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Review: Plantronics BackBeat 903+ Bluetooth Stereo Headset E-mail
Written by Dean Neitman   
Monday, 07 January 2013 20:31
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Plantronics BackBeat 903+First, let me say I am very hesitant to buy any Bluetooth listening device. Reason? Bluetooth is an old communication technology. Sure it has been updated over the years and gotten a little better but it still has its share of problems such as lost connection and what I feel is slightly compressed audio signal.

Bluetooth for phone conversation makes sense. Audio bandwidth for vocal communication is much more narrow and less dynamic than most musical audio. Also, vocal communications have more gaps in sound where a slight loss of signal for brief second isn't as noticeable so I am fine with Bluetooth for phone conversation.

Having somewhat of an audiophile taste for musical sound, I still believe the best sound can only be had with wired headphones. I did have an older generation of Plantronics made stereo headset that wasn’t horrible though and decided to try one of their newer models when I was looking for wireless sound for exercising.

The BackBeat 903+ looked to me to be an upgrade from the older model I had previously. The older model was essentially a single sided mono design that had an additional port in which a moulded plastic piece could attach with a metal connector that lead to a wire and separate ear bud for stereo sound. Ok for the time but after six months of use, that connection became worn and intermittent and irritating.

This new model however, was permanently connected with a much thicker wire to cross over the neck while in use. This model also uses over the hear hangers that rest the device behind your ears instead of on your ear and a binaural ear connection to point the sound into your ear canal.

This binaural sound design doesn’t really do much for noise isolation but it might be a nice compromise for those who do not like ear buds that are pushed deep into the ear canal but also don’t like having the larger speaker type headphones that rest on the outside of the ear.

Even though this design doesn’t offer noise isolation, Plantronics has added noise cancellation technology into the electronics. Once they are turned on and music plays, outside noise is reduced to a noticeable degree.

Upon my first trial, I found the headset to be a bit uncomfortable. Once I realized I could adjust the fit by moving the little adjustable arms that connect the binaural ear pieces to the electronic unit, the fit got a little better but still had an issue with it irritating my ear. I then adjusted the rotation of the binaural pieces and that solved the problem.

Now let’s talk about musical sound. I was actually pleasantly surprised with sound. It was better than expected. Bass wasn’t boomy or thunderously deep but it was definitely present and while not full it couldn’t be called thin either.

The highs and midrange had detail and seemed to be close to what some would call a flat frequency response but I could detect a hair of harshness in some louder musical passages. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t horrible but as I noted earlier, a cheap wired set of Sony headphones that use the speaker elements on the ear purchased for $10 still had them beat.

Now for the features. The BackBeat does come with some handy features such as the noise cancelling mentioned before.

One surprising feature was an amplified mic of sorts for outside sound. As odd as it sounds, it’s actually handy.

For example, lets assume you are jamming to some AC/DC or relishing the orchestral masterpieces of Bee Ludwig Beethoven in the office when your boss stops by your desk looking at you with the expression that says “We need to talk.” You don’t have to remove the headset. Simply press the play/stop button on the right ear piece and instantly you are prepared to hear your criticism and not miss a word.

No muffling. It actually seems to amplify the outside sound ever so slightly. Once the ribbing from the authority figure is over, tap the button again and you are back to jamming or floating into that classical bliss again.

The same right ear piece button also will mute music or a call with just a tap. If you should hold it in for two seconds or longer, it will also activate the bass boost if you feel your music is a little on the thin side.

Need to adjust the volume but don’t have your cell phone close? You can use the two volume buttons located on the left ear unit. They are a bit tricky at first but little nubs will help your finger find them and just remember bottom most button is to lower sound and next button above is to raise volume. Go too high and you will press the power button. Don’t worry though. You will need to hold this in for a couple of seconds to turn off power thus preventing accidental powering down.

Have an iPhone? Then you will enjoy another nice feature. You can see a battery level indicator on your phone. When you first power on the headset, you may be tricked into thinking the headset batteries are about to die but if you give it a few minutes to update, accurate power levels will eventually appear.

The BackBeat 903+ also features spoken cues. This will alert the user to low battery levels, lost connection and out of range and track forward and backward. When first powered up, it will also indicate listening time remaining the battery which is up to seven hours.

The two little volume buttons also function as track forward and track backward selection buttons. You need to hold them for two seconds or longer to iniate this however or they will just function as volume buttons.

Need to take a call? A simple tap of the left ear piece will stop any function that the headset is currently performing to allow you take that important call. The same button also will redial if tapped twice and if held for more than seconds, it will initate the phone's voice dialing command. If your phone is a Siri enabled iPhone, you will hear Siri waiting for your command.

If you are an active person or need something for running or exercising, the BackBeat 903+ does a nice job of staying in place while walking, jogging and general movement. Sweat doesn't seem to affect the holding ability either in my experience.

Price is very reasonable for this headset. Amazon had the BackBeat 903+ priced at roughly $47 when I bought mine. Retail price is $99 which seems a bit high but Amazon's price is fair considering

Overall, I would be comfortable recommending this headset to any friend or family member. They are not perfect but very worthy of four out of five stars. If you want something more compact, I noticed Plantronics also offers the BackBeat GO with earbud design and much smaller electronics.

Dean Neitman Written on Monday, 07 January 2013 20:31 by Dean Neitman

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