Can your remember your first set of good headphones? No, I’m not necessarily talking about over-the-top, state-of-the-art ‘phones, but rather about the ones you might have owned as a high school or college student—the ones that cost an arm and a leg, yet were good enough to show you how great headphone listening could truly be.
The first really fine headphones I ever owned were a set of Sennheiser HD414’s built many, many decades ago. They featured a molded thermoplastic headband with on-ear driver/earpiece modules that you could slide up and down on the headband arms to achieve a good fit. As I recall, they fit my lifestyle in several important ways. First, they were affordable—even for a college student scraping by on not enough money. Second, they sounded very good. Though they weren’t state-of-the-art challengers by any stretch of the imagination, they got most of the essentials of the music right, and in a warm, engaging way that made you want to listen for hours. Third, they looked cool and could be personalized with foam earpads that were offered in a variety of colors.
Lately, I’ve been wondering what might be the modern day equivalent of those HD414’s from yesteryear, and I think I’ve come up with a good answer: the Urbanears Plattan Headset/On-Ear headphone ($59.99). Never heard of Urbanears? Neither had I until I wandered into the firm’s display booth at CES 2010. But perhaps the brief description below, drawn from the Plattan owner’s guide, will suffice as an introduction. The text, somewhat cryptically, reads as follows.
“Urbanears is a collective out of Scandinavia, motivated by a common interest in global relationships and shared involvement in the relevance of the living brands. Urbanears promotes a deeper connection to color, form, and people while providing the freedom to transcend individuality and unify the sound experience.”
“Urbanears makes headphones that fit your everyday life. With a legacy in functionality, we supply the perfect listening device for anyone with a pocket full of music and a wish to make the most of it…”
“We designed Plattan to be the perfect classic headphone, utilizing innovative functions and performance with today’s technology. It is a full size headphone allowing for rich, secluded sound. You can fold it down to the size of your fist for maximum mobility. Plattan also comes with a “zound plug” on the earcap, allowing for a friend to plug in and enjoy your music.”
Now that you’ve had a chance to digest these semi-informative marketing blurbs, let me tell you what the real deal is with the Urbanears Plattans.
First, let’s acknowledge that—in 2010 dollars—they’re pretty affordable. $59.99 is not a heckuva lot to pay for high-quality headphones of Scandinavian origins.
Second, let me vouch for the fact that the Plattans sound amazingly accomplished for the money and that—like the vintage Sennheiser HD414s that are their spiritual precursors—they have a warm, engaging quality that pulls you into the music and holds your attention for hours at a time. Significantly, these ‘phones are amazingly sensitive, so that they can easily—and I mean really easily—be driven by iPods without any kind of add-on portable amplifiers or the like.
Third, and this is a pretty big deal, the Plattans are flat-out beautiful and seem almost impossibly well built given their price. Small, and to my eyes decidedly Scandinavian-looking, detail touches abound. For example, if you look closely, you’ll see the headband is covered in two types of fabric: a smooth fabric on the outside of the band, with a more coarsely textured fabric on the inside (to help hold the ‘phones in place as you wear them). Or, take a close look at the ultra-fine stitching on the (I presume) faux leather earpad covers. Everywhere you turn, carefully crafted construction details jump out at you. Like the good ol’ HD414s, the Plattans are colorful, too. In fact, they come in different colors that range from tasteful and subdued hues on through to more daring colors (my sample Plattans are in a soft matte gray that reminds me, somehow, of the matte gray display panels so often seen in photography exhibits).
Finally, the Plattans are just plain clever. For instance, instead of being pure headphones, they are set up as headsets with an in-line mic and a Send/End control button (making them perfect for cell phone users). But one of the coolest features by far is the aforementioned “Zound Plug.” If you are a parent, perhaps you’ve observed the phenomena of two kids sharing one iPod by “splitting” a pair of in-ear headphones, with each child each claiming one of the two earpieces. The Plattans, however, offer a much better solution by providing a built-in, 3.5mm audio pass-through jack (i.e., the so-called “Zound Plug”), so that two sets of headphones can be “daisy-chained” together to be driven by one iPod, etc. Why didn’t somebody think of this before now?
In my household, the Plattans passed the toughest “coolness” test of all, when my teenage son asked to borrow them. He brought them back a few hours later and simply said, “Dad, I want a pair of those.” ‘Makes sense to me.
For more information, visit: www.urbanears.com
Stay tuned for a full review in Playback.