Review: Altec-Lansing Backbeat 903 – Best Bluetooth Headphones Evuh?

17 02 2010


Ever since I got my iPhone 3g, and jumped to OS 3.1, I’ve been searching for the best arrangement of comfort, functionality, price, and audio quality in a set of bluetooth headphones. I’ve tried the Apple earbuds, but I find them extremely uncomfortable. Several others have come down the Amazon.com-driven mail pipeline, but until now, I wasn’t completely happy with the results.
The Altec-Lansing Backbeat 903 (also available from Plantronics under the same name is a permanently linked pair of on-the-ear headphones that provide A2DP and HFP profiles to a bluetooth host (such as an iPhone). The tether between the headsets is part antenna part audio wire. It does not hold the headphones in place, it is simply an interconnect. The headphones sit on the back of the earlobe (similar to older Jabra designs), with an audio component placed over the ear canal (slightly inside it, in fact, but not putting any weight on it).
Personally, I find this arrangement excellent, and I’m bothered that it’s not more widely implemented (in fact Jabra appears to no longer make this style, sad).
The Backbeats use a pair of behind-the-ear components. Each side has an adjustable rubber centerpiece that I found quite comfortable and unobtrusive. The left earpiece contains telephone controls that allow a simple pickup / drop of incoming calls. The right earpiece has music and volume controls.
Of all the headphones I’ve played with, the Backbeats have the most intuitive control setup. In general use, just tapping the outside of the right ear piece triggers ‘play/pause’. Tapping the outside of the left ear piece answers / drops phone calls. Volume control is via a sliding control on the bottom of the earpiece. The right-left functionality means you don’t need to remember what little doodad to fiddle when a call comes in. Left side is phone, right side is music. Simple!
What really brought it all home for me was the comfort level of the headphones. I’ve worn them for 6-8 hours a day for the last few days without feeling any discomfort. Even better, when not listening to music, the non-earfilling ear piece means I can leave the headphones on and carry on a normal conversation. One particular enjoyment was spending an entire day skiing and listening to music, where the simple outside button was easily tapped even through a ski hat and while wearing gloves.
The volume level and audio quality is excellent, even with background noise and wind – I had no problems hearing music while zipping down a trail at 25mph.
In summary, I would highly recommend these headphones to anyone who is looking for lightweight, comfortable bluetooth headphones for their iPhone or other A2DP equipped device.

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