CES 2013 Show Highlight: Harman/Kardon

I've been wanting to get my hands on these for a listen, but I guess I wasn't wanting it enough to get some sent to Montana. So I was glad to find them in the Harman booth, and doubly glad I could get at the connectors for a listen on my own portable rig. (You'd be surprised at how hard it is to get a listen to headphones at shows sometimes.)

I picked one up off its stand and plunked it on my head. Woah! Everything went eerily silent. Ah, the NC (noise canceling, $299) model. Then I played some familiar music...and it sounded damned good. Then I tried it without the active noise canceling...and it sounded pretty much the same. That's not common with most noise canceling headphones where the NC circuit usually messes with the sound. I was impressed.

Then I tried the Bluetooth headset (BT, $249) passively wired, and it sounded good, too. Hmm. Then the smaller on ear CL (on-ear, passive, $199) version, and it sounded good. Holy smoke, Harmon did a nice job on these headphones. How good these cans are I really can't tell under show conditions, but they're good enough to know I've got to get then here at home for an extended evaluation.

It heartens me to see someone like Harman/Kardon who should be able to make a good headphone actually do so. Nice!

Stefraki's picture

I've always wondered why exactly these noise cancelling headphones screw up the sound (bloated mid bass and wooly treble) and it looks like the reason was so simple and so obvious...

If all these phones are adjusting to sound OUTSIDE the headphones, they'll be overcompensating, as the headphones passively attenuates a lot of that background noise anyway. By putting the microphone on the INSIDE of the cup, its only working to counteract the background noise that actually gets through...

This makes total sense but I (and I guess the other noise cancelling manufacturers) never thought of it.

Beagle's picture

I have the CL and I really like it....goes where the P5 was headed but finishes the trip.

And make sure to use the larger headband...

Username's picture

the last time i was in an apple store i saw these sans noise canceling and bluetooth. What i like about them is the construction. Having the option to pop off the headband is a nice feature and while i do recall seeing a 'made in china' badge (correct me if im wrong) they do feel, and look, pretty darn solid. However the plastic the outside of the cup is made from looks dull and it takes away from an otherwise very good looking headphone. I wish There was a ruberised finish on the plastic bits or some  metal mesh/leather wrapped over them or heck even an aluminum cup but im sure none of that was in the budget. Its been a while since i heard them but from what i could tell in store they are about on the level of the Bowers and Wilkins offering. 

PradP's picture

Hi Tyll,

Could you please review harman Kardon BT headphones?

Thank you very much,


MarcoGV's picture

Hi Tyll,

Thank you for these impressions.  I recently (a week ago) acquired the CL (on clearance sale at half-price at the local Best Buy) and found it very good for a small portable closed back headphone, with surprising balance from top to bottom (as tested using Stereophile Editor's Choice CD test tones and some good CDs) and good isolation. I think that it will replace the Philips Citiscape Downtown as my default portable headphone, despite the fact that the CL is wired for an Iphone and I have an Android phone.

There is a small problem with the video.  To replace the headband, at least on the CL, you do *not* need to snap the little wire on the pivoting mechanism.  The instrucions with the headphones show the correct (and simpler) procedure.

Thank you for the great web site.  Keep up the good work!


thekash's picture

Hi Tyll,

I'm just wondering if you'd ever be reviewing the Harmon NC headphones. I'm actually very interested in these vs the PSB but i can get these new for $170 vs $350 for the PSB so not sure it would be worth the price jump for NC and the M4U 2 or just go with the Bose QC 15 for $200 used. I have the BW P7 and SE535 so these will be mainly used while louder areas like coffee shops, planes etc to get rid of as much background noise as possible and still reproduce some music with at least descent fidelity. 


Thanks for yout input!