Review: Plantronics BackBeat 903 Stereo Bluetooth Headset

By Ryan Blundell on 3 May 2010 10:03 am EDT
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Will the journey never end? I’m consistently looking for a better audio device around every corner. Every time I see one, I have to try it out, regardless if I’m happy with whatever I am currently using. This goes for both hands free and stereo Bluetooth headsets. I’m surprised my wife hasn’t said “pick one already!!”

The reason is that it may be the audiophile in me. I want crisp, clear, full bodied sound when I listen. I also want to have a conversation, through a headset, without having to compensate for background noises. It’s one thing to have it through a wired headset; it’s another when you talk about stereo Bluetooth. Another factor to take into consideration is comfort. I want something that will stay in my ear without attempting to squeeze my brain out of my skull. As my quest continues, I find myself face to face with another contender – the Altec Lansing / Plantronics BackBeat 903 stereo Bluetooth headset. Possessing a lightweight and sporty design, as well as being equipped with both AudioIQ and OpenMic technologies; I’m hoping that the BackBeat lives up to its promise to be “the evolution of mobile music and calls”. Read on for more.

Package and Profile 

Altec Lansing had become a subsidiary of Plantronics back in 2005. Both companies have enjoyed a long history of producing high quality audio products (Altec Lansing was founded in 1936 and Plantronics in 1962). In my previous reviews of Plantronics products, I always like to mention that Neil Armstrong first spoke those famous words through a Plantronics headset. Well, Altec Lansing provided the Woodstock Festival with loudspeakers. The best of both worlds were brought together to produce the BackBeat 903.

The front of the packaging featured a fresh, youthful vibe with a shot of the BackBeat 903. You can’t really judge a book by its cover though, right? Like a book, the front cover swung open to reveal the headset nestled inside. Inside the package, I also found:

AC Charger

Manual

Safety Booklet

The BackBeat came with only one set of ear tips, not allowing for a custom fit inside the ears. This was disappointing and surprising when you look at the comfort and flexibility of the headset itself. The design of the ear tips allows for audio to be delivered further into the ear than with standard ear buds. The all black headset consists of a left and right earpiece, with the stereo cable between the two. The cable wraps behind the back of your head, much like the Motorola S9 and S9 HD, only much more lightweight and with more flexibility. They are also more easily packed up and thrown in your pocket than the S9. The weight of the BackBeat is only 34 grams. The BackBeat also has a lot more comfort adjustment options in addition to the twistable cable. The curved arm section of each earpiece bend in multiple directions and the ear bud posts rotate and elongate. With all of these adjustments, you’re guaranteed to achieve the perfect fit. I was able to jog without the ear tips dislodging from my ears and felt no movement/shaking from the unit.

The left earpiece houses the charging jack, call control and power button. The right earpiece is where you will find the Music function button, call mute button and volume/track control button. Wow, that’s a lot of buttons.

The BackBeat 903 supports the following Bluetooth profiles; HSP, HFP, A2DP and AVRCP.

Music

Plantronics definitely made use of the hi-def audio that Altec Lansing is known to provide. The music was extremely clear and it felt as though it had a full bodied sound. To add more oomph to the music, BackBeat comes packed with a bass-boost feature. Now I could bask in BackBeats bass boosting beat banging until my ears bled. I only wished that I had more options when it came to ear tips, as I could still hear outside noises while listening to music. Volume can be easily adjusted by sliding the volume control to the left or right. By sliding and holding the same control for a second or two, you can skip to the next track, or go back to the previous one. The BackBeat also includes the OpenMic feature, which allows you to pause your music and “bring in the outside world”. I had no difficulty navigating through tracks on my BlackBerry.

Calls

I am an avid user of Bluetooth headsets, as I mostly use it for calls while on the road. I can’t see very many drivers using stereo headsets for calls, within the car, as it blocks sound from both ears and could potentially hinder your ability to stay alert and focused. Call quality was everything I expected and experienced with Plantronics. The BackBeat packs Dual-Mic Audio IQ technology to cancel noise and boost your audio, based on background noise. The same volume controls that are used for music are used to adjust call volume. Calls are muted by simply pressing in the volume button.

The talk/listen time and standby time for the BackBeat are 7 hours and 168 hours, respectively. Looking at the Shop CrackBerry comparison chart, it’s safe to say the battery life surpasses most of the other stereo Bluetooth headsets in stock. It usually takes 3 hours to fully charge the headset.

Conclusion

In its design class, the Altec Lansing/Plantronics BackBeat 903 was the most comfortable stereo Bluetooth headset I’ve ever worn. The audio quality for both calls and music was superb. I liked how easily I could master the controls, without having to look at them. It is a very well rounded headset, with my only gripe being the lack of ear tip sizing options. The sleek black design helps to minimize its look, so you can wear them, not only with comfort, but with confidence. You can pick up the BackBeat from the CrackBerry store for $89.95.

Pros

  • Audio IQ and OpenMic Technology
  • Fantastic Comfort
  • Flexible design
  • Easy to master controls

Cons

  • No additional ear tips included 

Customer Ratings and Reviews

Pricing & Purchase

Reader comments

Review: Plantronics BackBeat 903 Stereo Bluetooth Headset

38 Comments

Does anyone know how resistant these are to sweat during a intense workout? The Motorola S9's say there good for workouts, but after time, the volume no longer works

Can't speak specifically to workouts, but I use these while doing all of my yardwork. So, mowing the lawn for 2 hours in 80-90 degree weather produces quite a bit of sweat. Been using these for over a year now, and no problems. The only problem I've had, was that they are so light, you sometimes don't realize they're around your neck. One time I had them out of my ears, around my neck. Was washing my hands in the sink and they fell in. Upon first trying them, the sound was distorted, and I immediately went pricing for a new pair.. However, gave it a day, and everything was back to normal. So, if they recovered from water, can't see an issue with sweat!

I use these while working out. They're the perfect design because the wire behind the neck is flexible so that it doesn't get in the way when you're lying on a bench. I have several other stereo bluetooth headsets including the Motorola S9s and none of them are as good as the BackBeat 903s for working out. However, the one I bought and the first replacement I got stopped working because of sweat. I'm now using my second replacement (third pair) and it's working fine. Plantronics handles the product support and they were really good about sending me replacements but of course I had to send the original one back with my receipt showing the purchase date. After I called to get a second replacement, the Plantronics support person had me read some numbers off the side of the first replacement so that he could find out what hardware version that I had. He then told me that the first replacement was an older hardware revision and the latest one had silicone to protect the wiring from sweat so he sent me one of the newer ones. So far they're working great. Of course you have no way of knowing what hardware revision is in stock at whatever store you buy them from.

My co worker has these and he let me try them out. They are very comfortable and the sound is awesome. I would love to have a pair but still too pricey for my budget.

I own the BackBeat 906 headset(same as 903, but with 3.5mm bluetooth adapter). I use it every day to listen to Pandora and it's great. I think it's best feature is it's adjustability to create a good fit. I had the Moto S9-HD and it just didn't fit me at all and has zero adjustability. Overall, I would recommmend the Backbeat over the Moto S9-HD.

Yes, I too had a motorola s9-hd and loved the sound. But HATED the sound cut-out. While the Backbeat 903 also exhibits the problem (read blackberry's fault, not headset manufactures fault), the problem is less noticeable than the S9-hd.

I disagree with the author's article concerning being a distraction while driving. The ear buds do let in a lot of sound, meaning they also let in driving surroundings easily. I commute 60 miles daily and they are my lifeblood on the road. They keep me jamming, and safely driving/talking.

As much as I love CrackBerry, and Shop Crackberry, these are available elsewhere for about $30 LESS. (Cough*NewEgg dotcom*Cough!).

The author is correct that they have HUGE battery Life. 7-8 hours EASY. I have been on 6+ hour service calls using this device and it never skipped a beat...

And back to the music skip problem that can happen... I just don't understand it. I can set my phone down and walk away up to 25+ feet and never lose audio on a phone call, however, try putting the phone in your front right pocket, and listen to music. cut in and out.

$54.99

wow i've had these for like a year now. i use them all the time. only thing i dont like is the BT antannae sucks, you cant be too far away from your phone with these or it'll beep in your ear constantly.

I had a plantronics earpiece headset (until my dogs 'repurposed' it) and while the call quality was decent, it was terrible if I wanted to wear my glasses and have it in as well. Are these more glasses-friendly or am I stuck with the Apollo 13 era headset mounted to huge horn rimmed glasses if I want to make a call and see what I'm doing at the same time?

I've had these since Nov. I don't use them in the gym. I love everything about them. I use them all the time. Most of the time when I want to listen to podcasts etc, having wires hanging from my ears isn't an option because I'm doing something with my hands like cooking, shopping and doing other chores etc. They're just great for those times.

Jeff, you are right, These and glasses are a nuisance, but not a deal breaker.

I wear my headset AND sunglasses with not much problem, but you definitely know they are there...

I am looking for a good Stereo Bluetooth that is only one earpiece. In my Job, I like to be able to sit at my desk and listen to music, videos etc.. from my PC or phone in one ear only and still have the other ear open for surrounding co-workers asking me questions, or the phone Land Line phone ringing and to have a free ear to answer the land line phone. What is a good one earpiece Stereo Bluetooth device that will connect to your PC and Blackberry?

Let me be the first to comment on this? What? What is a STEREO earpiece with only one side? Just use a single BT Earpiece and turn your balance all the way to one side or the other!

Maybe I am doing it wrong. I currently have a bluetooth head piece that is only for one ear. But when I pair it to my laptop I cannot get the sound to play through the earpiece. I did a google search on the topic and thought I read the bluetooth earpieces had to be a stereo earpiece for them to work with laptop soundcards.

Yes, BT profiles need to be compliant with the sound codecs out of the application you're using on the PC. The Blackberry shouldn't have any problems in this area, however, as all the O.S. versions 4.xx and above support the BT sound profiles for a single ear appliance.

Does this thing do calls in stereo, too? I drive a noisy, lifted Jeep, and bluetooth headsets are useless to me if I can't hear the call in both ears. I have a Plantronics headset now that does this, but it has a wire that dangles between the two earpieces. This is a much better setup, if it does what I want it to.

This also has a wire that extends between both earpieces; just like the Plantronics headset you have now. This wire runs behind your neck. And yes, it works in stereo during calls.

The picture looks like this is a much more rigid wire, whereas the one I have now kinda dangles. Am I seeing this correctly?

I'd pick these up in a heartbeat if only they were sound isolating… I need to find a replacement for my Plantronics Voyager 855.

I was close to picking up the Moto S9HD, but heard that users complained about wearing them with a collared shirt. Can anyone comment on that? I would not want my collar to snag the wire and pull these off my ears on a call, or sleeping on a flight. Also, when I drive I typically keep one earpiece on, one off. Is this possible with the Backbeat? does the weight of the hanging earpiece pull the other one out?

Thx all.

I have these for a year now and I have had the same issue w/ the bluetooth antenna while playing music. Unless I have my blackberry at chest level the music skips constantly to the point where I'd rather just leave it on speakerphone in my pocket during walks. Other than that they are great. Music works great when you leave your blackberry on your desk at work, in the cup holder in the car or the cup holder of the treadmill at the gym. Guess I just need to buy an arm band for when im out walking or running.

I'm a big guy 6'3 and i tried the Moto S9-HD and they barely fit around my head it was extremely tight so I returned them, how are these in terms of being able to adjust or are they just one size like the Moto's???

I am also 6'3" with a big melon and these are somewhat tight, but not terribly so (they do not lengthen between the earbuds). They are the best fit I have found in Bluetooth headsets. Sound quality is good, but I have also experienced the poor reception problem. If my BB is not in a breast pocket, then the music is likely to cut out frequently. This is much more prevalent outside rather than in. I have seen numerous complaints about this on other forums. Even belt holsters or cargo pants pockets seem to be a bit too far away for them to work well while outside. Inside seems to be a different story entirely though.

I have had the BackBeat for a while now and absolutely love them. I bought the version with the BT dongle because at the time I had an iPod that I used quite a bit. Then I set them up with my BB and stopped carrying multiple devices. The battery life is great. I especially like the sound quality and the fact that all through the bending, stooping, and lifting they never falter. The first time a call came in and I realized that it was in stereo kinda threw me, but being in a noisy environment I appreciated that.

i have that one, and i use on my laptop, my blackberry tour, my PS3 and on my ipod touch :D good deal!

Does this thing do calls in stereo, too? I drive a noisy, lifted Jeep, and bluetooth headsets are useless to me if I can't hear the call in both ears. I have a Plantronics headset now that does this, but it has a wire that dangles between the two earpieces. This is a much better setup, if it does what I want it to.- http://www.electronicswholesaledistributor.com

Although these headsets have been out for a couple years, I think you guys should offer some givaway. 90 bucks for some headphones is pretty pricey but after reading the reviews on this page, find the right headset, and it might be all worth it.

I've heard several complaints with regards to the range between these and blackberry devices... can anyone confirm if this is still a problem with the newer blackberry devices, like the 8900, 9700, 9550, 8520, etc?

Thanks

I've heard several complaints with regards to the range between these and blackberry devices... can anyone confirm if this is still a problem with the newer blackberry devices, like the 8900, 9700, 9550, 8520, etc?

Thanks

Is there a way to connect plantronics 903 stereo headset to playbook? I can get it to pair up, but says no services available. Any work around or any solution as I really like the headset. Or do I have to wait patiently for BB update?

One of the causes involves (as stated above) 'melons'. It's all about the physics of radiated field absorbsion. Not only is the human skull pretty thick, when the antenna/receiver-transmitter is on one side of the skull, and the phone is on the other, not only does the signal have to reach to the headset, it also has to get back to the phone - it's a two-way data path. The same phenomena gives you that cell problem - I can see a signal but not connect, or wifi (same declaration). Your device picks up enough of the signal incoming to identify it, but cannot get enough usable signal to the distant receiver. Without all of the connection (particularly adding in security) making it, you won't connect. I troubleshot an installation where moving a laptop 2 feet meant a really good connection, but where they wanted it on a desk was too close to their garage, and finally we assessed that the rebar in the garage wall was absorbing too much of the signal from the laptop, and had to move the router two rooms closer. So if you are a larger person, you will have to get signal absorbing items out of the path. Sometimes these are body parts. Or your keys are in the same pocket beside the phone.
What I wish is that someone made the BT headsets that also accepted a 1/8 input for connecting to listen to music w/o the radio on.

Curve 8330 CDMA (eww, I know, u/g to Torch soon!)
Winner of EA Mobile SE Playbook - rockin' it!

I purchased these from Bestbuy and they are everything I wanted and more, almost. Awesome fit, sound and controls. They paired up easily and quickly with my 9900, and stay paired well except I have to remove and re-pair them in order to hear my music through them. They always do voice calls, but when I turn them off and then back on, after varying times, they will do calls, but not music. So I erase them from bluetooth devices and re-pair them. WTF? Anyone have an idea?

I have exactly the same problem as shredney (Tuesday March 13, 2012)
The Blackberry 9900 Phone does not pair properly every time with Plantronics 903 Backbeat Headset (Bluetooth A2DP, other..)
First time all functions pair properly (hands-free, stereo audio, and AV remote Control). Then if you switch off the headset and then on again - it fails to connect the Audi Stereo and AV Remote Control Functions, but does connect the normal headset audio connection.
I have tried re-establishing the pairing many times with no joy
My 9900 has Software 7.1.0 bundle 1149 and its the latest?
Plantronics support advised erasing device from the phone and then repairing - but this did not fix
Blackberry support were not responsive - very frustrating!!