Oh, those tangled headphone cords! Constantly un-knotting those skinny, dangling headphones cables is a stubborn last inconvenience to portable music enjoyment.
The solution to this discordant headphone cord inconvenience is wireless earphones using Bluetooth (hereafter referred to as BT) stereo. But BT stereo earphones present their own tangled mess o' annoyances.
Plantronics, which for my money makes the best BT stereo products available (its Voyager Pro HD is my everyday earpiece), has just unveiled the BackBeat GO ($100), which could be the best BT stereo earsets available.
But that's faint praise. Wired earphone's tangled trauma is trivial compared to the myriad stereo BT headset aggravations, regardless of how cutting edge the design or advanced the technology.
Let's start with sound. Bluetooth was designed as a voice-only wireless technology, and stretched to accommodate music. As a result, no stereo BT headset will sound as good as decent wired earphones.
From a convenience POV, wired headphones don't require charging or run out of power. Best of all, wired headphones don't have to be "paired" with a music playback device.
BackBeat GO Pros
BackBeat GO's primary innovation is more design than sound.
Plantronics has shaved nearly all the weight from the GOs - they're as light as most wired earphones. The earpieces themselves are only slightly larger than on most wired headsets, even though there's a battery and a microUSB jack behind a tiny door on the right bud.
Fitted with the right-sized silicon tip (the GOs come with three different-sized tips plus a pair of ear stabilizers for those with wide lobes) and a little in-ear twisting, the earbuds provided a full suction fit for complete noise isolation.
Just two feet long, the GOs feature a thin, flat flexible cable that drapes lightly and easily around your neck, convenient for when the buds aren't stuck in your ears. The inline mic, which also includes a flash hook, volume up-down and an on-off key, hangs perfectly positioned by your right cheek.
Best of all, the GOs sound - good. Not great, but above merely satisfactory. GOs aren't as aurally efficient as my go-to Shure SE215s or other more audiophile phones - the overall sound is a hair on the airy side. Their high-end is a little brighter than I like, and the barely discernible bass lacks the oomph demanded by modern music - but the GOs certainly sound crisper with better separation, sound stage and definition than many wired models at the same price.
BackBeat GO Cons
But even if the GOs rivaled the aural studliness of studio monitors and offered full remote control from the in-line mic/volume array, they are still plagued by inherent stereo BT inefficiencies.
For one thing, to achieve their fly weight, Plantronics has compromised on battery life - just 4.5 hours of music play/talk time, compared to 8 hours for the Motorola S10s and seven hours for the Plantronics 903+. In other words, the GO's battery will die before your smart phone does.
On an iPhone, the Bluetooth headset icon in the status row transforms into a battery meter; you have to download an Android app to track the GO's battery life.
And you'll have to remember to turn the GOs off and/or charge and keep them charged. Whether or not this is more or less convenient than continually untangling your wired earphones is a personal decision (I hang my earphones from a shelf support when I'm not using them to keep them untangled.)
Once you've paired the GOs with a device, they stay paired, even you turn them off. Unlike other Plantronics BT earpieces, the GOs can't support multiple pairings. If you decide to pair the GOs with another device - your PC or a BT-compatible landline phone, for instance - you will have to re-pair them with the original device.
GOs work fine with Android phones (but can confuse Google's cloud-based streaming Google Music service with your locally microSD card-stored tracks), but aren't completely iPhone compatible.
For instance, a double-tap of the in-line flash hook doesn't skip a track. But holding down the flash hook does activate Siri on an iPhone - except you get deeper tone before Siri's familiar tinkly cue.
BackBeat GOs are a huge step forward for stereo Bluetooth earphones. But I'm still not ready to leave the house with anything but reliable wired earphones around my neck.