Harman Kardon CL On-Ear Headphones

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Judie recently reviewed the Harman Kardon SOHO on-ear headphones. She was impressed. These on-ear headphones are, to a certain degree, an update and replacement for the Harman Kardon CL on-ear headphones. The CLs aren’t a new product but they still offer terrific comfort and great sound. And these $199 headphones can be found at a steep discount here on Amazon.

I have to admit I came into the review of the HK CLs positively inclined toward the product.After all, the other HK headphones I have reviewed have consistently impressed me and one of the is a pair of headphones I use on a regular basis. Considering the sheer number of headphones from which I am fortunate enough to choose that says quite a bit. Fortunately these headphones lived up to my expectation- high as they were.

The Harman Kardon CL headphones offer high-tech performance wrapped in an elegant package and interface. With its blend of sandblasted steel and black matte housings, the CLs’ design and function complement Apple products while reinforcing the sophisticated elegance of the Harman Kardon brand.

In the box you will find

  • The Harman Kardon CL headphones
  • Two user-exchangeable headbands (small, large)
  • A 4′ 7″ (1.4m) cable
  • A premium carrying case
  • An owner’s manual
  • A warranty card

Harman Kardon CL On-Ear Headphones Video Look

The headphones have high-performance 4mm drivers that produce a frequency response of 16Hz – 20kHz. The result is a natural tone that promises to impress. As HK puts it, “The wide dynamic range reproduces music with realism.” In order to help make this happen Harman Kardon built a unique baffle into the design. This is said to create air flow that extends low frequencies and “provide better bass response than other headphones in their class.” I don’t know if it is in fact “better bass response than other headphones in their class” but I will say that these headphones had plenty of bass without feeling like they were trying too hard the way, for example, many Beats headphones do. Said a different way, these headphones aren’t for bass-heads but they do offer plenty of sound and enough bass when it is called for.

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After listening to the headphones for a few days I went to the Harman Kardon website and the Harman Kardon CL on-ear headphones product page to see how the company describes their product. Two pieces of the description stood out.

Bass tube: CL headphones incorporate a bass tube that functions like a tuned bass port. It boosts bass performance and helps the headphones produce exceptional bass response at any volume level.

Sonic clarity and accuracy even at low volume levels: The CLs’ acoustic engineering and passive noise reduction mean that you can hear music and other audio content clearly at low volume levels. So you can enjoy all the music definition without all the volume – and that’s safer for your ears.

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As if it wasn’t clear enough from the design of the headphones themselves this approach to the sonic nature of the Harman Kardon CL headphones reinforces the fact that these weren’t designed for kids who listen to booming rap music. I have no doubt they would hold their own with rap but they were designed for more mature and refined taste. They certainly deliver. The sound offered up by these on-ear headphones impresses me with pretty much every style of music.

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Speaking of design, the Harman Kardon CL on-ear headphones take the same design approach as the Harman Kardon BTs we reviewed two years ago and the Harman Kardon NC noise canceling headphones I reviewed last year and continue to use whenever I have a trip. They have a metal band as the main structural element of the headphones with a spring loaded leather band suspended below it. The first time I saw this design in person I was taken a bit aback. In a word it is a bit…. odd… but it works great! The rigid metal band helps the headphones feel substantial without being bulky or overly heavy and the spring loaded band suspended beneath it lets the headphones sit comfortably on your head. The CLs shipped with the smaller of the two included bands installed. It fit well enough although I found the headphones even more comfortable once I swapped in the larger of the bands.

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The same degree of thought was put into the joint between the headband and the ear cups as well as the ear pads. This is particularly important with on-ear headphones since the design obviously requires the headphones put pressure directly on the ears of those wearing them. If there is too much pressure the headphones will quickly become uncomfortable. If there isn’t enough pressure the headphones will not sound as good as they can. And if the ear cups don’t move freely enough the discomfort of wearing them will quickly become apparent.

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HK designed the CL headphones with all of this in mind.

The rugged steel hinges connecting the CL’s housings to its headband enable the housings to swivel in two dimensions. This structure maintains an ideal fit and acoustic seal on the ear, enhancing comfort and maximizing the rejection of outside noise for superior sound.


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The pads on the CL headphones feature a soft, protein leather that rests comfortably on the ear for a luxurious feel. If necessary, you can remove the pads to clean or replace them. When attached to the housings, the pads are secured with industrial-strength magnets and PORON foam.

Another factor contributing to the CL headphones’ excellent passive noise reduction and extended bass response is the slow-retention foam in the ear pads. The premium foam helps maintains an acoustic seal on the ear, which keeps outside noises out and also keeps the listener’s music from disturbing others.

I like the Harman Kardon CL headphones a great deal. They are not, however, perfect. I like the fact that the included cable is detachable and includes an Apple three-button remote with built-in microphone but I hate the fact that, once again, HK opted to use a 3.5mm to 2.5mm rather than a 3.5mm to 3.5mm standard cable. A huge deal? No but it does annoy me. I like the fact that the CL ear cups fold flat when they’re not in use. This certainly makes packing and carrying the headphones easier but they would be even easier to pack and transport if they actually folded into themselves the way other headphones do. A huge deal? No but I do see this as a missed opportunity.

You can learn more here. Get them for under $100 through our Amazon Affiliate Store by clicking here.

MSRP: $199

What I Like: Comfortable; Sound excellent; Built to last even with serious use; In-line Apple controller; Available at a huge discount

What Needs Improvement: 3.5mm to 2.5mm cable; Cable only attaches on one side; Fold flat but not particularly smaller; “Deck of cards” design is not for everyone

Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample of the Harman Kardon CL on-ear headphones

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About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.