It would take some particularly good in-ear buds to make me pick them instead of over-head headphones – normally I find them uncomfortable, I fret about what damage they’re doing to my hearing, and they fall out. But Denon’s new AH-C560R phones (catchy name, guys) have come as close as any to convincing me. As you’d expect from a company so experienced in producing top-end audio gear, the sound quality is immaculate – broad, rounded and crisp, the opposite of the tinniness you get with so many cheap in-ear headphones. They’re ergonomically designed to fit snugly into the ear hole (the bud points off at an angle from the main housing) and, as well as different sizes of rubber tips, there’s a soft foam option that I found the most comfortable solution. Crucially, the cable includes a tiny remote control panel for iPad and iPhone users to shuffle through tracks and change the volume, plus a microphone for recording voice memos.
SENNHEISER PXC 450 £188
Sennheiser’s PXC 450 is the latest in their PXC travel range and features Sennheiser’s longstanding “Noisegard” technology, which was originally developed for use by pilots in loud cockpits. As such, the headphones offer listeners excellent noise cancelling to the point where you feel a little like you are underwater. But Sennheiser has also included a nifty trick: a “TalkThrough” button that pauses your iPod and brings voices into hearing with crystal clarity and without the background noise (perfect for eavesdropping at a distance). Most importantly, however, the headphones also deliver fantastic sound quality, bringing out the gritty textures of voices and a rounded bass that nonetheless avoids obscuring the intricacies of the mid and upper tones. The only downside to this model is that the earpieces seem to be angled outwards a little, which means they don’t fit firmly around one’s ears. Luckily, the earpads’ soft padding and spacious size nonetheless make them easy to fall asleep in.
BEST OF THE REST:
AUDIO TECHNICA ATH ANC1 £80
These travel headphones from Audio Technica are about as compact as you’ll get for an over-the-head headphone as they fold into a small ball. They don’t enclose the ear but fit neatly onto it and come with an active noise-cancelling feature. It’s powered by a battery housed in a control module that clips to your clothes. www.hifihead-
BOSE ON ear £90
While these headphones lack active noise-cancelling, the strong grip of the leatherette ear cups does help to block out a significant proportion of background noise. The main benefit of Bose’s On Ear model is its portability: at only 150 grammes the headphones are light and compact, offering listeners good sound quality as well as a comfortable fit.
BREO DE JANEIRO £65
This stylish pair of headphones from Breo features closed cups padded with exceptionally soft foam under that swanky orange exterior. They deliver a thundering base as well as clear mid and upper tones. If you don’t fancy the orange/black style, they’re also available in tropical yellow/black or a more staid black/grey. www.breo.com
CASIO EX-H15 £223
From its shiny pink cover to its sparkle graphic on “make-up mode”, the Casio EX-H15 screams tacky tween and, in that respect, it doesn’t disappoint. Its flagship feature is “make-up mode”, which promises to airbrush subjects for “beautiful portraits”.
Amazingly, it does seem to do something, though it isn’t quite clear what. Subjects photographed in this mode did seem to have their skin made vaguely smoother with less distinct blemishes, but the whole effect was mostly just a little odd, like something that came out of the Cosmo Photoshop lab halfway through. Its other interesting feature is a “dynamic photo” mode, which attempts to cut out moving objects from their background and produce a cartoon strip of action shots. The problem is, it doesn’t quite work. It zeroes in on the object roughly, but can’t seem to avoid cutting off fingers and mug handles. Still, the function is a vaguely interesting echo of a technology that might one day be very impressive. Otherwise, it nonetheless serves extremely well as a compact digital camera with a 10x optical zoom and resolution up to 14.1 megapixels. In all, it would either make a pricey present for a rather silly teenager or a practical gift for someone in need of a high-quality camera.