The biggest annoyance with headphones has always been the cable. Every time you go to fish your cans out of your pocket, somehow the headphone cable always seems to have tangled itself up. Of course, most of us now use our phones as our music players, and as these usually have Bluetooth onboard, we can finally free ourselves of wires and opt for a wireless stereo Bluetooth headset instead. If this is your plan, then Plantronics wants to tempt you with its BackBeat 903+, which not only enables you to listen to your tunes wirelessly, but also doubles up as a hands-free device so you can use it to make calls with your mobile.
Previously, the BackBeat range was sold under the Altec Lansing brand name, but this update of the 903 headset has now been brought into the Plantronics fold. The new model includes a number of tweaks and updates. For example, the headset is now constructed out of a sweat resistant material making it more suitable for use down the gym; if you’re using it with an iPhone there’s an onscreen battery life indicator; and there’s a new telescopic section on the ear pieces so you can adjust them to better fit your lugholes.
Straight out of the box, these aren’t the most attractive looking headphones we’ve seen. Rather than using an over-the-head or back-band design, Plantronics has instead gone with two distinct earpieces, connected together via a short, sturdy cable at the rear. Like the other BackBeat models in the range, they tend to look a bit like 1970’s hearing aids when you’re wearing them – not a great look in 2011. The earpieces are quite chunky and they can be awkward to put on your ears if you’re wearing glasses or shades. However, the telescopic sections on the earpieces do improve overall comfort and once the headphones are actually in place they tend to stay in place.
The left-hand earpiece is home to most of the controls. On the top, there’s a power button that’s not only used for turning the cans on and off, but also for putting them into pairing mode. The first time you turn on the headset it automatically enters pairing mode, but after that to re-enter it you simply press and hold down the power button until the small LED above the button starts to flash red and blue.
As with most headsets, the pairing process is straightforward; it’s simply a matter of entering pairing mode, doing a Bluetooth search on your phone or computer and then entering the standard 0000 passcode if it’s requested. Unfortunately, the BackBeat 903+ doesn’t support multipoint, so you can’t have it hooked up to a mobile phone and PC at the same time, for example, like you can with some other headsets on the market.
Below the power button, two volume controls double-up as forward and back track skip buttons. To adjust the volume you just tap each one once, whereas if you want to skip a track you press and hold them down. The headphones will then announce 'track backward' or 'track forward' to let you know they’ve registered the command.
On the side of the left earpiece is a big call button that you tap once to accept an incoming call or start a new call. If you tap it twice, your phone will redial the last number. There’s a similar button on the right-hand ear piece, but this is used for playing or pausing music tracks. If you hold in this button for two seconds, it will activate the bass boost mode that adds a considerable amount of extra bass to proceedings – this is very useful as the compression used on Bluetooth music streaming generally leads to a loss of depth at the bottom end of the frequency spectrum.