It was only a week or so ago we dug deeply into a set of Plantronics Bluetooth headphones. Now we return with an Active Noise Cancelling set, the Plantronics BackBeat GO 810.
BackBeat GO 810 Features
The styling is a little different, and the earcups are oval rather than round, but apart from the ANC there’s a lot of commonality between those headphones and these. The controls seem to be the same. Press different parts of the outside face of the left earcup, and you play/pause or skip tracks forwards and back. Also on that earcup is a rocker control for volume up and down.
But press both up and down at the same time for a moment, and you switch ANC on or off. If you’re switching it off, a female voice announces that. She says nothing if you’re switching it on. She also tells you battery state (“High”, “Medium” or “Low”) when you switch on the headphones.
On that earcup is also a Micro-B USB socket for charging and a 3.5mm analogue socket for a wired connection. The supplied analogue cable is terminated on both ends with 3.5mm plugs. That makes for easy replacement should the original be lost or get damaged. You do not get a two-prong airplane adaptor.
The right earcup has the power switch. It doubles as a Bluetooth setup button. You can pair the Plantronics BackBeat GO 810 headphones with two devices at a time. A further press button on this earcup switches between a couple of different sound EQ curves – their differences are quite subtle. But this also doubles as the call answer/hang-up button. Hold it down, and Google Assistant or Siri comes to life.
Also provided is a soft cloth pouch for carrying the headphones. The earcups swivel by ninety degrees so that they can be placed in slim spaces, like a briefcase. They’re about 45mm thick in that position.
In most cases, there are at least three ways of listening to Bluetooth headphones. One is, of course, via the Bluetooth connection. The other two ways are with a cable connection. You’ll be using the cable if, for example, you’re listening to in-flight entertainment on many aircraft. Or if, as I am at this moment, you’re using a high-resolution audio player with a couple of hundred gigabytes of CD or better quality music on it.
With cable, you’re free of any limitations in the SBC codec (these headphones do not appear to support either of the higher quality AAC or aptX codecs). And if the battery in the headphones does eventually wear down, you’ll want to use the cable so you can listen in passive mode.
We often skate lightly over this last aspect, but it’s worth dwelling on it for a moment because it gives something of an insight into the mechanical performance of the headphones. For example, how good are the 40mm drivers Plantronics has put into these headphones? How effective is their enclosure design? When they’re powered up, you’re getting an EQ curve that can hide irregularities within the drivers. Used that way, the designer can cover up weaknesses in mechanical design. In passive mode, though, you hear what the hardware actually delivers.
So how are these headphones in passive mode? Not very different, it turns out, from when they’re powered up. And that’s a good thing. They don’t quite offer that feeling of distance, of the sound being out there in the room, that you get with higher end audiophile headphones. But what they do give is good clarity and control, a solid musical beat and no apparent distortion, even pushed to very high levels.
Overall the tonal balance was good, with mids and trebles subjectively satisfying. The mid to upper bass is somewhat forward. That’s something that benefits most music, even if it’s at a small cost in ultimate accuracy, and can result in a slight “chestiness” in some spoken male vocals.
As I’m writing, Donna Summer is powering out “She Works Hard for the Money”. Her voice is down in the mix, as was the norm for those disco days, while the dance beat is front and centre. Stuff recorded around that time often has a harsh top end, but these headphones controlled that, making for a comfortable listen.
Unlike the earlier Plantronics headphones I reviewed, the extended, deep bass of Wendy Carlos’ Switched-On Bach was clearly audible and at something close to the correct level.
It speaks well of Plantronics’ designers that the sound was very similar with the headphones powered, regardless of whether the active noise cancellation was active or not, and regardless of whether the connection was by Bluetooth or wire. Again, the tonal balance was good and using their own amplifiers. Similarly high volume levels were readily available.
The driving beat and enormous bass presence of Primus’ “Southbound Pachyderm” was fully delivered by these headphones, while the subtle play of cymbals and real-noise insertions remained completely clear. Connected by Bluetooth to my phone, the headphones revealed surprising subtleties in Nick Cave’s Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!