While we were waiting for new iPhones and their A2DP stereo Bluetooth support to arrive, another delivery arrived. The folks over at Altec Lansing sent me their Back Beat 903 Bluetooth stereo headphones to review. These $99 headphones fit in the ear and have a small […]

back-beat-903While we were waiting for new iPhones and their A2DP stereo Bluetooth support to arrive, another delivery arrived. The folks over at Altec Lansing sent me their Back Beat 903 Bluetooth stereo headphones to review. These $99 headphones fit in the ear and have a small cord that goes behind your head. The in-ear ‘phones help block out ambient background noise to help isolate your music or voice conversation.

Yes, I said voice conversation, because the 903s have a built-in microphone as well. Since they use an in-ear design, I wouldn’t use this for phone calls while driving, but sitting around anywhere else is a good scenario. I’m very curious how well the sound quality is from the other end of a call: the mic on the 903s isn’t a boom mic, so it’s far closer to the ear than the mouth.

My Palm Pre already supports A2DP, so I’ll probably give these a listen before my iPhone 3G S arrives. And after, too. Oh, I just realized — I have a several-hour conference call this afternoon. Sounds like the perfect opportunity to get some feedback on the audio quality.

  1. Kevin, thw planatrinics 590 work after the update for voice and music, no keyboard support

  2. So how did they work out? I am in the market for a set of something like these and would like to hear your candid opinions if your call is done by now



    1. I’m actually still on the call this very minute; it’s a 2.5 hour call. I used the 903s to listen to 10 minutes of music from my Palm Pre for a few minutes and liked what I heard. Quality on the call is very good as well, both on my end and from my callers perspective. More details in a review coming soon…

  3. I picked up a Kensington BT3071 headset a while ago which has a very short boom but its picking up a lot of noise when I’m in a noisy environment. Does anyone know of a headset with a real microphone boom on it that will ge the mic close to my mouth? A windscreen would be nice not absolutely necessary.

    1. If you don’t need stereo BT, the Plantronics Voyager PRO I just reviewed would do the trick. Not sure what to recommend if stereo BT is a requirement, but I’m sure we’ll get some other commenters to chime in.

  4. Looks like a nice headset.

    Does anybody know if can be charge by USB and what is the connector? I am only buying stuff what uses mini or micro USB connectors for charging. No more proprietary crap.

    It is a shame the 903 does not support Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP). It is a pain to fish out your phone to stop the music.

    Also, it would be nice to be able to use only one headphone. Sometimes you want to look like you are on the phone and not listening to music :-)

    1. Scott, the 903s do support the AVRCP profile and they work great for controlling music playback. No need to fish out your phone. A MicroUSB port is used for charging, but the included charger must be plugged into an outlet. However, I am able to charge these with the same MicroUSB cord that came with my Palm Pre. I don’t know that the company technically supports it, but it is working.

  5. Kevin, I’m considering these ‘phones now that the Stereo bluetooth is unlocked on the iPhone 3G. What was your opinion overall, comfort-wise? I debating between these and the Motorola S9-HD’s.

  6. These look great, but I have a couple specific questions that haven’t been answered online:

    * Are they fully functional with the new iPhone 3.0 OS — play/pause, skip/back, streaming music, answer/end calls, mute calls — *without* using the dongle, only the iPhone’s built-in bluetooth?

    * Can they also be paired with a Mac that has bluetooth, for example a Macbook Pro? If so, then in addition to streaming the system audio, can the mic be used as a sound input for the Mac?

    In other words, I’d love to be out biking, listening to music and taking calls with my iPhone, then come home, pair it with my Macbook, and continue using it for music and Skype calls.

    Any more information you have on this would be great! I’ll keep checking this page to see what people say.

    1. I have these headphones, and I’ve been using them with the iPhone 3G, OS 3.0 for about a week.

      The sound quality is great! I’m no audio expert but I can hear very little difference in quality between these and my previous expensive metro-fi headphones.

      Call quality is also good, people I’ve spoken too haven’t complained at all, in fact one person said I sounded clearer than with using the actual iPhone handset. Another did hear a little distortion though. Overall it’s good.

      The problems though – The skip track forward and back does not work. Also, the play/pause button works inconsistently – sometimes it works and other times not at all, which is a little frustrating as it means you need to take your phone out to skip and stop tracks, but now i’ve had them a week or so, i’m used it and it doesn’t really bother me now.

      Volume function works fine, so does answering a call.
      Connecting the headphones has worked flawlessly every time.

      They’re very comfortable to wear, they don’t put pressure on any part of your head, neck or ears, and have held up well in the gym, on the running machine, doing sit ups etc. You can also take them out of your ears and let them sit on the back of your neck quite safely.

      I’ve not tried connecting them to any other bluetooth device so can’t comment on connecting to a laptop etc.

      Overall, I love them. It’s a liberating experience not having wires dangling around your neck all the time.

      If the lack of AVRCP compatibility is an issue for you then you may not want to get these, otherwise, they’re a great product.

    2. Nick, the AVRCP issue is the iPhone, not the headphones. On my Pre, I can skip tracks as shown my video review. http://jkontherun.com/2009/06/18/altec-lansing-backbeat-903-bluetooth-stereo-headset-review/

    3. the back beat 903 works great with a macbook pro. very well. YOu don’t get the stereo sound, that’s the only problem.

      I’m trying to use the back beat with my new pre, and it works well for music, but not for phone. Any ideas out there? It just doesn’t work, period, with the phone app, even though it’s connected.

      1. I can seem to get the 903 to work with my Mac Book Ppro .. how did you get them to pair and work.. thx

    4. I used the BackBeats with my Pre for two different conference calls today without a problem. One thing I’ve noticed: the Pre says it’s connected to the headphones over Bluetooth, but it’s not until I tap the left earpiece button (and hear a beep) that it works when placing a call. Receiving a call is no problem.

  7. Yes, I did assume that was the case. I wonder if an update to the 3.0 software could address the issue?? I’d love the extra functionality.

  8. I now have a problem – I recently got the iPhone 3GS – only to discover that these headphones are not even recognised as a Bluetooth device! I’ve tried 2 3GS phones, and neither can detect the headset. What’s the deal? Worked fine in the 3G, even play and pause, and all call functionality. Very frustrating!


  9. I just bought them and have them connected to my iPhone 3GS. The quality is very nice but I can not mute or skip forward and back. It would also be nice to connect them to my MacBook Pro.

  10. Yes the mute and skip track functions didn’t work on my 3G but that didn’t bother me too much. Funnily enough the Altec vp of marketing just contacted me about it on Twitter after I posted about. . He’s @altec_Bernice. Hopefully he can help me sort it out.


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