28 January 2009

Headphone Reviews II: JBL Reference 220

I am going to first point you to another review of the JBL Reference 220 canalphones, which has good pictures and discussion of the "system" part of this "earphone system." The "system" is basically just several ways provided to the user for hanging them on your head or sticking them in your ears. That I do not care about so much, though the included semi-hard case I do like.

I bought these 'phones off ePrey as refurbs from the JBL outlet store for $20 ($79 retail). They have great cloth-covered cables and are of quality build, even if still plastic (not a bad thing, for weight). They are of an unusual (for earphones) open-back design, which may let out some sound, but generally makes the audio less canned or boxy. Although they came with four sets of tips, I just threw on an old set of Skullcandy silicones that fit fine. They have standard "large" apertures common to a lot of earphones (Creative EP-630s, etc.), so many other tips will work with them.

My 220s are black, but they also come in white and, in fact, are sold on Apple's online store.

Now, if you bothered to look at that review above, ignore the reviewer's comments on the sound. He either got very different 'phones or has very different ears. These are NOT bass heavy phones. They are in fact quite neutral, though perhaps a bit warm (warmth=non-harshness). Each 'phone uses a single, active driver of unknown size, but frequency response is just 20Hz–20kHz, which is pretty shallow on the bass. But I think they sound very much like my audiophile-grade Grado SR-60s. They do not have that scooped rock sound so many phones have, but their neutrality is a real plus in terms of versatility. They're parked on my Touch right now, because while they are not the ultimate phones for any one thing, they do sound good with just about everything. The only thing I miss is that they do not have a left-ear bump on the left 'phone, so that you can identify it by touch, something both my JVCs and my Denons have and which I have come to regard as essential. (My Skullcandy's didn't even label the L and R 'phones, as if it does not matter . . .)

So, would these 'phones be worth the $80 retail price? That's not high-end spendy, but it's more than my Grados cost. Yes, they are good, but I'm not sure they're that good. But for $20, they are brilliant.

No comments: