Altec Lansing has a long history of making a wide range of audio equipment and has built something of a reputation for themselves as a manufacturer. In the audiophile community, particularly with the IEM subsection, they’re relatively unknown and unnoticed. Their “upgrader” line of IEMs seek to change that, offering people a number of options when looking to upgrade from the cheap stock earbuds that shipped with whatever MP3 player they may be carrying.
The Backbeat Pros are among their top-tier offerings, offering single balanced armature speakers as opposed to the traditional dynamic drivers and pledging to offer “reference quality” sonic reproduction of your favorite music. Do the Altec Lansing Backbeat Pros live up to that highly ambitious claim or do they come up short? Read on to find out.
Driver: Single Balanced Armature
Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
Impedance: 29 Ω
Sensitivity: 105 dB SPL/mW @ 1 kHz
Cable Length: 46″ 1.2m
Isolation: 26 dB
Packaging and Accessories
The packaging is quite average for a pair of IEMs in this price range. It doesn’t lack in any one area but doesn’t scream out at you either. The only thing that disappoints me is the accessory package. In the box alongside the IEMs themselves are four pairs of silicone ear tips in small, medium and large sizes and a pair of small bi-flanges and a soft clamshell carrying case embossed with the Altec Lansing logo. That’s it. This might be acceptable at the price range if there weren’t IEMs like the M9s on the market which come with many more accessories for a lower price.
The housings are made entirely of plastic and have a slightly rubberized or soft touch finish. They don’t feel brittle or weak in the least, quite the contrary, despite their plastic build, they actually feel quite durable. The cable boasts a soft and rubbery translucent coating over silver, braided wiring. This cable design immediately draws some comparison to the M9P IEMs which have a similar design. Honestly, the M9P’s cable actually feels sturdier and is less microphonic to my ears. The angled L-plug seems to be very sturdy and is properly relieved. The only real areas of concern are the strain reliefs on the cable entry into the housings, which are very short but even then, they don’t seem as though they’d be a very big problem in the long term.
Ultimately, the prime judge of confidence in the durability of a pair of IEMs for me is whether or not I’d feel comfortable carrying these around without a pocket without a case to protect them and honestly, I wouldn’t feel too worried about doing just that. The cables are soft and pliable while still feeling quite durable and the housings feel as though they could take a good amount of everyday abuse over a long period of time.
Comfort and Fit
Using the smallest single flange ear tips, I was able to achieve a comfortable seal. These are ported at the rear but isolation didn’t seem to suffer and in fact isolate better than my RE0s and M9Ps. The housings are very light and are very comfortable to wear for long periods of time. Altec Lansing’s single flange silicone ear tips differ from the norm in that they’re slightly tapered towards the back, where the ear tips fasten on the nozzle and likely as a result; these are among the most solid sealing and isolating IEMs I’ve used.
What immediately strikes me about these IEMs is their forward mids. The midrange is thoroughly dominant and is the best frequency range in terms of clarity and overall quality. Vocals and stringed instruments come through loud and clear but with a hint of artificiality. The low end is very punchy and reasonably fast but is also rather boomy. Sub-bass extension is somewhat lacking, and they start to roll off past 100 Hz but there’s a strange peak at about 40 Hz. I stated in my review that the low end wasn’t very pronounced and my opinion hasn’t changed in that regard but I have noticed how smooth it is and that it is lacking in terms of detail. Highs are well detailed and crisp without being fatiguing but treble extension leaves a bit to be desired, as these roll off pretty quickly after 14 kHz or so.
The soundstage and imaging are decent all around. While the soundstage sounds pretty narrow and a little bit congested, the end result is an intimate listening experience. The narrow soundstage does cut down on the ability to detect where different instruments are positioned within the pseudo-studio in your head so imaging suffers overall but not so much so that it significantly impairs the experience.
Across the frequency spectrum, I couldn’t help but notice that they sound quite soft and veiled despite their forward mids and slightly aggressive presentation. These are pretty forward sounding IEMs but as in your face as they seem to be they don’t seem like they’re trying to get your attention. Instead, they’re merely staring at you. You can’t help but notice that they’re so up front but they aren’t slapping you in the face. Clinical is how I described them in my initial impressions and that hasn’t changed. Overall, the sound signature is somewhat cold and fairly revealing but they’re not what I’d call analytical. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just different. While there are a few flaws in the sonic presentation, there isn’t anything these do horribly wrong.
These are middle-of the road IEMs to my ears. Sound quality is above average for the price as these do a decent job at resolving detailed source material. These aren’t the most dynamic or exciting IEMs on the market and are rather cold and clinical sounding on the sound spectrum. Currently, these can be found for around $30 – $40 at many online retailers such as Amazon and eBay. At that price, these aren’t a bad choice. Personally, I’d rather listen to my MEElectronics M9P IEMs over these because they boast a very “fun” sounding sound signature while boasting enough detail throughout the sonic spectrum to satisfy my inner detail freak. For those of you who are looking for a bass light and mid-centric pair of IEMs, these are a great choice for the price. While they don’t quite live up to Altec Lansing’s claim of providing “reference quality” sound but what they do; they do pretty well for the price.