I often wonder why so many audio products that focus on sound quality end up sacrificing good looks and build quality. The Graham Slee Voyager portable amplifier I reviewed recently was wonderful, but looked like something you could knock up in your shed with a box from Maplin, a bit of wire and a soldering iron.
My own reference headphones - a pair of Grado SR325is - knock spots off any pair of headphones I've ever listened to, but you wouldn't want to be seen out in public with them clamped to your head. Not that you'd want to subject them to the abuse of everyday commuting as they feel very fragile to boot. A friend's obscenely expensive hi-fi has a price tag approaching ten grand, but the styling of the CD and amplifiers wouldn't look out of place in an episode of Seventies Sci-Fi TV show, Buck Rogers. It seems so unfair: even audio geeks appreciate good design.
So when I first clapped eyes on Denon's AH-C751s I was encouraged. Here was a pair of headphones that looked every bit their high £140 price tag. The bullet-shaped earpieces are both hewn from aluminium with an attractive two-tone matte silver finish. Each is trimmed with a slightly-ridged, slightly shinier ring of metal, and each is topped off with equally serious-looking black plastic ear inserts.
The build quality is just as good as the in-box looks - in fact everything about the AH-C751's feels heavy duty. All too often expensive earphones sound good, but come with thin, insubstantial cabling. Those Grado SR325is come to mind, as do Ultimate Ears' Super.fi Pros: both have cables that don't feel like they'd last a year of the daily commute. Not so here: the cables on these Denons are thick and feel like they'd cope fine with being caught in your jacket zip a few times; the junctions where cable meets plug are sturdy too, and whatever Denon did to them to make them 'tangle-resistant' works brilliantly. Just like the Ultimate Ears Super.fi 4's I reviewed recently, you can stick these in your pocket, pull them out a day later and you won't need to spend a minute or so unravelling them.