Dan likes to tease me that when we’re together working, he never sees me wearing headphones; he says he just doesn’t see me as the type person to wear them. Well Dan, I may use them differently than you do, but I most definitely do wear headphones. These days the Harman Kardon Soho headphones are my favorites; here’s why …
Any time I am listening to music privately, I always prefer to use on- or over-ear headphones rather than in-ear headphones. I’m sure that this stems from a combination of several factors including my dislike for jamming rubber tips into my ear canals, never feeling like a I have a really good and secure fit with in-ear headphones, and a general squeamishness at the idea of stray earwax being on those rubber tips.
The headphones I’ve used most recently and liked best include Monster’s Inspiration noise canceling headphones, Phiaton’s Bridge MS500 headphones, V-Moda’s CrossFade M100 headphones, and Harman Kardon’s Wireless Over-Ear headphones. All of these headphones have their own special features and sound signatures, and each is basically a solid pair of headphones. But because they are each so solidly made, their weight will start to get to me the longer I wear any of them; within a few hours my ears and sometimes my head will begin to ache. First world problems, right?
Dan and I had a chance to visit with Harman Kardon while we were at CES. As they gave us a tour of their booth, I couldn’t help but be drawn to their display of black, brown, and white Soho On-Ear Mini Headphones. With the rectangular earpiece style I first experienced on the Harman Kardon Wireless Over-Ear Headphones (it’s also used on their NC Noise Canceling Headphones), the Soho Mini Headphones are immediately recognizable as Harman Kardon.
Opening the Soho’s packaging is an excellent experience, because the first thing you’ll notice is how compact everything is, and then you’ll take in how lovely the stitched leather and stainless steel components are next to each other. Next you’ll realize that these headphones are laying absolutely flat, and they don’t take up much room at all. Compared to the headphones I am used to traveling with (when I even bother to do so), the Soho case is tiny! Measuring approximately just 6.5″ long x 5″ wide x 1.5″ thick, this is a travel case that can fit into just about any carryon, laptop bag or gear bag.
To address Dan’s point about how he hardly ever sees me with headphones; the reason for that is simple: because I always have to travel anytime we get together, I generally prefer to go without rather than figure out how to pack a large and unwieldy set of headphones in their equally as bunglesome storage case. Now I won’t have to even think about it; the Harman Kardon Sohos will easily pack.
Included in the box are the Soho headphones; mine are brown, but they also available in white or black. There is a matching plastic carrying case, a straight cable, and (if you buy the iOS compatible version) a cable with a three-button iOS capable remote.
The Soho headphones aren’t heavy, yet they look and feel quite solid; the hinges spring tightly into place, and the headphones align into their proper position with a couple of quick twists. The brushed stainless steel parts look gorgeous next to the leather head strap, and the way the metal wraps around the rectangular ear cups looks classy and tasteful.
The Soho headphones ship without a cable attached, and you have the option of using the straight cable or the cable with the remote controls. In order to install your chosen cable, you’ll need to pop off the cloth-covered earpiece covers, which are held in place with magnets. I love this method, as you can’t mess anything up — after you insert the 3.5mm angled cable into the headphone jack in each earpiece (each cable is marked with either R or L so you don’t get your channels crossed), press it into the groove, and then the earpiece cover snaps back into place only if you have the magnets properly aligned.
I have the Soho-I version, so the following illustration shows my in-line remote options; for the most part, these functions are easy to figure out, and using them becomes second nature quite quickly. The only issue that I’m having is that the volume controls don’t seem to work on my remote. Answering phone calls, pausing and starting songs, advancing to the next or backing to the previous songs works perfectly, so it’s not that big of a deal for me to adjust the volume on my phone.
The Soho-A, or non iOS version in-line remote cable actually looks the same, but it doesn’t have quite as much functionality.
Unlike the HK Wireless Over-Ear Headphones I own, which require swapping out a leather head strap to ensure the proper fit, adjusting the Soho’s head band is a simple matter of extending the metal arms into or out of the head strap. There are three positions on each side, so you are bound to be able to make them fit comfortably.
I wasn’t sure how well the Sohos would perform for me since my other headphones all have such larger ear cups. On the one hand, having a larger ear cup makes it much easier for the headphones to block out background noise even when they aren’t necessarily made to be noise cancelling, but as I mentioned earlier, I’ve had issues with headphones that used larger cups starting to hurt my ears the longer they were worn. Since I’ve started using the Soho headphones, I haven’t had any issues with sore ears; that’s a huge point in their favor.
I like the way they do muffle background noise, but they don’t completely isolate me; if someone speaks to me, unless music is really cranking, I will hear them.
Which brings me to how music sounds through the Soho headphones. My musical tastes are all over the map, and my “Write to This” playlist reflects that. Out of the box I noticed that the Sohos were a bit more bass-heavy than I expected them to be, and there were certain songs — Alicia Key’s Karma for instance — where the bass seemed to bleed into the mid-range and the sound became a bit muddy; I got the same undesirable results on Alt-J’s Tessellate. It’s funny how adjusting your iTunes equalizer will solve that problem, though; I changed the settings to “Acoustic”, and suddenly everything sounded much better.
Snow Patrol’s Starfighter and Spoon’s Nobody Gets Me But You are both songs which combine heavy-driving bass with pulsing synthesizers and vocals, and if any songs were candidates for a confused and muddy mid-range, they would be it. But after the equalizer adjustments, both songs sounded fab. Songs that generally sound muddy anyway, like Soul Coughing’s Misinformed, Tears for Fears The Hurting, and The Toadies Possum Kingdom all sounded surprisingly clear over the Sohos; go figure.
Beat heavy dance songs like Gorillaz Dare, LCD Soundsystem’s Home, and Daddy’s Love in the Old Days (Kolor Kult Remix) were crisp; bass thumped, but vocals were clear and the mid-range instruments were all properly represented. Songs like Stone Temple Pilot’s Big Easy, Dave Matthew’s Angel, Keane’s Atlantic, and Depeche Mode’s World In My Eyes all sounded positively lush and full — as they should.
So let’s see … the Harman Kardon Soho headphones look fashionable, they are extremely comfortable, and they sound good; that makes them a no-brainer in my book; I’ve been using them all the time.
If you have been looking for on-ear headphones that don’t feel like they were made for someone with a giant head and that won’t start to hurt you after you’ve been wearing them for a few hours, the Harman Kardon Soho headphones definitely deserve a look.
Harman Kardon Soho Earphones are available directly from the manufacturer and from other retailers.
What I Like: Compact size; lovely to look at; not too weighty; they don’t hurt my ears (I can wear them all day); excellent sound; while they do block out some background noise, they don’t completely isolate me when wearing them; perfect for travel
What Needs Improvement: The cable is not tangle-free; may be too tight for those with larger heads
Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample