- Review Price: £134.00
I’m a bit of a fan when it comes to Denon products. The first ever CD player that I owned was a Denon, and it was a truly excellent bit of kit. I kept that CD player for many years, more than happy with its performance, while Denon continued to produce excellent mid-range Hi-Fi products. And when I say mid-range, I mean a rung or two below the true audiophile stuff from the likes of Unison Research, Linn and Naim.
More recently I’ve been drawn to Denon for its home cinema equipment, with the company producing some of the best surround sound amps and receivers on the market. While Denon’s original THX rated DVD player was legendary when it launched – not only was the image and sound quality incredible, but the solid (and I mean SOLID) metal construction and Champaign finish made it look like a work of art.
Denon has applied a similar design ethos to its AH-C700 earphones, which do look pretty special. Each earphone casing is constructed from spun aluminium and has that lovely “cool to the touch” feel that only solid metal can impart. The 3.5mm headphone jack is also constructed from aluminium, while the plug itself is gold plated.
There’s a 1.2m cable, which is just about the perfect length for earphones, although I must say that I quite like the modular system used by Shure – there have been occasions where I’ve just used the earphones without an extension and kept my player in my shirt pocket for a very tidy setup. The cable isn’t as thick and robust as those used by Shure, but it is considerably thicker than the cable on the Ultimate Ears super.fi 5 Pros. It’s also an anti-tangle cable, so if you’re the type of person who screws their headphones up into a ball (shame on you!) and stuffs them into a pocket, you should find that with these Denons, the cable will just fall free without the need for untangling.
Of course with a high-end set of earphones the most important aspect is how good they sound. The simple answer is that Denon definitely has nothing to be ashamed of with the AH-C700s, but it’s worth remembering that there is some pretty tough competition out there in this sector.
I kicked off proceedings with the Monty Alexander and Sly & Robbie collaboration CD – the first track, Chameleon, is great example of accessible modern jazz. The strong bass line and horns of the intro are well rendered by the AH-C700s, and when Monty starts to play his solo, every keystroke is crystal clear, despite the complex accompaniment. It’s not always easy to get a good balance of tones with this track, but the Denons did a pretty good job – in fact if you close your eyes, you can imagine yourself in a smoky jazz club, soaking up the atmosphere.
I cued up Kid Rock next, choosing I Got One For Ya, from the album Devil Without A Cause. Although Kid Rock is more famous in the UK for marrying Pamela Anderson, his music is well worth a listen, although not for the easily offended. This particular track has a smooth bluesy feel to it, with some great electric piano and guitar sounds driving things along. The AH-C700s again did a good job of resolving all the instruments and vocals, although bass was slightly light.
By contrast the funky bass line behind the Sister Sledge classic, Thinking of You came through loud and clear using the Denons, while allowing the angelic vocals to flow over the top. And all the time the guitar is easily discernable adding that unmistakable disco flavour to the song – it’s almost enough to make you want to dig out some white flairs, track down a gold medallion and finish things off with an unbuttoned silk shirt, well, maybe.
For comparison I listened to all the same music on Shure’s SE310s and the Ultimate Ears super.fi 5 Pros. The dual driver Ultimate Ears earphones unsurprisingly produced the strongest bass, but still managed an impressive degree of clarity at the high-end. Considering that the super.fi 5 Pros have been on sale for well over a year, they still hold up very well, while that longevity brings with it the advantage of price decay. However, as I have mentioned before, some listeners may find the bass offered by the super.fi 5 Pros to be slightly overpowering, preferring a more neutral balance.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the Denon AH-C700s have the Shure SE310s clearly in their sights – the prices are pretty much identical, while they also offer a surprisingly similar sound. Unfortunately for Denon there are a few areas where the Shure’s have got the AH-C700s well and truly beat.
First up is the issue of fit. Although the Denons fit quite nicely in the ear (unless you have mutant ears like Benny of course), the seal created with your ear canal is nowhere near as tight as it is with the Shures. A large part of this issue is that Denon only supplies silicon tips with the AH-C700s, rather than a combination of silicon and foam tips like Shure, Ultimate Ears and Etymotic. The latest foam tips from Shure are staggeringly good and provide you with a very tight, yet very comfortable seal in your ear. The result is that almost all the ambient noise is blocked out, while the bass is also more prevalent due to the sealed contact with your ear canal.
However, it’s worth noting that the Shures create a better seal in your ear even when using silicon tips. This is due to the tapered design of the earphone itself, which simply allows you to insert the tip slightly further into your ear. The wide design of the AH-C700s cause a physical block directly behind the tip, which made it difficult to ensure a really good seal. Of course the advantage with the Denons is that it’s impossible to insert them too far into your ear and cause physical damage to your ear drum, but I can’t say that I’ve ever managed to push any earphones too far into my ear, regardless of design.
The other issue is one of bundled accessories. I can’t help thinking that a set of earphones that costs over £130 should come with a carry case of some kind, but unfortunately the AH-C700s don’t. In fact the only accessories in the box are the three different sizes of silicon tips. By contrast the Shure SE310s ship with a zip-up carry case, three sizes of silicon tips, three sizes of foam tips, a pair of triple flange tips and a wax cleaner.
Considering that the Shure’s can be had on the street for as little as £139 and the cheapest I could find the Denons was £134, the price differential is negligible. This is a shame, because the AH-C700s really do have a nice sound to them, while the construction of the earphones is up to Denon’s usual high standards. But when push comes to shove, you’re just not getting enough for your money.
I like the Denon AH-C700s, I really do. They look great, have a beautiful finish and decent cabling. Unfortunately the design makes it difficult to get the perfect fit and the lack of foam tips means that you’re never going to achieve that perfect seal either.
But the real problem for the AH-C700s comes in the shape of the Shure SE310s. The Shures provide a very similar sound, but back it up with a better fit and a decent amount of accessories. And considering that the Shures cost roughly the same amount, it’s difficult to recommend the AH-C700s.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 8