- Review Price: £199.99
We’ve long held Denon’s audio products in high regard, as a quick look at the last six of its products we’ve reviewed reveals. Spanning everything from earphones to TV soundbars, all have scored either 8/10 or 9/10, which is an enviable record by anyone’s account. As you can see from the score at the top, though, with these AH-NC732 headphones, Denon has had a bit of a wobble.
Aimed at travellers and particularly regular flyers, the Denon AH-NC732s are of the supraaural (on-ear) type, rather than the traditional circumaural (over-ear) design, which enables the earcups to be smaller and lighter than typical high-end headphones. They also fold flat for easy storage and come with a tough yet compact carrying case that when closed measures a relatively portable 200 x 150 x 40mm.
Of course, all of these attempts at portability pale in comparison to how unobtrusive a set of earphones (or canalphones, if you prefer) can be. However, if you’re not a fan of sticking things in your ears then these Denon’s are the next best thing.
On the outside of the case is a net for storing sundry accessories and the inside is home to two further removable pockets in which spare cables and adapters can be stored. Two cables come in the box with one measuring 70cm, making it ideal for use with jogging armbands or if you keep your Portable Media Player (PMP) in your coat pocket, while the other is 150cm, which is long enough to reach down to trouser pockets or round to backpacks. We particularly like the fact the cables are completely removable, making stowing everything away quick and easy.
Also in the box you’ll find a stereo 3.5mm jack to twin mono 3.5mm jack adapter (which is a common audio interface used on planes) and a 3.5mm stereo jack to 6mm stereo jack converter as well. So you should be set for most connectivity eventualities straight out of the box.
As you’d expect, considering their price, the build quality of the phones is exemplary with ultra-soft, leather-bound earpiece and headband cushions and sturdy but lightweight hinges and headband. The case is also well made with a quality look and feel both inside and out.
The noise cancelling part of the equation comes from an active system whereby a microphone on the outside of the headphones picks up all the ambient noise around you then pipes an equal and opposite signal back into the headphones, theoretically cancelling out the ambient noise and ending up with silence. In actuality, though, these systems never work flawlessly and there will always be a degree of background noise that leaks through. That said, these do seem to be among the least effective we’ve used in quite a while.
We think this is mainly due to the way the headphones sit on your head. You see, the fit is incredibly light, which does make them more comfortable than most on-ear designs but also means they don’t seal very well over your ears, which lets a lot of ambient noise sneak through. Obviously the active system cancels some of this out but we can’t help but think a slightly tighter fit (or over-ear design) would’ve helped in this regard.
That said, one strange upside of this is you still get a good sense of what’s going on around you, just with everything being a bit quieter. This means you can still have conversations and hear the fast car approaching you from behind – two examples that truly noise-blocking canalphones can’t deal with – but the constant hum of an aeroplane engine is noticeably reduced.
Unfortunately, there are no upsides to the most annoying consequence of these phones’ light fit; they fall off incredibly easily. Just tipping your head forward (like you would to get something out of a travel bag, say) causes them to fall off. This makes them incredibly impractical for anything except sitting very still.
Battery life is also a problem. Just one AAA battery is required to power the set and we got a good couple of days usage out of it (Denon says the battery lasts around 40 hours), which is fine. However, if you forget to turn the set off, there’s no automatic standby mode so your phones will just merrily run themselves down while stowed away in your bag. Thankfully they are at least usable even without batteries, which is more than can be said for some noise cancelling cans, but you obviously won’t get any noise reduction and sound quality also takes a nose dive with bass response particularly suffering.
And this brings us nicely to the ultimate point of these phones; their sound quality. When fully powered up, they sound magnificent. For a start, bass is full and well-defined yet not overpowering, but it’s the clarity at the top end that really sets these apart. Every little detail is reproduced effortlessly and there’s a smoothness to the whole sound that just feels wonderfully natural. The only possible negative with regards to sound quality is that they can sound a little cold and stark when compared with something like a pair of Grados, for instance, but you quickly get used to this different tonality.
The Denon AH-NC732’s are among the best travel headphones we’ve used in terms of the quality of sound you get. However, we can’t help but feel the on-ear design is just fundamentally flawed. After all, you still end up with quite a large case so why not make them a little bigger use larger over-ear cups, making the headphones more secure and comfortable.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 9