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, the Plus 206, and the Classic 106. About $10 separates each in price, and while the Backbeat 106s reviewed here list for $29.99, they can be had for around $20 online. Like their step-up siblings, we feel they offer good value for the money.
The differences between the 106s and the 206s aren't huge, but they are more significant than the disparity between the 206s and the 326s. The 106s have a frequency response of 40 Hz-17 kHz compared with 30 Hz-18.5 kHz for the 206s. But more importantly, their design is a clear step down from both the 206s and 326s. The buds themselves seem more cheaply built and they aren't as large (the overall depth is not as great). Plus, they don't feel as if they fit quite as comfortably as the 206s or 306s, though fit varies from ear to ear.
Still, with one of the three sets of included silicon tips, you should find a reasonably snug fit that helps block out a decent amount of noise. We also liked that Altec went with cloth mesh instead of rubber/plastic to cover the 46-inch long headphone wire. The material is more tangle resistant and we've found that the 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). However, 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 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.
For $20 headphones, the 106s produce good sound. The good we're talking about isn't the kind of good that blows you away (rarely do earphones or headphones at this price point make you say, "Wow"), but these guys sound as good as a lot of $30 'buds we've heard. They're just a little light on the bass compared with the 206s and 326s. For instance, songs that have heavier bass lines, like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Soft Shock" from the band's new "It's Blitz!" album, sound a little stripped down.
Nitpicks aside, if you're on a tight budget, it's hard to be disappointed by what the 106s deliver for 20 bucks. Yes, we feel more comfortable recommending the 206s and 326s, but for buyers who simply can't get Apple's hard earbuds to fit well and wants something a bit better, the 106s will seem like a nice upgrade.