Philips O'Neill Stretch headphones
Tuesday, 08 November 2011
The Stretch headphones in particular are made from TR55LX, a material with a surface hardness six times greater than Polycarbonate, so they should certainly be tough. Despite that, the ear cups are soft and big enough to comfortably enclose my ears for a fair amount of sound isolation. Thanks to the construction, with a stretchable inner band, they adjust to fit your head each time you put them on. I really like the slim, chromes connector plug, too – I don’t appreciate big clunky plastic ones.
Another feature is a cord that plugs into a short cord near the left ear – how many skateboarders (and general music lovers) have snagged the cord to have it break at this point? (I have.)
They look OK, at least the white ones do (as tested), but the black and red ones are simply gorgeous, although it must be noted that’s my favourite colour scheme for – well, everything. And the cord is like an old-style power cord for an iron, with a weave over it that’s supposed to help it to stay tangle free.
They’re also light and comfortable – I could imagine wearing these happily for hours on a plane, for example.
Sounds — A big 40mm driver for each ear promises a comprehensive sound stage, as does the frequency range of 12Hz to 24KHz – most ’phones cover only 20Hz-22KHz, so these can field both lower and higher sounds. As usual I compared them to my old Sennheisers – these new Philips ’phones have a great frequency response but despite that, the Sennheisers sound a little clearer, with more definition, in the upper mid range.
However, the Stretch win with a deep and meaningful bass. With Anner Bylsma’s cello, definition was still clear, with good detail and the slap of the bow onto the stings – and indeed, the cellist’s intakes of breath – all clearly audible. There is no distortion at all, just breathy ambience and resonance.
Captain Beefheart’s Tropical Hotdog Night is a good test – when the full music comes in after a few seconds, lesser phones crumble and you can hear distortion. No distortion here – and Don Van Vliet’s voice could reputedly break glass, even unamplified. Despite massive volume the marimbas clearly tinkle away through the moving weave of many instruments. Bass is warm and almost sober by comparison to lesser units.
The 256kbps copy of the same song is considerably more detailed, justifying the better resolution version for audiophiles.
Zoe Keating’s Walking Man next – bouncing, thrumming and jumping. Keating is a cellist who uses a MacBook Pro and some smart programming to play up to 16 cellos on one track – via looping – by playing just one. Her music is interesting, combining great playing with Apple technology. Any loss of definition in the bass overtones of her instrument layers would show – but no, and good dynamics are supported at all volumes.
Alanis Morisette made a doozy of an audio test with her seething You Oughta Know. I’ve never heard the opening bass passage quite like this – it has real menace to it’s throaty burble. The drums in the middle ‘woo woo bit’ are warm and engaging, and when it all rams back in after that (around the three minute mark) there’s no distortion at all. I’ve lost several speakers, earbuds and headphones at this point, which is why it’s a good test.
The bass sounds fuzzier in these than in my Sennheisers, but that’s probably because the Stretch drivers deliver more down low. And I like that a lot.
The Suit by Public Image Ltd has a real massive wobbly bass all the way through, by one Jah Wobble, no less. At full volume, the Stretch phones actually shake on your head like a set of sub woofers, but I couldn’t maintain that volume for long. Despite that, all the other instrumentation (synth, drums, guitar and voice) all comes through clearly. In fact, there are elements audible in the percussion I never noticed before, and I’ve loved this song since it was released three decades ago, so that was a surprise.
In my reference tried and trusty Sennheiser ExpressionLine HD 320s, there’s a little more ‘boof’ but less detail to the bass end in the percussion, and the stage sounds a bit deeper, but all in all, these Stretch phones give them a good run for the money.
Conclusion — Excellent, strong and attractive headphones. In this price range you might possibly find better sound quality, but combined with tougher-than-most headphones, the sound is right up there.
What’s great — Warm and big bass with excellent definition through the frequencies; comfortable and light; excellent cord design
What’s not — Well, if I was going to buy them, I’d go for the black and red ones.
Needs — An active person who really likes big music.
What — Philips O’Neill Stretch headphones, RRP $169.95.
System — Neodymium drivers with CCAW voice coils, dynamic 40mm Mylar dome speakers, frequency response: 12-24,000Hz; impedance 32 ohms; maximum power input 50mW; sensitivity: 105dB