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Four stylish on-ear headphones worth hearing

R. Matthew Ward | May 7, 2013
Comfortable, portable, on-ear headphones aren’t hard to find, but ones that sound and look great are. We tested four head-turning models that claim to satisfy your ears.

The Navigator's fit was tight enough to be less comfortable than the RHA SA950i on my large head. Its earpads are terrifically soft, though, and the tighter fit means that the Navigator blocks more external sound than the SA950i does. I would have appreciated more padding in the Navigator's headband, however.

The Navigator's remote includes raised hints that make each of the three buttons easy to locate and activate, and the linguine-like flat cable resists tangling.

I didn't review the Navigator's larger sibling, the Aviator, but I very much liked it when I auditioned it briefly. Based on that experience and my extended time with the Navigator, I have to say that the latter seems like a step backward, even taking into account its lower price tag. The Navigator's high frequencies and midrange beat the SA950i's, offering better detail, but I prefer the SA950i overall: The Navigator produces too much bass relative to the rest of the frequency range, hampering enjoyment of midrange and treble frequencies music. The Navigator does sound good with sparse, acoustic music such as folk, but the headphones lost me when I began to listen to music with significant bass content.

Unless you want big bass, to the exclusion of bass quality and tonal balance, I can't recommend this beautiful-looking model--especially since the RHA SA950i is available for $40 less.

Bowers & Wilkins P3 Headphones

B&W's P5 has been a hit critical and (as best I can tell) commercial hit. Its design, comfort, and sound make it a good value at $300, but that price tag is too big for some consumers to swallow.

The P3 aims to make a good amount of the P3's design and quality available at a lower price--specifically, $200. To achieve that price, the company had to surrender the P5's luxurious leather in favor of attractive cloth and rubberized plastic. On the other hand, unlike the P5, the P3 is available in blue, as well as black and white versions. The size of the P3's earpieces is smaller, as is the size of the drivers within the earpieces. However, the P5 retains the P3's overall look, chrome and brushed-metal highlights, removable magnetic earpads, and removable cable with three-button remote and microphone (an audio-only cable bundled with headset). As with the P5, each cable plug is cleverly hidden behind the earpieces, with the cable wound inside to provide strain relief. B&W includes a two-year warranty.

To use a car analogy, the P3 is like buying the base model of a car instead of one that offers a higher trim level, with cloth seats instead of leather, and with a few luxury touches omitted. The P3 still looks great, though not as spectacular as the P5, and the earpads are soft and comfortable. Large-headed buyers should exercise caution: Like the Navigator, the P3 would benefit from a headband with more padding. Also, whereas the P5 relies on a single cable that attaches to the left earpiece, the P3 uses a split cable that attaches to both earpieces (via mono 2.5mm plugs); I find that two-sided cables tend to get in my way more than a single-sided cable.


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