Altec Lansing is a long-standing competitor in the iPod speaker market, so it makes sense that the company now produces a variety of headphones, as well. It currently makes three sets of BackBeat earphones: the Titanium 326, Plus 206, and Classic 106. About $10 separates each, and while the BackBeat 206 earphones reviewed here list for $49.99, they can be had for a little over $30 online. Like their step-up sibling, they're a good deal at that price.
The differences between the 206 and the 326 are relatively small. The BackBeat 326 earphones have more dynamic range, with a frequency response of 10 Hz-20k Hz compared with 30 Hz-18.5 kHz for the 206. The 326 also comes with a protective carrying case and an additional set of "flange" tips for extra noise reduction. Instead of titanium drivers, the 206 earphones go with neodymium.
Aside from a reasonable price tag, the 206 earbuds have a few things going for them. With one of the three sets of included silicon tips, you'll find a snug, comfortable fit that helps block out a good amount of noise. We also liked that Altec went with cloth mesh instead of rubber/plastic to cover the 46-inch-long headphone wire. We've found that rubberized covering can end up cracking, particularly if you wear your headphones for prolonged periods outside in freezing temperatures. The one drawback to the mesh covering is that it does pick up some sound if it rubs against your clothing (you only notice it when you have the volume at a lower level or during the silence between songs). But that's a minor gripe.
We also liked that the plug is small and will fit in any recessed headphone jacks you might encounter (sorry, there's no built-in mic for making calls on you cell phone). At the same time, it's worth noting that the plug is a straight plug; we prefer the elbow variety of plug, which is more likely to hold up better over time and not short out if you accidentally bang it too many times (or drop your audio device). Again, this is a relatively small knock.
Like the step-up BackBeat 326 headphones, these earphones sound quite good, particularly for the money. They have a decent amount of bass and offer impressive detail and clarity. To hear the difference between the 206 and the 326, you'll have to have pretty good ears, but we did notice that the 326 earphones offered a touch more bass (it's harder to hear the differences in higher frequencies, especially as you get older). The bass isn't as tight as what you'd get from more expensive Shure or Etymotic earphones, but you can't expect everything for $30.
Songs like the Kings of Leon's "Sex on Fire" and "Be Somebody" from the band's "Only by Night" album didn't come across with the same clarity as a pair of $150 Shure SE210s, but there was decent oomph to the tracks and we felt that even these 206 earphones bested Bose's $99 TriPort In-ear headphones--both in terms of sound and fit.
In the final analysis, the BackBeat 206 earphones may not sound quite as good as the 326, but the difference is small, so if you're on a tight budget and want to save $10, the 206 might be your best bet. As for comparisons to Altec's Classic 106 earphones, we'd suggest paying the extra dough to get these guys. The 106 headphones are also decent for the money, but they sounded a little thin compared with either the 206 or the 326 models.