You can teach an old dog some stellar new tricks. It’s true, I’ve seen it and veteran audio giant HarmanKardon hopes to cement this fact with their new and decidedly different Harman/Kardon Beautiful Sound CL on-ear headphones. They support iOS devices and make an eye-catching hands-free solution while, driving, riding, or walking. But can they compete with the mounting army of similar high-end headphones through which we’ve recently cut a scrutinizing swath?
Such competitive headphone brands include Fanny Wang 1001, House of Marley Redemption Song on-ear phones, and iHome SD63 SoundDesing Retro cans. Does Harmon/Kardon hold up? Let’s dive in and have a listen.
The CL on-ear headphones are one of 2 on-ear styles in the Beautiful Sound line of audio solutions from H/K. The other is the wireless BL set, which features Bluetooth tech and a higher price tag. The CL is the tethered version and thusly not wireless. But they both sport a striking rectangular design in the earpieces. Yet it’s the industrial construction that really sets both apart from the ever-expanding pack.
Similar to the Gigabyte FLY on-ear headphones, the CL is mostly metal and flies defiantly in face of conformity. Where most companies shoot for plastics or some similar malleable material, Harman/Kardon opted for more rugged manufacturing. The earpieces are fashionably framed in metal. The pieces themselves are emblazed with a modest and respectable H/K logo. They also rest on a dual-axis, so you can fold the earpieces completely flat for easy portability. Moving up, the headband continues the metal theme. In fact, they both do! You get two different size metal bands that are easily interchangeable. The padded self-adjusting head strap fits both metal bands for an impressively well-rounded set of comfort options.
These are by far, one of the most comfortable set of cans I’ve had the pleasure of testing. They are not too tight around the ears, like we saw with the Beats by Dre Mixr and the head padding is adequate. The ear cushions are abundantly soft. Notably, the ear cushions also rest completely flat against your ears for added comfort.
But that metal construction does come back to bite H/K in the posterior. Lightly tapping any portion of metal anywhere on the Beautiful Sound CL unit, will produce an amplified ear-jarring “BOOM”. It can be unbearable and totally interrupts your listening experience. So when in use, try to avoid bumping them and steer friends and family away from tapping on them as a way to get your attention, while lost in your playlist of choice.
And you will get lost. The CL on-ear headphones sound great. High-frequency drivers produce a very enjoyable sound experience. There is a bit too much going on with the lows…too much bass for my taste. But that’s why Apollo inspired keen-eared tinkerers to make equalizers.
No matter what device I used with the CL set, I was able to quickly make an equalizer setting for my preferred taste. With that said, the CLs are great and comparable to Logitech UE 4000 on-ear set we tested last week (after adjusting bass/EQ). I have enjoyed them while bike riding, jogging, or walking. Conversely, they don’t cancel out a great deal of noise. The closed-back design helps. This is what allows the earpieces to rest flat against your ears. But some ambient noise can get in-especially while biking through buys San Francisco streets.
Using the MiFi in-line remote works as it should without any noteworthy hang-ups. The remote can control your iOS devices with all functionality afforded. You can use the control to answer and hang up calls, switch through tracks, or pause them. The buttons are easy to reach and sufficiently responsive.
The CL unit is a formidable offering in the on-ear arena. The sound and comfort are both equally laudable. It doesn’t hurt that H/K has thrown in a second larger interchangeable metal headband plus a handsome and surprisingly large faux leather carrying case. You get some original style, and comfort in a smooth easily listening package. Just be prepared for triple digits when you either click “Checkout” or make your way to the checkout counter.
Bottom Line: The Beautiful Sound CL on-ear headphones by Harman/Kardon are a nice industrial-designed set of cans. The comfort is outstanding. The sounds are fantastic. You can get similar performance for less money. But it’s doubtful they will turn heads like the CL on-ear headphones.
You can buy the Harman Kardon On-Ear Headphones at The Apple Store for $199.99.