Plantronics' BackBeat headphones have been around for some time now, with the company gradually evolving the design and hardware to keep the stereo Bluetooth headset ahead of the game. The latest iteration is the BackBeat 903+, packing the newest version of Plantronics' AudioIQ2 DSP and tighter iPhone integration. Sweet music or a bum note? Check out the full SlashGear review after the cut.
Style-wise, there's not a huge amount of difference between the 903+ and the model it replaces. Plantronics says the casing is more rugged, and we do reckon you could throw the BackBeat into your bag without the included carry pouch and not worry too much about damaging it. The two earpieces are connected by a tough, rubber-coated cord, with the battery sections hooking over the back of your ears and the earbuds themselves mounted on flexible loops.
It's a comfortable arrangement, as long as you haven't got particularly large or small ears; there's minimal adjustment beyond the rubber sections, although Plantronics do throw three different sized sets of earbuds into the box. In terms of controls, there's a play/pause button on the right earpiece and a call answer/end button on the left; running down the back are power, volume-up/skip-forward and volume-down/skip-back keys.
Of course, different presses can do different tasks, and so long-holding the call button can redial the last number (phone permitting) or reject an incoming call, and other presses mute, trigger re-pairing, transfer ongoing conversations between headset and handset, and turn Bass Boost on or off. If your phone allows, you can do voice-activated dialing, too.
Like Plantronics' recent monaural headsets, the BackBeat 9303+ gets AudioIQ2 and twin microphones for background noise reduction. It's a system that works well, though unsurprisingly better with constant background sounds like road noise. Unfortunately there's no MultiPoint, for hooking up two devices simultaneously; that seems a big omission when you consider how many people might want to pair their phone and their Bluetooth-enabled PMP at the same time.
It's a shame, because musical performance is strong. The optional Bass Boost does a decent job of adding some thump - handy, since neither MP3s nor Bluetooth are generally known for having a great effect on audio quality - and while you'll still get better sound from a wired headset, the convenience of the 903+'s is arguably worth the compromise.
Bluetooth A2DP obviously works with most recent devices that support the wireless standard, but if you've got an iPhone the experience is a little slicker. As we've seen on some other headsets, once paired with the Apple smartphone (or, indeed, an iPod touch) you get a separate battery meter in the status bar, that shows the charge left in your BackBeat. Plantronics reckon you'll see up to 7hrs talktime or 7 days standby from a full charge, though obviously that depends on whether you're using the headset for music or conversations. We managed to get through a day of heavy calling and some extended music sessions before the low-battery voice prompt piped up, and there's a Listening Time announcement option, which will periodically tell you roughly how long you have left.
Considering the improvements in build, audio performance and usability over the headset it replaces, and the fact that Plantronics have kept the price at $99.99, we're finding it tough to criticize the BackBeat 903+. Yes, if you're a glasses wearer it can be a little trickier balancing the earpieces, and the absence of MultiPoint technology is a frustrating omission, but strong audio and flexible controls keep the Plantronics running with the front of the pack.