharge is 2 days (!!!) Recharge via USB so no irritating batteries to buy or fiddly bits. Also came with a jack to jack cable just in case. Best £20 I ever spent. Check them out if you’re looking for the perfect set of Bluetooth headphones – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bluedio-Shooting-wireless-bluetooth-headphones-Black/dp/B00LA520Y8

    Reply
  5. Nathan

    I applaud your gusto in being a writer. Being a long time reader of DMN, I am rather taken aback by the amount of hyperbole in article headlines, including this submission.

    It would seem though, regardless of any criticism you may receive, you are stuck on this cycle. Can you not understand that this type of writing reduces your and your publication’s credibility?

    The headline of many of your articles, Noah are insulting and make you seem like a teenager. I am not, nor are many of your readers teens. I am a professional musical artist and have been making my living, such as it is, for twenty years in the business. I read this publication because I am truly interested in digital music and learn about the goings on in the administrative machinations of the field.

    I don’t read Digital Music News to have readers like me insulted and called names. That is not news. A previous comment said that the article is a review about a product. This is also what I get from the contents of your piece.

    You need to know that folks in this field actually DO care about how music sounds. It’s music.

    Your readers spend the better part of their lives investing time and money into how things sound. Please always keep that in mind when you write for us.

    You seem to have the idea that your readers are 18-25 just starting out, not knowing anything, but that isn’t the case. We know a lot about this stuff.

    The cool thing is that we want you to do well. We want your writing to be excellent. It makes us feel that we are learning and have credible sources to quote around the proverbial water fountain. We want our colleagues to either say “Yeah, I read that too,” or even better still think that we know more than them.

    I can’t go to ANY of my peers and say “Bluetooth headphones suck and you are an idiot if you bought them or are even thinking about buying them.”

    “Oh?” My colleague or friend would ask.

    “Because I read an article that said so and because I like fidelity.”

    “Really. Sounds like you’ve been reading Digital Music News.”

    Invariably in your writing I have to filter out the snark and hype. I truly wish you success and this type of writing is easy to improve. You’ve done the heavy lifting already. It’s hard to go back, reread and edit and will never get easier, but it is crucial to your development and your publication’s continued sanctity.

    Best regards,

    Nathan

    Reply
    • nekroluma

      bluetooth is an inferior cancer promoting talmudic investment scam, the fidelity is pitiful and the abuse of your privacy leaves google investors drooling…

      Reply
  6. Duke

    I own a pair of Sennheiser Momentums that are wireless with Noise cancellation and I cannot tell the difference with using a cable or Bluetooth-They are superb sounding with or without-Article is total BS to me-I’m sure there are a difference with some but like many things you get what you pay for

    Reply
  7. Logical Reader

    “I do not understand why anyone would pay a premium for reduced quality and the minimal convenience of not having a headphone cable”

    Oh, I don’t know, the BILLIONS of athletes and gym-goers around the globe have a bit of a need for wireless headphones, perhaps?

    Reply
  8. MarkH

    The title of this piece should have read:

    “If You Read This, You’re An Idiot.”

    Reply
  9. Noah

    If you like using bluetooth headphones, that’s great. There is a clear audio quality difference between 128kbps (used by bluetooth for A2DP) and wired. But it also could be that I’m not listening to ultra-compressed assumptions of the music I like, I’m listening to decent quality files.

    But enjoy whatever you enjoy. I’ll keep my opinion and you can keep spending more for less quality and a very slight convenience.

    Reply
  10. Rick Shaw

    Screw you. I’ll spend the money that I work hard for any way I damn well please.

    Reply
  11. Robert Jensen
    Robert Jensen

    Its fact that bluetooth is not yet up to the audio quality of wired headphones. Unfortunately, a lot of people do not have the ears to tell the difference, like when mp3s came out. It was pretty much only musicians who complained.

    As usual, it comes down to convenience over quality and most people seem to choose convenience.

    This article is saying the same thing about the current quality difference between wired and bt:
    bluetooth still sucks

    Reply
    • John Hufnagel

      I am constantly surprised by the lack of audio appreciation by the vast majority of people. I’m not sure if it is because they really can’t tell the difference between a quality audio set up and one that is really crappy, or if they really just don’t care. I’m the kind of person who can instantly tell the difference between a new high end DAC and the one in either my PC or my Sony CD jukebox. To me, anyBluetooth audio ever tried was was simply execrable.

      Reply
  12. Bro

    Well, Noah is right.
    Let me give You an example easy to inderstand.
    Where are higher speeds of data interchange, on wired Gigabit or on 802.11n with maximum data transfer rate of 600 Mbit/s?
    The names speak for themselves. The same for wired and BT audio. BT still cannot match up wires.
    It may seem that the name of the article is offensive, but considering the number of people that follow the US presidential race – 95% of the ppl are idiots without Noah naming them.
    Have a nice day.

    Reply
  13. John Hufnagel

    I am constantly surprised by the lack of audio appreciation by the vast majority of people. I’m not sure if it is because they really can’t tell the difference between a quality audio set up and one that is really crappy, or if they really just don’t care. I’m the kind of person who can instantly tell the difference between a new high end DAC and the one in either my PC or my Sony CD jukebox. To me, anyBluetooth audio ever tried was was simply execrable.

    Reply
  14. Peter

    When you listen to crappy pop music, sound quality may not matter.

    But it matters a great deal if you you lean towards classical and especially symphonic pieces, which is what I quickly discovered when I purchased a well-reviewed pair of wireless headphones for work. The sonic quality was flat awful, unless I inserted the included wire. In some cases, individual instruments disappeared in a wall of amorphous sound.

    So I returned the headphones and went back to my trusty earbuds, dangling wires and all. I now reserve headphones for home listening — wired only.

    Reply
  15. Michael

    If you call other people that care about Bluetooth headsets then you’re a fan got. Noah you can go eat a hot bag of dicks.

    Reply

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