The Harman Kardon Sohos are the most attractive on-ear headphones I’ve seen in a while. Though in fairness, I don’t review a lot of on-ear headphones (lots of other types though). In-ear (“earbuds”) and over-ear headphones are far more popular, but for certain people, the compact, elegant styling of the Sohos will be highly appealing.
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Here’s our review.
Before we get going, if you’re curious about the value of high-end headphones, or have questions about headphones in general, first check out Are Expensive Headphones Worth It?, What Are The Best Headphones?, Noise Cancelling Vs. Noise Isolating Headphones, and How To Compare Headphones.
As you can see in the pictures, the Sohos, are a pretty attractive headphone. Well, at least I think so. Can we agree on “classy” maybe? My review samples came in a gorgeous brown with brushed metal hardware, but the US website (and Amazon) only has black or white. If you live in the EU, you can get brown.
The earpads are fairly soft, and magnetically attached to the frame. Removing them reveals the inputs for the removable/replaceable cable. A nice touch.
At first I found them too tight on my head, but after a bit they loosened up and were pretty comfortable. As I said in the intro, I haven’t reviewed a lot of on-ear headphones, so I don’t have the frame of reference, comfort-wise, as I would with other types. Big over-ear headphones don’t put as much pressure on your ears (more around your ears) than these, but as far as clamping pressure goes with the Sohos, it seems enough to keep them on your head, without putting your head in a vice. Well, my head. If you’ve got a bigger noggin, make sure you try before you buy.
The Sohos collapse and fold flat, and come with a hard-shell carrying case. Fitting the headphones into the case is a little awkward, however. They fit, but not as easily as they should.
Overall the sound is a little bass heavy, with a laid back treble. The bass is a little muddy, and lacks definition. They’re pretty good and quite listenable. They’re not “great” but they’re not “bad.”
I started with Julia Nunes’s cover of “Christmas, Baby Please Come Home,” which depending on when you’re reading this is either perfectly appropriate or ridiculously not. The soundstage is pretty wide, seeming to extend out over my shoulders a bit. Nunes’s uke and the backup vocalists don’t have much treble extension.
Up next was José González’s “Stay Alive.” When the piano and bass come in, they blend together into more of a bass mush. The bass drum lacks definition. It’s doesn’t sound bad, but I’ve heard better for similar money.
Thinking they might sound better with something more bass heavy, I queued up Swedish House Mafia’s “Grayhound.” Not needing the precise bass necessary with non-synthesized music, the Sohos worked pretty well. The extra bass actually worked here, providing exactly the type of sound I’d want when listening to house or techno. Typically, I don’t like saying a headphone is good with a certain type of music (a headphone should be good with all types of music, IMO), but the Sohos work well with this genre, better than some other styles of music.
On to other thoughts, reviews, and the conclusion…
Other Thoughts/Other Reviews
Brent Butterworth at About.com reviewed and objectively measured the audio performance of the Sohos. He found that the Soho “has a fairly warm sound, with a little emphasis in the lower treble that brings out some voices and instruments.” Concluding “The Soho’s targeted at someone who wants a headphone at least as compact as the Beats Solo, but with more mature styling and a more discreet look. They probably want sonics that are a little more refined than most under-$100 headphones deliver, and much more balanced than the Solo’s brutal, bass-heavy sound. And they want it to be comfortable for at least a couple hours of listening. In my opinion, the Soho’s dead-on for that crowd.”
David Carnoy at CNET reviewed the Sohos, and found them to be “appealing if you’re looking for a compact on-ear model, but they do have a few shortcomings.” Concluding, “To put it more succinctly, I liked the Soho-I headphones, but I didn’t love them — and I was kind of hoping I would.”
Style seems to be the first consideration with the Sohos, but unlike most style-oriented headphones, these are actually quite listenable. I didn’t love them, but I liked them. And I should clarify, I hate a lot of headphones. Their bass was a little muddy for my tastes, but overall the sound was above average.
The small, light form-factor and collapsible design would be perfect for someone who doesn’t like/want earbuds, and doesn’t want the encumbrance of over-ear headphones. Added bonus if said person also listened to bass-heavy electronic music. If that sounds like you, check out the sounds of the Soho.
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