Backbeat Pro Listening Tests & Conclusion
I listened to the Backbeat Pro's with a handful of reference units, including a pair of Etymotic ER-4s, the standard Apple iPod headphones and a pair of Denon AH-D2000 headphones. This gives me a good swath of products with which to reference the quality of these earphones. In particular, the Apple iPod speakers – which are a throw-in for Apple's iPod products, provide some decent midrange and crisp (and some would agree, bright) high-end, but are lacking on in the noise isolation and bass departments. The Etymotic products are, of course, reference quality earphones and represent, in our opinion, the current best non-custom products available on the market. Denon;s headphones simply present a comfortable high-end headphone selection that allow for a great amount of accurate bass and a wide soundstage. It was armed with this arsenal that I began my listening tests.
Reviewer’s Note: Using the word “reference” doesn’t necessarily mean “reference quality.” In this case it means “headphones/earphones I own and am intimately familiar with that I refer to for comparisons.”
To begin with I listened to just the earphones and confirmed the best ear tip for my ear canal size. As expected, the mediums were perfect and the dual flange provided nearly the same sound quality, with the added benefit of easier fitting and better noise isolation. When inserting the earphones, be sure to not over-insert the ear tips. This can cause them to flip inside-out, which is not the desired position for music listening. Typically, the best fit is made with your jaw opened wide and while pulling on the top of your ear with your opposite hand (right ear, left hand, etc...) Once in place I noticed a definite drop in noise, meaning that the earphones had made a positive seal against my ear canal.
The first thing I listened to was “New York Minute” from the Eagles' Hell Freezes Over album. This song features a lot of bass guitar as well as a punchy kick drum and plenty of high frequency content as well (cymbals and hi-hat throughout). Don Henley's vocals provide a very nice midrange testbed with which to evaluate the capability of a pair of earphones to reproduce accurate detail. Right off the bat these earphones seemed capable of not only producing some real tangible bass, but also of conveying the physical thump of the kick drum. I pretty much felt the bass and kick while the opening of the song played out. Henley's vocals sounded natural and I really liked the tonality these earphones delivered. Towards the end of the song there is a strong lead-out with a steady hi-hat that rides atop a kick drum. With the Backbeat Pro earphones the hi-hat was completely masked, even when I turned up the volume. Both the Etymotic and the Apple standard earphones picked this up, as of course did my reference Denon over-ear headphones.
I next tried out some Steely Dan and we found it to be excellent for confirming that the Backbeat Pros exhibited excellent imaging. While the vocals had that “in your head” presence that often accompanies earphones, the left-right travel and separation were pristine. An excellent example of this was found in the intro for “Rikki Don't Lose That Number” which has a fluid percussive intro that flows from left to right and back again. The movement was smooth and didn't jump from one speaker to the other, but traveled gradually and accurately. “Hey Nineteen” also imaged well and the vocals sounded realistic and “live”. The percussive guitar that occupied the left earphone was balanced by the steady hi-hit of the drum kit in the right ear. Differentiating each instrument in the mix was easy and the Backbeat Pro earphones seemed to do well with lots of simultaneous information without distorting and losing their integrity. Backing vocals were superb and filled the soundstage with a nice full sound.
Listening to Seal's “Crazy” gave me a feel for how the earphones just barely touched the 20Hz level, playing back just the hint of the bass energy that starts up at around 5:15 into the track. As usual, Seal's vocals and the myriad of synthesized drums and keyboard sounds really came across with an immense level of detail and clarity. While the 20Hz content just made it through, it was apparent that there was some emphasis given to the bass response of these earphones. While they aren't flat, they are pleasing to listen to. We listened to a ton of additional music, including a pending CD release entitled Sweet Fist by a band called Super 400, and the Backbeat earphones were certainly fun to listen to with both classical and contemporary rock music. What I liked was that the earphones handled compressed tracks as adeptly as they did more dynamic tracks. All-in-all I'd have to say these are very comfortable and pleasing earphones. It would be interesting to compare the line and see how much better these are than Altec Lansing's Titanium model.
For $99 I was pleased with the Altec Lansing Backbeat Pro earphones. The neoprene case and extra ear tips make it a nice package. The earphones don't overextend themselves and provide a pleasing sound that is surprisingly full and rich for in-ear models. Their bass is slightly over-accented, but it's not what I would consider to be boomy. To the contrary, music just sounds... well, enjoyable. Compared to other headphones these are priced fairly, though the lack of pristine clarity in the top range gives them some stiff competition from the likes of Shure, Westone, Sennheiser, AKG, and of course Etymotic.
535 Route 6 & 209
Milford, Pennsylvania 18337
About Altec Lansing
For more than 70 years Altec Lansing has been viewed among audiophiles as the world’s most valuable and innovative audio brand and boasts a unique history of innovation that includes the introduction of first talkie film speakers, the first iPod docking station and the first “Works with iPhone” speaker system. Altec Lansing makes a wide range of audio systems for the home and office; a line of headphones for personal listening; and the popular line of inMotion® speaker systems for portable digital players. Altec Lansing, a division of Plantronics, Inc. (NYSE: PLT), is headquartered in Milford, PA.
The Score Card
The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:
Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating
Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.
Audioholics Rating Scale
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- — Fair
- — Poor
And any time you're listening to Steely Dan, I'm in with that so I can really visualize (auralize???) the tracks you mentioned and the review gives me a good feel for that.
I know it's possible to graph frequency response curves for speakers, but can you do the same for headphones? It doesn't seem that outlandish to wonder, but, then again, I'm not a very technical guy.
My son, though, goes through a set of ear buds about every 6 months, so I'm wondering if it'd be worthwhile to spend this much money on a pair. Oh, wait, a build quality rating of 3... probably be ruined in pretty short order. I guess I'll have to pass.