Denon AH-C252Our cheapest contenders, Denon's AH-C252's, show the odd sign of their budget price tag, but nothing you'd really want to complain about. The cable feels a little cheap and is slightly more prone to handling noise than the wire on Denon's pricier earphones, but the construction is good and solid, with a right-angled plug putting less strain on your player's socket during use and a solid, rubberised housing containing the 11.5mm Neodymium drivers and protecting the cable connecting to them. A velveteen carrying pouch is also provided, along with a choice of three ear pads to ensure a snug fit. Fitted, the AH-C252's are perfectly comfortable, and I certainly didn't have any problems keeping them in for extended periods. The pad comes out at an angle to ensure an ergonomic fit and the phones don't protrude much from the ear.
Sound-wise, it's hard not to hear where Denon's engineers have focused their attention, and that's on producing plenty of rich, deep bass. This suits a lot of musical genres; dance, rap, and R&B being the obvious examples. The cavernous bass on Outkast's The Way You Move sounds fantastic, and the AH-C252's give the track's infectious hooks every opportunity to gain purchase. Kanye West's Paranoid, from 808s & Heartbreak, is another treat, the warm eighties synth sounds and processed vocals really pushing the song along. The AH-C252's also perform well in less expected areas; the small group jazz of Blue in Green from the legendary Miles Davis album, Kind of Blue, sounds much better than I'd normally expect from cheap earphones, with a lovely round tone to the stand-up bass and a great warmth to the sounds of trumpet, saxophone and piano.
However, all this bassy goodness comes at a cost, and that's clarity in the treble and mid-range. Detail here can get a little muddy, and the soundstage isn't as wide or as defined as on some pricier 'phones. Inheritance, from Talk Talk's late-eighties classic, Spirit of Eden, is one of those tracks where you can listen forever and not hear every instrument or every little touch, but the Denon's just don't have the precision to reveal all. Rock is a surprising weak point. Smashing Pumpkins' Ava Adore has the sort of beefy bassline that the Denons love, but they're less successful with the snarled vocals and chiming, distorted guitars. Another Pumpkins track, The Everlasting Gaze, is a bit of a mushy mess at times. Still, this is a lot of earphone for the money, and if bass is your priority then that goes double. I've heard earphones costing twice as much that don't give anywhere like the performance at the low end that these budget babies can pull off.
A decent budget pair that works best with bass-heavy material. Top-end clarity could be better.