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Sol Republic, Philips Downtown, Parrot Zik headphone reviews

Posted on 21-Jun-2013 12:26 by Headphone Reviews | Filed under: Reviews

We asked one of our Geekzone users to review four headphones for us and compare to his own preference. Here are the results.

Philips Citiscape Downtown
These headphones are reasonably comfortable, though nothing to write home about. They sit on your ears rather than around them (supra-aural), which makes them significantly less comfortable for people who wear glasses. Build quality seems average.

The sound overall is pretty average for cheap headphones. They're quite well balanced, nothing stands out too much. The bass is there, moderately powerful, but it's not very low bass. The mids are stronger than the rest of them music, which often happens with cheaper headphones. The highs are rolled off, cymbals and high frequencies aren't reproduced clearly. Clarity isn't great, but it's also not awful.

Overall these are average cheap headphones, which really don't stand out in any way, good or bad. They're probably fine for occasional music listeners, but not much else.

Philips Citiscape Downtown

Sol Republic Master Tracks
The first thing I noticed about these headphones is how incredibly poorly the drivers are balanced. The left earcup is approximately 2-3db louder than the right, making it really disconcerting to listen to music on them, and to review them. Since few music players have a balance control these days it's a significant issue, these should never have made it out of the factory, or the drivers should've been better matched.

The headphones have a weird band system, you have to assemble the headphones before you can use them. It seems effective enough, and reasonably robust. Overall comfort is quite good, with nice soft pads that go around your ears (circumaural) rather than sit on them. They're sold as supraaural, so people with large ears may find them less comfortable. They manufacturer calls them "over ear supraaural", which is a confusing contradiction.

Bass is quite pronounced in these headphones. It's quite low, and quite strong, which fits with the market segment they seem to be targeting - a young, hip, immature teenage audience. The high frequencies are slightly lacking, but they're not too bad. Mids are good. Everything is bass weighted, so it'd be great for rap and some modern music. Clarity overall is good given the price of the headphones, though it's not up there with high end headphones. The overall mix though just doesn't quite work for me - they're too bass heavy, and clarity is lacking for this price point.

Overall the music sounds ok, but lacks clarity and is a bit bassy for my tastes. The poor driver matching is unacceptable, if I'd purchased them I'd have returned them immediately. If you buy these headphones make sure you buy from somewhere with a good return policy - though consumer guarantees would absolutely cover this.

SOL Master Tracks

Sol Republic Tracks HD AOKI
This is going to be a really short review... they're awful. They push tightly against the ears, making them uncomfortable for most people, and intolerable for people who wear glasses (I had to write this review without my glasses on).

The sound is just awful. The bass is boomy and far too strong, but poor quality. The Highs are pretty much absent. Clarity is abysmal.

I can't recommend these headphones.

SOL Aoki

Parrot Zik
These are interesting headphones. To start with they're packed of features - Bluetooth, swipe to change volume or skip tracks, and active noise cancellation. An app is really required to make full use of them - Android is supported, and presumably iOS as well.

Comfort is quite good. They sit around your ears so long as you have small ears, and they have nice soft pads. They're not too bad for glasses wearers.

I initially tested the headphones plugged in, without having tried any apps. Before I switched the power on I could get a good idea of how they sound without the electronics activated. Basically when used this way (which was probably never intended by the manufacturer) they lack bass, the highs aren't great, and they lack clarity. When they power is turned on the noise cancelling kicks in, which worked quite well to cut out the noise of the heater running in my office. The bass became much more pronounced, perhaps a bit too much so. The highs filled out a little, to the point they're not too bad. Clarity improved as well.

Whatever sound processing they're doing is clearly quite effective. Musically they rate as good, a little strong in the bass, ok clarity, with reasonably good noise cancellation.

Next I paired the headphones with my Asus Transformer TF101 via Bluetooth, which was a quick and easy process. I installed the Parrot Zik app, which was again quick and easy. The first thing I did was turn off their weird "concert hall" effect, which seems to just add echo and hiss, boosting the mids in a way I didn't enjoy. Sound quality improved over the corded experience, and the built in sound presets are quite effective, with the equaliser easy to use.

Wireless clarity is quite impressive, better than any other wireless headphone I've tried - which to be fair isn't very many. Bass is still a little strong, but that can be equalised away, and it goes reasonably deep. High frequencies are there, cymbals and treble sound good and are reasonably balanced with the music. The mids fit in well, clear and balanced well. Clarity is quite good - it's not quite audiophile level, but it's good. One thing I noticed occasionally was a noise like a leaf stuck in a fan - but very quiet, on the limit of hearing. It was distracting occasionally, but mostly I didn't notice it. I expect this is a small artefact of the noise cancellation, and it's something you'd get used to if you could even hear it at all.

If you take the headphones off while music's playing via wireless the music pauses, then starts up again when you put them back on - a nice trick. Other nice features are tap the right ear cup to pause/play, swipe the ear cup to move between tracks, and there are call related taps as well. I wasn't able to test any call related features as I don't have compatible phones, but according to the manual it has a few tricks in that area, and includes a microphone.

I wasn't able to fully test the noise cancellation. They did quite well on my office fan heater, and the noise from my very clicky Das Keyboard was significantly reduced as well. Noise cancellation is mostly effective on continuous bassy sounds like plane engines, I suspect these headphones would handle that well.

Overall these are good headphones. They're comfortable, they have noise cancellation that seems quite effective, the music sounds good and they have a fun lively sound, and they're packed full of features. They're not audiophile quality sound, but they're better than most people will have heard, and the sound quality will impress most people. The only question is in the price - if you want wireless, noise cancellation, and the features, then they're probably not bad value at US$400, but if you can get by without the features similar sound quality can be had for significantly less.

Parrot Zik

Audeze LCD-2
I couldn't resist putting my Audeze LCD-2 headphones on as a comparison for the headphones reviewed above. They're like night and day with the earlier headphones. Comfort is just outstanding, with soft pads big enough to go around anyone’s ears.

It's like someone took cotton wool out of my ears. There are nuances and details to the music you couldn't even tell were there with the Parrot or Sol headphones, another dimension to the sound. Bass isn't super strong, but it's balanced, and comes out when required. Highs are present, detailed, and well moderated - and you can hear a lot more detail in them than you can with lower end headphones. Clarity is superb.

These aren't headphones you can plug into your iPod - they do work, but they don't bring out the best of them. A great source and amplifier are really required. Personally I use high bitrate music, optical out on my computer, a DAC feeding a custom made headphone amplifier, and no equalisation.

Overall, these are amazing headphones that really bring out the best in music. For US$995 they should be. Their big brother, the LCD-3, would be a truly amazing headphone.

Audeze LCD-2