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Denon AH-C551 Earphones review



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Denon is a company best known for its hi-fi components and DVD players more than anything else. It's won multiple awards for the latter and the firm's superlative 1920 player is my current movie player at home - until I stop being stingy and stump up for a Blu-ray player.

Something it's probably less celebrated for, however, is its headphones. This is perhaps understandable as it's an area it has only recently moved into, but for an upstart it has a remarkably wide range. Courtesy of a number of new launches, it now has headphones covering everything from the very high-end (the AH-D5000 and AH-D2000) right down to budget £30 canalphones (the AH-C351) with plenty in between.

We've already reviewed the firm's top-end canalphones, the AH-C751's, and were impressed by the sound quality, if not the fit and comfort. Now it's the turn of the more mainstream AH-C551's, which come in at £70. At this price, however, they're up against some stiff opposition. Sennheiser's excellent CX 95's cost around this much and are my current favourite mid-range headphones.

The AH-C551's make a good first impression thanks to their fine build quality. Like the AH-C751's, they're constructed from a solid, machined aluminium housing. They feel super-solid, cold to the touch and are pretty light at 5.4g per pair. The cable is robust and the joints at the earpieces and plugs are all well made. This is a luxurious, high-spec pair of phones that feel worthy of every penny of your £70.

As with the AH-C751s, the 551s have modular cables so you can use them with a mobile phone hands-free adapter or a clip-style MP3 player without having to stow away a tangle of wires. They come with a hard case and the same set of three rubber fittings - large, medium and small flanges - are included in the box. It's disappointing that more weren't provided, but it is relatively cheap to buy alternatives if these ones don't fit your ears.

The cable is impressively tangle resistant: stick these in a pocket and when you come to pull them out you're much less likely to have to spend the next five or ten minutes unknotting them. This is one area where Denon has Sennheiser beaten - the CX 95's cabling frequently becomes an impenetrable mess in my pocket.

The AH-C551s also sport a similar internal design to the more expensive AH-C751s: they're single driver phones with a small ported cavity behind the driver, which Denon dubs the 'acoustic optimiser'. This is supposedly to balance out the pressure that builds up behind and in front of the driver's diaphragm for a more natural sound.

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Paul Rutter

July 9, 2008, 10:25 pm

Great Review - i've found it hard to find a negative word about these 'phones. (is my pesamistice opinion i think apple have something to do with that as they endorse these 'phones on there web site). You give some great advice and i was 1 cllick away from purchasing the Denon's but i think i'll go for the CX95's. Out of curiosity - do you rate these higher than the shure e2c's?

john g

March 20, 2009, 3:51 am

I've just bought a pair of these earphones but, having spent a few days with them, I'd hesitate to recommend them.

Before they broke (my fault), I had a pair of Creative EP-630 phones (on the basis of Trusted Reviews' glowing praise). These are now available on Amazon for just ٥.99 and offer amazing value for money. But I had an opportunity to buy the Denon's at a good price and, having read this review, I expected them to better the old Creatives. My first impression was terrible: all spitting, sibilant treble and no bass whatsoever. The review talks about the opening at the rear of the phone and, as someone who's built more than a few pairs of speakers, I realised that this was a variant of the old infinite baffle and, as such, it would be important that the phone sealed properly in the ear to prevent an acoustic short-circuit. Having tried all three sizes of seals that are supplied, I was able, frustratingly, to get good sound on brief occasions but as soon as the phones moved in my ear, the quality became absolutely unacceptable. In the end I found that the seals from my old Creative phones fitted the Denons and, strangely, provided the perfect seal that Denon's own parts could not. So now I'm happy, and the sound is very good. But better than the ٥.99 Creatives? Yes, if the source material is cleanly recorded but, overall, I still think the Creatives provide almost the same quality and are far more forgiving. Given that I usually listen when I'm out, where background noise levels are high and my attention is split between the music and what's going on around me, as far as I'm concerned, near enough is good enough in this context.

So my recommendation would be to listen to a pair of these earphones before parting with your money. If they fit you and the sound suits, I'm sure you'll consider the money well spent. Me? Next time I'll hang onto my cash and go back for another pair of the Creative phones.

Russell Peto

October 28, 2009, 4:53 pm

I have been slowly moving up the food chain of PMP headphones over the years and have just graduated to the AH-C551s (£59.95 in Richer Sounds) from my earlier much loved Sennheiser CX300s now sadly deceased due to my 3 year old daughter also loving them.

I would not describe myself as an audiophile, I have an iPod rather than a higher fidelity MP3 player for instance. However, I have found the AH-C551s to be a lovely listen, none of the sibilant treble as mentioned by @john_g and they have a wide warm bass range that may not be as accurate as the Grado SR-60s I listen to at home, but is very pleasing nonetheless. My point being that you don't need to be a particular aesthete to appreciate the improvement these represent.

Listening to "Green Green Grass of Tunnel" by Múm from "Finally We Are No One" they give a great sense of depth and intimacy without losing foreground detail which is perfect for the tone of the album. They are equally at home with something boasting a much wider range like "Sleepyhead" by Passion Pit from "Manners"; all bowel-moving bass combined with eye-watering falsetto both of which the Denons handle with aplomb.

(I should mention that it is a very good track despite my description!)

Maybe I am lucky, but the seals fit well and comfortably first time around which may contribute to my good experience. As there are 2 other sets of seals in the case I would be surprised if many people could not find a reasonable fit.

One slight negative point that I don't think is mentioned is that the cables for each ear are the same length necessitating these phones to hang down in front of your chest rather than being able to drape one behind your neck like the Sennheisers. This means they drag and catch a lot more and I find it a needless irritation.

As a side note I have found them to respond particularly well to use with the FiiO E5 headphone amp {also reviewed on this site}; filling the bass and giving just enough extra oomph that they don't feel at all forced.

So, I think that while definitely not an impulse purchase, for me they strike a good balance between markedly improving my audio experience and being too fussy for real world that makes them worth the money.

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