Appletell reviews the BackBeat Pro noise isolating headphones

Sections: iDevice Accessories, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad, iPod, iPod Accessories, iPod Headphones and Earbuds, Reviews

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Backbeat ProProvides: Balanced armature noise-isolating audio playback
Developer: Altec Lansing
Minimum Requirements: iPod, iPhone or other audio device with 1/8″ stereo mini jack
Price: $99.95
Availability: Now

Altec Lansing understands quite a bit about the science of sound. We know that. But they also understand that the amount of money people are willing to pay for this science will vary greatly. There are many people who are satisfied with the Apple Earbuds included with all iPods and the iPhone, and good for them. That saves a lot of hassle and money.

But I’m amongst those people who aren’t. For one thing, earbuds just don’t sit well in my ears. I don’t know why; I’ve never had a pair that will stay in when I tilt my head at the slightest. For another thing, I spend a lot of time with headphones on. I wear them while listening to music at work, and, depending upon what’s going on around the house, I wear them while writing or playing games at home. I therefore look for three things when considering headphones: 1.) comfort, 2.) some form of noise isolation or cancellation so I don’t have to turn the music up too loud, and 3.) quality audio. For in-ear headphones, The Altec Lansing BackBeat Pro comes the closest I’ve experienced to hitting all three.

Let’s first look at comfort. The BackBeat Pro headphones are lightweight (0.8 oz.); larger than the earbuds, but easier to manage than full, over-the-ear headphones. They come with four sets of silicone ear tips (small, medium and large, as well as a set of dual flange tips for extra noise reduction), so you’re pretty much guaranteed a good fit. This is important, as I’ll cover later when discussing audio quality. Here, just understand that the headphones will rest comfortably in your ear, and will stay there.

For me, however, one of the drawbacks of in-ear headphones is that they start to feel…oppressive, for lack of a better term, after prolonged use. This is the case with the BackBeat Pro as well, unfortunately. The cord is a bit heavier than with most headphones, which adds to the eventual discomfort. However, that’s a fair trade off, as the cord features “… braided reinforcement for strength and tangle-resistance, smooth PVC coating for friction dampening, and oxygen-free copper for a superior audio conduit.” What does that mean? It means better sound with less interference, and you won’t spend any time unwrapping or untangling anything.

The BackBeat Pro features noise isolation, which covers my second requirement. Note that this isn’t noise cancellation. There’s no technology here to actually cancel outside noises. Rather, the silicone ear tips are simply designed to block out ambient sounds. It’s not the best solution, but is more than enough for basic background noise. If I have these hooked up to my DS while my wife is watching TV in the same room (at a reasonable volume), they do the job. They won’t, however, drown out the roar of airplane engines.

Isolation is important, obviously, because it means you can play your music at a lower volume. Cranking up the audio to drown out outside noises isn’t good for your ears, and it can distort the music. The BackBeat Pro’s custom fit ear tips make sure that a minimal amount of noise gets through, so you can keep the volume at a reasonable level and still allow the quality of the audio playback to flow clearly.

Which brings me to requirement three: audio quality. The funny thing is that when I first switched over to the BackBeat Pro, I thought the audio was muffled and muddy. Immediate disappointment. But then I tried a different size of ear tips, which allowed me to better position the headphones. Immediately, the music was clear and full. The 10mm titanium-enhanced speakers with built-in amplification offer bright sound that you rarely get with headphones, allowing all facets of the music to come through cleanly.

The speakers have been “… professionally tuned for musician-grade sound,” which is fine for music, but will seem off when using the headphones for games or movies. In games, especially, the playback was a bit too bright, occasionally coming off as harsh. As a result, you’ll want to turn your device down even more than when you’re listening to music.

On the whole, though, the BackBeat Pro headphones are the best in-ear headphones I’ve ever had the privilege to try out. They’re very well designed to provide a decent balance between comfort and audio quality, offering an experience that allows you to hear your music clearly without having to turn them up to ear-damaging levels in order to block out external noises. The 46″ cable is an adequate length, and the headphones come with neoprene case for convenient storage (no need to wrap them around anything).

There are cheaper options available in the BackBeat line, but bypass those. If you use headphones frequently, save up a few more dollars and pick up the Pro level. You’ll be glad you did.

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