The funny thing about reviews is that you never know when you can trust them. In the end it almost always comes down to one single personal opinion. No matter how much of a technical expert one may be, there is always room for a bad call. We all have odd days, right? We all have opinions that change, grow, mature. While a review is a good starting point for discussion, what it really boils down to is YOUR opinion. Your expectations should not be based off of one happy or upset reviewer, no matter how much you may or may not respect them. I am not trying to instill paranoia or distrust in anyone, I just think its worth considering whenever you start to research a new product.
That out of the way, I know you guys have always seemed to enjoy when I review things so I am getting back in the saddle with a new pair of headphones. They are not a new pair to the market, but they are new to my ears and I figured some of you may appreciate the opinion. You know or can read my opinions on the last two pairs reviewed, AiAiAi Tracks and TMA-1′s.
I continue to use a pair of TMA-1′s for work, but now use the “studio version” which I honestly don’t care for as much as the originals. The redesigned ear pads are much prettier than they sound and the updated drivers don’t sound as well rounded to my ears. I switched simply because my previous pair was stepped on in an audio booth by a large guy and cracked the headband, so I bought the updated model simply to try something new.
My poor Tracks, however, recently died on me, again due to my rough lifestyle at work. I was wearing them while wiring a stage at a theater and the cable was hanging too low as I kneeled over. It got stuck under my knee as I stood up and pulled the cable out of the “Y” junction with no hope for repair. Usually one of the headphones would just pop out of the headband for me but it was too sudden and forceful of a tug that it ripped it right out.
I am not an average user when it comes to headphones, I tend to have a few pairs around for different uses. The TMA-1′s are for work because they are sturdy and I don’t have to worry about blowing the drivers when pushing them heavily in loud environments. My iPhone earbuds are nice enough for riding a bike or casual, quick needs. I also have a modest pair of Ultimate Ears that are more of the “shove in your ear” variety which I like because they offer a fuller, more controlled sound than the Apple buds so I toss them in my bag if I am packing light for a trip or day out.
Which brings me back to my dead Tracks. I really loved the pair and still fully stand behind my previous review of them, but, I could not help but take the chance to move on to something new, fresh for my ears and something to review (brag about) here. Also, before I forget, the reason for owning a pair like the tracks is to use as a casual pair for day to day listening and average travel. Something better balanced and fun than my work pair but more fulfilling than my Apple or Ultamate Ears pairs.
After a little bit of reading and digging around I decided on a pair of the Incase Sonic headphones. I remember seeing them enter this market a while back and while it seemed odd at first seeing a bag company get into the headphone market I realized it actually make a lot of sense. They have top notch industrial designers on staff so of course all of the models they sell are gorgeous. Do they have a great sound to back that up? We’ll get back to that shortly.
Among the four options they offer style wise, I have only tried two pairs, their Sonic and Reflex models, back during my last trip to Seoul. The cushions on both are like pillows and sit comfortably over your ears because of the suede like fabric used to line them. The big difference between them is the way they sit on your ear, the Reflex sits on your ear while the Sonic lies around your ear. I went back and forth trying to decide on which I would purchase and decided to give the Sonics a run for their money.
After a few days spent with them I know already that I made the right call. I was a little worried about the overall size but because of the nicely padded carrying bag included with them its a breeze to carry around with me in my backpack. For a pair of over the ear headphones like these they have a surprising amount of comfort without the bulk of most over the ear headphones. It is easily one of the most natural feeling pair of over ears I have worn, no small statement I know, but in my personal experience it’s true.
The physical construction of the Sonics (and the Reflex for that matter) is pretty much outstanding so far as I have noticed and felt so far. The fit and finish is wonderfully tidy and detailed, not unlike many of their products. I would go as far as to say it is very Apple like. Nothing goes to waste. They have a slight rubberized feel to them and so far, unlike other headphones with this finish I have seen or used, the coating has not been peeling off, even in a couple of circumstances where they drug against a rough surface while I was on a job site. They have a respectable, solid feel to them and the ear pads have a perfect amount of give to them to perfectly shape to your head.
Something worth noting is the cable included. The Sonic has a detachable audio cable with a non-obtrusive Apple compatible remote built in. The removable cable is nice for transport and for the accidental tug on the headphones which would result in the cable unplugging rather than your headphones being pulled apart. The travel bag shipped with the pair has a little pocket inside for the cable as well as an included adaptor to quarter-inch connections. The length of the cable I could see some people finding too short but I love it. The less cable, the less of a chance it will get caught up on things. It is just long enough to reach into a pocket or carry a device in your hand but not so long that there is a lot of extra length getting caught on things. This may be an issue with anyone using them with an iMac for instance where the cable would have to reach across a desk and behind the computer.
As an added bonus, and I assume they are still shipping this way, there is an additional cable included with the headphones. The two cables offer two different color options, to either match the highlight color seen on the inside of the cushions or the color of the shell.
Well, that brings us to the best part, the sound. Nine times out of ten with this kind of style centric headphones you get a sub par sound out of them. (Heres looking at you Beats) Having this in mind I was pleasantly surprised with the frequency balance in the Sonics. They did not go after the pop music audience with the way these were tuned, they seem to have gone after more of a broad, discerning audience. The most obvious example of why that is would be in the bass response. It is not at all overwhelming and leaves plenty of headroom for the rest of the music to be heard while still providing enough of a punch to feel a nice warm bottom end while listening at modest levels.
There is a bit of a dip in the upper mids but still has enough shine in the highs to give you a nice clarity that won’t leave your ears feeling exhausted. Being over ear headphones, there is a fair amount of space to the overall sound also referred to by many as the ‘sound stage’ but not a very open one which is to be expected seeing as it has a closed back design. I prefer ambient sound dampening from closed back headphones in many cases which I did miss from time to time on the Tracks in circumstances such as a loud table neighbor at a a coffee shop.
Of course as with any pair of headphones your ears and personal taste goes a long way into what works for you personally and it may take a moment to get adjusted to the tuning. Also worth noting is that they are not the loudest pair of headphones you will find out there, at least not without a dedicated headphone amp. Straight off an iPod or iPhone you may find yourself with the volume a click or two higher than usual. I don’t see this as a bad thing at all because they are plenty loud really, just something worth noting.
All in all I could easily recommend these. As of the time of this writing they are being sold with a fairly deep discount over on their own site which is nice to see. See also this nice video from Incase about the process of designing them. I don’t own their Reflex models I can also safely recommend those from my short time spent with them, they also have a nice solid sound and construction but with a smaller overall size. If you have any questions about the Sonics I would be happy to answer in the comments below, otherwise, happy listening.