Headphone Review: Denon AH-C551

My Etymotic ER6i’s just bit it. I don’t know whether I stressed the cable with my party-hard lifestyle, or whether it’s the manufacturer’s fault, but the right bud only plays at about half-volume, and the left only gives me a tinny buzz. For what it’s worth, when they worked, they sounded good, but not so good I’d pay the extra 100% or so they charge for them in Japan.

So I needed new phones. Train rides are pretty boring without a soundtrack, and I had an iPod full of my newly discovered favorite band, Futurecop! I went to Bic camera, where you can try out any, and I mean any, headphones they sell, from dinky $20 JVC ones up to $1000 Grados (Eargasm!). Some let you connect them to your own music player, which is cool, but even better are the ones that connect them all to the same sound source simultaneously, so you can do A/B testing.

I went through phones from Sennheiser, Sony, Shure, Klipsch, and Audio Technica before I found these guys. The Sony and Sennheiser phones were bassy and dancy but had some sibilance issues and no warmth for jazz and acoustic tracks, and the others were either a little too flat, lacking bass, or just too expensive for me. I don’t need phones that make everything sound like a dancehall, but I like them tuned a little on the rocking side of life. When you get down to it, though, I think the $50-$100 price point is a really sweet spot for earbuds, where almost anything you get is going to be twice as good as the ones that came with your mp3 player, and not lacking much compared to other headphones in the manufacturers’ line. I probably could have bought any of the ones I tried and been perfectly satisfied.

These Denon AH-C551’s, though, felt right, so I went for them. The bass is big, but they added an open bass port (that hole on the back) that cleans it up, and as for the rest of the sound spectrum, does classy but not dull make sense? Rock and dance tracks pop out just fine, but there’s no annoying edginess on tracks that are meant to be listened to flat.

Denon-ah-c551-1
Denon-ah-c551-2

Are they as good as my passed-away Etymotics? I think my perception of those phones is probably colored by the way their sound quality decayed over the last few weeks, but I was pretty blown away when I first got them, and I think they kept the highs cleaner than the Denons. On the other hand, they cost a good deal more than these (MSRP on the Denons is $99, but you usually pay around half that), and the bass wasn’t near as present. Also, they broke, so screw ‘em.