While earbuds and wireless headsets are an ever-expanding consumer electronic market thanks to the proliferation of smartphones, on-ear cans remain something of a niche (unless you count Beats - I don't). Even more niche than that are smartphone-friendly on-ear headphones. And somewhere between particularly obscure red wine varietals from Germany and Super Audio CDs lies the selection of specifically Android-friendly wired on-ear headphones. (Not really, but I wanted to make a ridiculous analogy.) The point is, if you're looking for wired on-ear headphones with Android in-line controls, your options aren't exactly endless.
The big houses such as Sennheiser either still only make in-line control products for iOS devices, or like Grado have forsaken the notion of such things altogether. And for some people, a lack of this functionality can be a deal-breaker.
Enter the Philips SHL9705A. You'll notice my title lacks the typical blurb on what I think of them, and that's because I feel like it's more important to highlight them for what they are first and foremost. What do I think of them? They're actually pretty great in a number of ways. The quality of construction, materials, and general sturdiness inspire confidence in me that these headphones are in it for the long haul. The sound is at least of a quality that, in tandem with their comfort, makes me want to wear them instead of my earbuds. And the Android app adds enough functionality and customization that it's actually worth downloading, so there's definite value added there.
Philips SHL9705A Headphones
- What are they? On-ear headphones with Android in-line controls and a microphone.
- How much? $100 ($85 on Amazon)
- What's in the box? Headphones, duh.
- Do I want them? Do you want a pair of comfortable, very good-sounding on-ear headphones with in-line controls and a microphone? Then yes, you may very well want these.
- Sound: The sound on the SHL9705A's definitely exceeded my expectations. With no equalization (flat) or other audio "enhancements" enabled on my One X, they were a bit quiet. Of course, this is going to happen on almost any on-ear headphones when used with a smartphone - the headphone amp just isn't powerful enough unless you really open up the volume taps. With the Philips app installed, you're prompted to select a headphone product to "optimize" your audio for a particular headset. Choosing the 9705A cranks up mids and highs to be more in line with the bass, resulting in a more balanced listening experience at moderate volumes. If you max the volume, you and your eardrums are probably better off with these enhancements turned off. In terms of character, the big 40mm drivers in the 9705A's provide the typical warmth on the low end of the spectrum that even high-end earbuds will struggle to emulate. Bass isn't particularly strong, but always perceptible - which is to say right where I like it. You hear and feel low frequencies, but they never overpower a track. Fidelity is very good, I'd put these on par with entry-level on-ear products from Sennheiser like the PX100II's, which are cheaper. The 9705A's do get a little harsh at high volumes, and that's when you'll want to turn off Philips' enhancements. And for $100, you can get better accuracy and bass performance from other headphones. But the Philips don't stop at good sound.
- Design / Build Quality: I absolutely love the way the 9705A's look every time I pick them up. They ooze tastefulness. The aluminum over the sides of the driver enclosures is classy, not flashy. The flat black plastic headband with its barely-perceptible red felt insert is a far cry from the shiny, glistening designer headphones that have so recently become popular. The matching red highlights on the inside of the earphone pads makes you acutely aware that Philips actually cared how the 9705A's looked. The quality of construction is fairly impressive as well for something at the $100 price point. The aluminum isn't solid - it only covers the gray plastic that actually makes up the driver housings. That said, even the plastic on these headphones feels sturdy. The earphone pads are soft and leathery. The driver enclosures, as you can see, fold in, but in a smart way - Philips uses a small steel ball bearing on each headphone that snaps into place when in the listening position, and snaps out when turned flat. It's one of those things you play with and think "well, that's not breaking any time soon." The adjustable headband clicks to various settings, and seems of an equally high quality. Philips has also managed to keep the 9705A's pretty light - they weigh in at 13.6 ounces. Oh, and the cord is nice and chunky with beefy flex joints at the jack and enclosure.
- Comfort: Those soft and leathery earphone pads make wearing the 9705A's for an hour or two at a clip no problem. Even for someone with a big head like mine. They do squeeze your ears a bit, but if they didn't, they probably wouldn't be very good on-ear headphones in the first place. I wore them for hours at a time while testing them, and I really have no complaints in this department. Well done, Philips.
- Controls / App: They both work. The app is well-designed, and while not revolutionary, puts all the stuff you'd want to adjust in one place. It doesn't have an equalizer, but a more user-friendly character-adjustment spectrum, so the wearer can choose to emphasize bass, flatness, or other characteristics to suit their listening experience. It's actually pretty cool, though equalizer presets could just as easily accomplish this goal. The product-specific audio character enhancements can be turned on and off easily. The single in-line button can have its actions fully customized, as well. The microphone works, though I can't say I've ever used an in-line mic that I'd actually want to use for a phone call lasting more than 30 seconds.
The Not So Good
- Sound vs. Price: The fidelity on the 9705A's just isn't going to compare to a good dedicated on-ear headphone / pair of studio monitors without in-line controls at this price point. If you don't need in-line controls, you suddenly have a lot more options opening up to you in the $75-100 range that you should immediately go above the 9705A's on your "list." The legendary $40 Koss Porta-Pros can probably go toe-for-toe with the Philips in a lot of aural respects. I'd say the 9705A's would be more fairly priced around $75, though $85 on Amazon is closer to reasonable than the $100 MSRP.
- App: The app had some issues with contextual back-presses, resulting in me force closing it on one occasion out of frustration. So, better navigation controls might be in order there.
- Folding: The 9705A's can only fold the actual headphones flat, so these really aren't as portable as something like the Koss Porta Pros or Sennheiser PX100's.
- Microphone: I've yet to use an in-line microphone that I like. They all pretty much suck, and Philips' probably sucks a little more than some of the other ones I've used in my time.
- Controls: Single-button controls on any headphone are stupidly slow to respond to actions. I don't know why this is, and it seems to be a universal affliction among Android headsets. I don't like it - I demand instant gratification!
Overall, the Philips SHL9705A's provide an audio experience that is pretty damn good with comfort that'll make you forget about your earbuds whenever they're in arm's reach. When these are sitting on my desk, I just don't think about using my earbuds anymore. That said, I wouldn't exactly be heartbroken to have a price-equivalent pair of Grados if it meant sacrificing the in-line controls. I've just never really found them that useful. If you work out, though, they really can be an absolute necessity, and I recognize that. So if you're looking for a pair of stylish, high-fidelity on-ear open headphones with Android-ready in-line controls, the SHL9705A is one of few options available to you. Luckily, they're a good one.