Altec Lansing BackBeat Pro UHP606
Altec Lansing currently makes four sets of BackBeat earphones: the Classic 106, Plus 206, Titanium 326, and the latest addition to the line, the Pro UHP606. All are designed to offer good bang for the buck and the Pros tout "musician-grade reference-quality sound" for far less than more expensive earphones from the likes of Etymotic, Monster, and Shure that promise the same thing. While they don't quite deliver in that area, the BackBeat Pro earphones are a good value overall.
The Pros are a little bit different than their Backbeat siblings. For starters, they have thinner cables and, while the wires appear to be cloth-covered, they're also insulated with a layer of translucent plastic tubing. That's worth noting because one of our gripes with the mesh-only covering of the other BackBeat earphones is that the cloth picks up some sound if it rubs against your clothing. The Pros' cable design alleviates that problem, but in the long run, that plastic covering can end up cracking, particularly if you wear your headphones for prolonged periods outside in freezing temperatures. Still, the combo of plastic and cloth on the wires seems to be a step up in terms of durability--always a plus.
The BackBeat Pros also feature an elbow-shaped plug, which is likely to hold up better over time and not short out if you accidentally bang it too many times (or drop your audio device). In addition, the package includes a simple neoprene carrying case for storing and protecting the earphones when not in use.
Those aren't the only things the Pros have going for them. With one of the four sets of included silicon ear tips, you should find a snug, comfortable fit that helps block out a good amount of noise. (That said, this reviewer prefers foam ear tips and those aren't included with these earphones.) These guys do have to be pushed in pretty firmly to get that tight seal on your ear, so if you're someone who doesn't like the feel of having an ear tip jammed into your ear, these probably aren't for you.
But enough about design--let's get on to the sound test and that alleged musician-grade reference-quality sound that Altec says comes courtesy of a "balanced-armature" speaker. (The specs say they have a frequency response of 20Hz-20KHz, which is the standard.) Alas, the Pros just don't quite deliver on Altec's promise, but they do sound decent. They provide more clarity than the Titanium 326s and have tighter bass, but they are pretty aggressive earphones. As some might say, they're in your face--they come right at you (in other words, they're the opposite of warm and balanced). That's going to be appealing to some users, but this reviewer did experience some listening fatigue after wearing them for about 25 minutes on the subway ride in to work.
As for achieving reference-quality status, we put them up against the Etymotic Hf5s and the Monster Turbines and the Pros were not in the same league. Granted, those other earphones cost close to $150, but that's the price point where you just start to get into musician-grade reference-quality sound.
The long and short of it is that Altec probably over-promised a bit with the Pros. However, they still offer decent bang for the buck and fit in nicely with the rest of the BackBeat line. At around $80, they're no homerun, but are a solid double.