Still, while comfort and durability are vital when you’re looking for a new pair of earphones for your iPod, Clip or Walkman, the major reason why you get rid of the bundled models is going to be sound quality. With the SHE9800s, Philips is claiming that the whole structure of the headphones has been designed to create a wider sound stage than your average earphone, while the dynamic, mylar dome transducer has been tuned using the company’s iLab technology to ensure a deeper bass, clear and accurate sound reproduction and a wider dynamic range.
Well, that’s the company line. What I’d say is that the SHE9800s score well when it comes to clarity and detail and do a fantastic job of positioning the different layers of vocals and instruments in any track across the soundstage. At the same time, they can’t quite match some rival earphones for depth of bass, warmth of tone or overall presence. Try them on their own and you come away thinking that they’re a good pair of headphones for the price. Do some A-B comparisons and you come away thinking the same, but that they’re not the best pair of headphones for the price.
As the Shure SE102s are our current leaders in the sub £70 price point I borrowed a pair from AdvancedMP3Players.co.uk, who are currently flogging them at an outrageously decent price. I plugged both sets into my ‘player du jour’, Samsung’s thoroughly charming YP-Q1. Giving Radiohead’s ”Reckoner” from the ”In Rainbows” album a spin, the strengths of the SHE9800s are immediately apparent. The percussion tracks that dominate the song seem to spread all the way from ear to ear, with everything from cymbals to shakers clearly discernible across the mix. As the bass and pianos emerge and the vocals layer up, you can still hear all the nuances, and when the strings come in towards the end they’re warm and rich.
All very good. Plug in the Shures, however, and you’re in a slightly different league. The percussion instruments have a pop and a zing that they don’t with the Philips set. The soundstage doesn’t feel as wide, but the overall sound is that little bit more powerful and more coherent. Frankly, it makes the SHE9800s sound a little bit clinical.
This impression is backed up when I play ”Hey Ya” and ”Roses” from Outkast’s 2003 double album, ”Speakerboxx/The Love Below”. There’s something really confident about the way the SHE9800s steer the various vocal, bass and vintage keyboard sounds around the soundstage. Bass response is good and its hard to fault the sound for clarity or definition. All the same, there’s something richer and more dynamic about the tone emanating from the Shures. It’s not merely that they dish out a stronger bass, but that they seem to pump out a warmer mid-range without adversely affecting the top end.