Since I got my RE0s and I started going to Head-Fi, I’ve been…experimenting with a number of different headphones/earphones and listening to the various sound signatures these devices create. In the short time since I received my RE0s, I’ve heard (of course) the RE0s the V-Moda Vibes, MEElectronics M9Ps, Koss KSC75s (with some light modifications) and one of the only things I haven’t yet heard is an IEM with a balanced armature speaker. Well, a few nights ago, I happened to be browsing eBay for some reason and in that time, I came across the Altec Lansing Backbeat Pro IEMs.
The auction I happened upon was open-box and on sale for about $16. I did some research on them and saw that the MSRP was about $100 but they were retailing at most online retailers I saw for about $30. Apparently, Altec Lansing has a number of IEMs on the market and many of them are simply rebranded versions of IEMs from Ultimate Ears with the Backbeat Pros being Altec Lansing’s version of the Super.fi 4 IEMs from Ultimate Ears. After doing a little more research into the sound quality, I said “what the heck” and ordered them. Shipping was strangely fast for USPS and I received them early Saturday and went about putting them through their paces after watching a movie (The Hurt Locker, great film by the way).
First off, I was immediately slapped in the face by the midrange presentation. The midrange is the dominant frequency range on these IEMs by quite a bit and is very forward and aggressive. Because of this, it’s also somewhat fatiguing. I did notice a tiny bit of harshness when listening to some busy tracks. High end and treble is in many ways, similar to the midrange in that it too is quite aggressive. Treble is sharp and sparkly and pretty much devoid of harshness but it’s also somewhat edgy and fatiguing. The low end on the other hand is somewhat recessed and lacking in comparison. Bass is there and makes its presence known when it needs to but it lacks in quantity in sub-bass levels and there’s a prominent midbass hump. Texture and definition are also lacking in regards to the low end.
Upon taking them out of the box, I wasn’t wowed by the clarity of these IEMs because they sounded somewhat veiled to my ears, despite the aggressiveness of the midrange. After a few hours of listening to them with various types of music, the veil seems to have been lifted. In comparison to the RE0s, my benchmark in terms of overall sound quality and clarity, the Backbeat Pros can’t compete but they are still very clear to my ears. Soundstaging is less impressive, as it is pretty narrow but separation is good. The result of this somewhat narrow soundstage is a very intimate listening experience.
Overall, the sound signature is pretty good, if surprisingly aggressive. While the low end doesn’t impress, the quality of the mids and highs goes a long way towards making up for it. I will say that the Backbeat Pros sound a tad artificial and, in a word, clinical in comparison to my other IEMs. This may just be one of the cons of the balanced armature design and it’s not something that I consider a big turn off.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least partially impressed by the Backbeat Pros. Fit and comfort are surprisingly great and I can hardly feel the IEMs in my ears when using the standard single flange eartips. Sonic performance is good considering the current retail price, which typically hovers around $30 but honestly, I’m having more fun with my M9Ps than I am with the Backbeat Pros. In my current collection, these are in a strange position. When I’m in the mood for fun, I’m going to reach for my M9Ps and when I want to feed my inner detail freak, I’m grabbing my RE0s. These are difficult to recommend in that regard. Are they good? Certainly. But at either end of the spectrum, there are better choices. I will say that these are probably going to be better than the M9Ps for some genres due to their emphasis on the mids as opposed to the low end so my advice is to give them a trial run and see how they work for you. Who knows? You may like what you hear.