29 January 2009

Headphone Reviews III: Denon AH-C551K

Of the three IEMs I'm reviewing here, these are the top dogs. When 'phones start hitting a Benjamin at retail, you are generally headed for real head-fi territory. I bought my Denon AH-C551Ks used for $40 off of Amazon Marketplace ($99 retail), and they look and sound every cent of the asking price.

Denon is a top audio brand, though new to the headphone market. These are upper-middle in their IEM range. They have large 11mm active drivers in hard-coated aluminum housings with a frequency range of 15Hz-24kHz. They are semi-open in design, using what Denon calls "Accoustic Optimizer" technology. And yes, they have that most essential feature, the left-ear bump.

Their sound is scooped with truly, gloriously thumpin' bass. Or maybe it is not scooped so much as the bass is just very prominent. I have a set of beyerdynamic DT770 full-size headphones that are supposed to be real bass cannons. These little monsters shame them. But, the bass is clear and punchy, as is the rest of the spectrum. Unlike my JBLs and JVCs, they sound hi-fi from top to bottom. But with a whole lot of bottom. I can listen to about anything with them and not be dissatisfied, but they do have their own sound. Not everyone would like their sound with every kind of music. But with hard rock, they crush.

Aside from their bass-biased sound, I have three small dislikes. They come with a two-piece cable, a 20” base cable with a 31” extension. This is great if you use them with an armband player, but that is not my primary use. So I'd be happier with a single cable. The two-piece cable also adds to the already substantial weight of the aluminum housings. They are they first 'phones I've had with noticeable weight, though not really uncomfortable. But lighter would be better. Finally, the ear tips that are supplied with them are lousy. They don't fit my ears, or (it seems from reviews) most other human ears. Easily fixed, though, with some good-but-cheap double-flanged silicone tips off the 'Bay.

If I had a do-over, would I still get them? Maybe not. I'd probably save my coin and go for some Etymotic Research IEMs, even though twice the price. These Denons are good, very good, but not quite head-fi nirvana.

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