Cut the Cords to your iPhone with Altec Lansing’s BackBeat 903 Bluetooth Stereo Headset

In Cellular, Gadgets, General, Hardware, iPhone, Review by Michael Sheehan19 Comments

I must say, I had been waiting for the iPhone to support A2DP for a while. When it finally rolled out, I was excited but I didn’t have a set of headphones with which to test it. I just hadn’t made the plunge to buy a set. The promise of having stereo audio from my iPhone, all via a Bluetooth connection was stupendous. I was simply tired of untangling my traditional headphones each and every time I took them out of my pocket. And, the ability to just have no cords whatsoever, was great.

The folks at Altec Lansing‘s PR firm really came to my rescue by sending me a pair of BackBeat 903s which, via Bluetooth, handle both my iPhone’s music playback but also phone calls as well, all packaged in a ruggedly designed headset. Below is a quick video review of the BackBeats after which you can see the rest of my review:

If you are looking for a Bluetooth headset and you have ensured that your phone handles A2DP (which stands for Advanced Audio Distribution Profile) and AVRCP (to control the playback with your headphones – Audio/Video Remote Control Profile), then you probably should put the BackBeats on the list of headsets to test out. They are relatively light weight, very functional, produce good balanced sound and are reasonably priced.

BackBeat_903_433

Setup

When you first use the BackBeats, you need to pair it with your iPhone (or other Bluetooth-enabled device). Be sure you charge it for about an hour the 1st time (it takes about 2-3 hours for a full charge). The steps for pairing are very simple:

  1. Enable Bluetooth on your music device or phone.
  2. Press & Hold the Power/Pairing button (from an off state) until it flashes red and blue.
  3. Check your phone or music device for the appearance of “9xxBackBeat”. When it is there, select it.
  4. If you need to enter in a PIN, enter 0000.
  5. Once you are successfully paired, the LED will simply flash blue.

Adjusting the headset to fit your ears can be done in two ways, first by extending and/or pivoting the earpiece and second rotating the piece that actually fits into your ear. The ear pieces do slip over the top of your ears and rest there (see the video above). The headset cord goes behind your neck.

Usage

It is actually funny that you have to learn how to use the BackBeat controls completely by touch since you can’t see it. You only use two senses with the BackBeats, touch and sound (obviously). The point here is, since you cannot actually see the device, the controls much be easy to figure out and convenient to use, using either tactile or audio feedback. For the most part, they are.

On the Right Earpiece, there is a Play/Pause/Base Boost and OpenMic Button. (I honestly couldn’t understand what the whole “OpenMic” was all about. All that I could figure out was that it would pause the audio so that you could hear your surroundings. No magic there.). The button that does this is right on the front. On the side of the earpiece, there is a Volume/Tracking/Mute button. This is like a little toggle/slider that you move forward or backward (with audio responses, for example, as you raise or lower the volume). Pushing this slider in mutes the call if you are on one.

Altec_right_ear

On the Left Earpiece, there is the Call Answer/End button (on the outside similar to the Play/Pause button of the Right Earpiece), the LED indicator, the charging jack (included is a USB wall charger) and the power/pairing button.

Altec_left_ear

Using just these controls and getting visual (ok, I lied, you do have to look at the BackBeats once and a while) and/or audio feedback, you can do a wide variety of things including:

  • Answer/Make/Reject/End a call
  • Check battery power
  • Mute/Un-mute a call
  • Adjust volume
  • Play/Pause music
  • Move forward/back one track of music
  • Answer or Reject a call while listening to music
  • Boost the bass

There are some tricks to this so you probably should give the manual a quick read. For the most part, it is easy to control and use, even without looking at the headset.

Quick Specs

To nail down some specs of the BackBeat 903:

  • Talk Time – 7 hrs
  • Listening time – 7 hrs
  • Standby time – 7 hrs
  • Range – 33 feet
  • Weight – 34 grams
  • Charge time – 2-3 hours
  • Bluetooth version – 2.1 + EDR (Enhance Data Rate)
  • Bluetooth profiles – HSP, HFP, Secure Simple Pairing, A2DP and AVRCP

My Commentary

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In my opinion, I have yet to come across ANY device that is perfect. While this headset was indeed given to me, I need to ensure that both its positives and negatives are discussed. To that end:

  • I feel that the standby time is a lot less than desired. It seems that the power is draining the battery no different connected and streaming music than if it was simply on and sitting in your pocket doing nothing.
  • If you do have a chance to test them out, DO IT! They might not be a clean fit with your ear.
  • I found the BackBeats to be comfortable for shorter use times (less than an hour). Anything more than an hour started to be a bit uncomfortable and my ears felt a bit pinched at times. Headsets should be comfortable for extended times, in my opinion.
  • My kids commented that they could hear my music or spoken audio from a distance. Note that these are not completely sound isolating, in-ear headphones. Some sound does bleed in and out of your ears.
  • Until you get used to it, putting the BackBeats on is a bit of a challenge (see the video). Be prepared to look a bit dorky in the process of learning.
  • I have sort of a love/hate relationship with the flexible cord between the two ear pieces. I think its great to be able to roll it all up and put in my pocket, but sometimes it gets a bit twisted and makes putting on your head a bit confusing.
  • The sound quality is pretty good. If you do use too much bass (using the Bass Booster), you can quickly run into some music distortion, especially at higher volumes. The quality is decent, however I get better sound performance from my corded Sennheisers.
  • I did encounter some popping and clicking at times where I would lose audio for about a second or two. While this was annoying, it did not happen very frequently. Most of the time it occurred when I was mobile, and with no apparent interference sources immediately around me.
  • Once paired, the BackBeats connect fairly quickly to my iPhone which was nice.

Overall, if you are a bit tired of the 1 ear Bluetooth headset (I know that I am!) and want to explore the possibilities of stereo Bluetooth audio, you definitely should take a look at the BackBeat 903s. The parent company is Plantronics who are experts in voice technology and have been for many years. The BackBeat 903’s MSRP is $99.95 but you can pick a pair up on Amazon for $59.99.

So for the same price as a single ear, higher-end Bluetooth earpiece, you could be enjoying stereo Bluetooth music playback and phone control, complete with Plantronics dual-mic AudioIQ® voice technology. The sound is fairly good and I have not received complaints from anyone receiving my calls (unless they simply didn’t want to hear from me – grin).

HTD says: Bluetooth stereo headsets are the way to go nowadays. The BackBeat 903s help you wirelessly bring that beat from your Bluetooth phone or music player to your ears.