Hub mini-test

Movie-quality headphones

There’s no surround sound and no subwoofer, but Dan Griliopoulos says no movie buff can manage without a set of zirconium-encrusted headphones.

Beloved as our surround sound speakers are, we’ve found after extensive tests with the local weight lifting club, and one-man-band association that it’s simply not possible to lug six satellites and a sub with you everywhere you go. SO you need headphones.

The headphones you’re looking for depend on the function you want them for. For example, Counterstrike pro-gamers will need headsets with high acuity (for detecting directional sounds easily) and noise-cancelling mikes, while a music maker will need the top-end pure-sound wraparound headphones for audio mixing. The subjects in this month’s test are intended primarily for DVD-playback, on laptops or mobile media centres.

Just like with speakers, what you look for in a set of headphones is both quality, and the feel of quality. Headphones that don’t feel robust aren’t going to survive the rigours of travel; headphones with a low weight have often sacrificed the heavier, more expensive, components that produce a richer sound in favour of lighter ones (though this isn’t always the case.)

RP-HC100

£48 Panasonic

For the frequent flyer, noise-cancelling headphones are heaven-sent. Their instant ability to counteract any noise, while maintaining the same level of sound, is a blessing for travellers of all sorts.

This Panasonic set are sadly disappointing however. The finish is fine, a glossy black 70s design with gold detailing, and their ability to fold away is groovy, as is the supplied bag to tuck them away into. But unlike other fold-aways they feel somewhat flimsy, though they are undoubtedly lighter than most noise cancellers. The ear-clasps, though undoubtedly intended to be wraparound, sit on the rims of our hardly elephantine ears leaving them not entirely cosy

Their bass sound is well-formed, if a little muffled, as is the mid-range, and the high frequencies are incisive, even under the influence of the noise-cancelling, which is rare. The battery life on these looks good at fifty hours, and of course the headphones continue to operate beyond these

PMX60

£18 Sennheiser

First appearances can be deceptive. With the PMX60s, one might think that they’re the cheapest set here – and indeed they are; but only in appearance, looking like the wraparound headphones you get bundled with your MP3 player. Give them a try and they have a sound as good as something three of four times their price, with crisp basses and an astounding ability to not distort at louder volumes; they’re not perfect for rap, but anything with a degree of musical complexity benefits from being heard on these. They’re also not the most comfortable of the sets on test, but they’re not enormously irritating. The only major problem of the PMX60s is that the back-of-the-head wraparound design means they don’t sit quite square on your ear, so leak a lot of sound to your surroundings. If we gave value awards, this set would get it.

PX100

£30 Sennheiser

The best headphones on test look plain, more like cheap 80s tape headphones than award-winning earpieces; and with the PMX60s above one might think Sennheiser had a self-image problem; yet take some vinyl or DVDs for a spin on the PX100s, and you’ll see why they’re so valuable.

First off they’re portable, and come with a tiny hermit-crab carry case, which they retreat into quickly and easily. Though we didn’t really have the inclination to break-test them, they also seem rather gristly and tough.

The sound response is nigh-perfect as well, with excellent volume though a finicky sort might consider the high-end a little off. Granted the connector isn’t gold-plated like the Triports, and granted they don’t come with a selection of connector options like the Sony (it’s audio jack or nothing), but their sheer comfort and great sound overrules all that.

//gold award//

Triport

£120 Bose

Despite the fact that these headphones aren’t advertised as such, they have better noise-cancelling properties than most of the sets available. This is surely due to Bose’s heritage in this area, having practically invented the technology and having a better grasp of it than anyone else. The enclosing earphones are comfortable, and the flexible frame feels robust; these should weather travel very well, despite their lack of portability.

The bass sound is brusque and detailed, with the best midrange on test and the overall sound makes these a winner. It’s unfortunate they aren’t more portable and don’t foldaway, but these are more serious headphones than the others on test. The only thing that impedes them getting a better score is the price; for this, you could get four sets of PX100s for the price, with only a small drop in sound quality.

RF875RRK

£113.99 Sony

Ask who are the acknowledged king and queen of accessories and the answer’s always the same. No-one can quite reach the levels of refined expensive-looking tackiness like Sony. This particular set look like a whore’s hubcaps or like a cheap cyberman fancy dress, all spangly silver and fluted plastic bands, but then that might appeal to some… They’re also very heavy, meaning a typical turkey-necked computer user suffers somewhat, though the comfort makes up for it.

The separate charger/transmitter unit requires a separate plug socket, so this isn’t as mobile as the competitors here, except in one way; the wirelessness. This allows you to move up to 100m on open ground, though we found that the range limit was about 50m through a single wall. The sound stays clean and clear all the way to the range limit, and actually is one for the best performers on test, with plush mid-range sounds and a crisp bass (though the price level would require this.) Unfortunately, the high-end suffers from the tendency of the noise cancelling units to let high-frequency noise through, in particular an irritating hiss.

//Details Column//

//head//

Light Lug-gauge

A measure of the aural impact of each set.

Title

Panasonic RPHC100

Foldaway – yes

Frequency response 8Hz-22kHz

Sensitivity: 102 dB/1mW

Impedance: 350 ohms

Battery life: fifty hours

Noise cancelling – yes

Wireless – no

Style: wraparound (top)

www.panasonic.co.uk

4 /5

Sennheiser PMX60

Foldaway – no

Frequency response 18Hz – 21KHz

Sensitivity: 122dB

Impedance: 24 ohms

Battery life – N/A

Noise cancelling – no

Wireless – no

Style: wraparound (back)

www.sennheiser.co.uk

4/5

Sennheiser PX100

Foldaway – yes

Frequency response 15Hz – 27kHz

Sensitivity: 114dB

Impedance: 32 ohm

Battery life: N/A

Noise cancelling – no

Wireless – no

Style: Wraparound – top

www.sennheiser.co.uk

5/5

Gold award

Bose Triport

Foldaway – no

Frequency response:

Sensitivity: 97dB/1mW

Impedance: 32 ohms

Battery life: N/A

Noise cancelling: no

Wireless – no

Style: wraparound – top

www

4 ½ /5

Sony RF875RRK

Foldaway: no

Frequency response: 18Hz-22KHz

Sensitivity: 105 dB/mW

Impedance: 24 ohms

Battery life: 25 hours (built-in)

Noise cancelling

Wireless – yes

Style: closed

www.sony.co.uk

3 ½ /5

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