Review: Altec Lansing BackBeat 903 Bluetooth Headphones 28
Bluetooth headphones have long been criticized, sometimes rightfully so, for their poor audio quality, but the Altec Lansing BackBeat 903 bluetooth headphones stand head and shoulders above the competition. Sporting a flexible design that combines street-style over-the-ear headphones with in-ear buds, the BackBeat 903s are comfortable to boot. If they sound so great and feel darned good, there’s got to be a drawback, right? Well, for all that awesomeness there’s absolutely no sound-isolation that makes the “OpenMic” system a gimmick at best.
The Altec Lansing BackBeat 903 bluetooth headphones are actually a collaborative product built by Altec Lansing and Plantronics. Judging by the superior audio quality, we have to say that Altec Lansing provides the speakers and audio processing, why Plantronics handled the phone side of the equation. The result is a product that is greater than the sum of its parts and easily rivals wired headphones of the same price.
Despite their small size, the speakers delivered some of the cleanest and clearest sound I’ve heard from any headphones, and the best of any bluetooth set I’ve used. The base was precise and the treble range crystal clear, and it did it all with nary a hic-up nor a smattering of static. In fact, the BackBeat 903s were so good that in my testing I heard new nuances in music tracks I’ve been listening to for years. Yeah, they’re that good.
Sadly, there is no sound isolation of any sort to go along with the fantastic audio quality. While I’ve never been a fan of headphones that completely isolate you from the outside world (I’ve been a city dweller all my life and find absolute silence unnerving), the BackBeat 903s make no effort to even cut down on the sounds around you. That makes the OpenMic technology pretty much pointless. OpenMic is a system where when you pause the music, the microphone kicks on and pipes sound from the outside into the speakers. If there was physical sound isolation I could see how this would be incredibly useful, but in practice all it did was add unneeded static to real world sounds.
On the subject of the microphone, the BackBeat 903s do also function as a bluetooth headset for placing phone calls. Those same speakers deliver fantastic audio to your ears, easily besting my Pre in testing. The dual microphones (both located in the left earbud) provided clear sound to the other end of the line, an experience that proved near indistinguishable from the Pre.
Smartly, the phone and audio controls for the BackBeat 903 bluetooth headphones are segregated onto different sides of the unit. Music controls are on the right earbud, while the phone and power buttons are on the left. Yes, phone and power buttons - there’s no more holding down a button for eleventeen seconds in order to turn the unit off.
The only knock I have against the controls is the forward/back/volume switch. Compared to the rest of the headphones the tiny rocker switch feels like a cheap after though. Combine that with a frustrating combined functionality and you’ve got a recipe for disappointment. To elaborate, to bump the volume up you tap the switch forward, down is back. To advance a track you hold the switch forward until you hear a beep. If you keep holding it will beep more and advance further. Do the same in reverse to jump back to previous tracks. This design means that it is impossible to hold down the switch to move the volume more than one notch up or down. More than once I tried to lower the volume only to end up at the beginning of the track.
The flexible combination design of the Altec Lansing BackBeat 903 bluetooth headphones makes them one of the more comfortable sets of headphones I’ve ever had the pleasure to use. Despite their visual mass, the large behind-the-ear portions of the headset aren’t particularly heavy. The cable that runs between the two earbuds is plenty thick, preventing it from getting tangled or twisted like I’ve seen happen with thinner cables. The cable also means that the headphones can merely rest over your ears instead of being squeezed as with solid-design units.
If there’s one area in which the BackBeat 903s are questionable, it’s the style front. The thick over-the-ear design and large earbuds are not the definition of discrete, and the cable sticks out about an inch past the back of my head. Of course, your mileage will vary, but by-and-large the BackBeat 903s were judged to be neither ugly nor particularly attractive. Considering how great they sound, however, I’m inclined to say that they could be bright pink and covered in sparkles and I wouldn’t care.
In the Box
Inside the slick box you’ll find two things: the BackBeat 903 bluetooth headphones and a AC Micro USB charger (yes, it works with the Pre). There’s nothing else, and in my experience with the headphones that’s all you’re going to need.
Normally a coupling like Altec Lansing and Plantronics would make me cringe over the forced marketing implications. But in this case, the BackBeat 903 bluetooth headphones have proven that fear wrong. The superior audio quality and comfortable fit put these headphones a set ahead of the pact, and there’s nothing new fancy buzzwords can do to catch up. The only thing holding me back from a solid five star rating is the lack of external noise isolation, otherwise the BackBeat 903 bluetooth headphones are great, pure and simple.
The Altec Lansing BackBeat 903 Bluetooth Headphones are available in the PreCentral Store for $89.95, a savings of $10 (10%) of the list price of $99.95.