Review: Denon AH-C120MA in-earphones
In-earphones are the new earbuds, and Denon wants a piece of the action with what it thinks are some premium pieces for Android owners. Do they succeed, or would you be better off with something else?
Another one of the many, many earphones making its way out to stores, Denon’s AH-C120MA earphones sit in the in-earphone category, with pieces that you sit inside your ear.
These pieces are made from metal, with 11.5mm drivers inside, and an oxygen-free rounded cable that Denon tells us is tangle-free.
The earphones take what appears to be the standard tips, with three silicon tip sizes offered in the box, catering to small, medium, and large, as well as a set of Comply Foam ear tips.
A remote is on the cable with one button, as well as a microphone for speaking on the phone.
Denon includes a small carrying case in the pack.
Note quite a budget pair, but not a mid-range either, Denon’s AH-C120MA in-earphones sit just above the $100 mark and cater to people looking for something better than what they found in their smartphone box, which wouldn’t take much for most smartphone companies.
These in-ear pieces sit in Denon’s “Music Maniac” series, so we’re hoping they work with lots of types of music, as well as smartphones.
But smartphones are part of the key messages for the C120MA, and specifically Android and Windows Phone, or pretty much anything that doesn’t take the three-button remote that only works on Apple products. For these, Denon has pulled the remote back to one button, including the microphone and making it useful as a hands-free for other phones, but with the main button used for pausing, playing, and answering calls.
Comfort will be a plus for most people, and thanks to relatively small casings that aren’t overly bulbous, you’ll be able to insert the earphones into whichever ear you prefer, with the proper way possible — left in left, right in right — or even the exact opposite.
There’s no real reason to do the opposite because the remote is on the main cable, which is in the middle. If the Denon C120s were built like Bluetooth earphones and held the remote on a specific size, it would be a problem, but it’s not, so unless you have issues with stereo sides and prefer the right on your left and so on, stick with the original fit, as it’s reasonably comfortable.
Several tips are included in the box, with sizes of silicon tips — the usuals that you get with earphones — and then some memory foam, which is a nice addition and something few earphones under $200 ever include.
We preferred these, but you may be different.
Regardless, once you’ve selected the tips of choice, plug your cable in and start listening.
In the field of rock and pop, we found an interesting experience, with pronounced bass and distinctive highs, but with mids that just didn’t work for us.
For instance, in “Radioactive” by the Imagine Dragons, the bass hits found in the line underneath the track are pronounced with the highs in the vocal also clear, but the mids where the main instruments sit just sound combined and blended, as if someone decided to take the track and throw it into a blender.
Sia’s “Chandelier” was emptier than we’d liked, the percussion hits lacking depth, but the synthy bottom end overpowering most of the track in the verses and chorus, with the exception of the vocals, which in the high end of the track had almost as much distinction as the bass.
Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” did little to convince us these earphones could maintain the balance, with this strange strength in highs and lows only working for the verses, with the choruses sounding muddled and broken.
Electronica manages a better effort, partly because the bass is clear in these headphones, often overpowering the rest of the track. Indeed, with Mooro’s “M66R6” we found the main bass line sat over everything else, providing a thumping beat and stab for anyone tuning in, but with all other sounds sitting behind.
The Glitch Mob’s “Animus Vox” continued this, with obvious bass with some reverb when it was just elements of the track by itself, and then once again more low tones sitting over everything else, with the mids synth and percussion sounding subdued in comparison to the low sounds.
At this point, the feeling you get from the C120 earphones is that they’re really made for music with either a preference for a lot of highs, or a lot of bass, but really no combination of both, because with it, the latter feels poorly blended. It’s not just a lack of balance, though, with little depth as the two sections seem to work against each other.
So we switched to jazz, and in Dave Brubeck’s “Maria,” the lack of a pronounced bass line beyond that of the double bass made these headphones work well, which is also no doubt helped by only having a few instruments for the recording.
John Coltrane’s “Blue Train” likewise manages a decent effort with a balance in light bass-lines as Coltrane’s saxophone sings playfully over the double bass and percussion. In fact, it was here in the real instrument world that we felt the earphones were doing their best to create a more full sound, rather than this odd blend that made us want to rip out the earphones and throw them under a bus when listening to the other genres of music.
Playing to this almost acoustic preference, we tried a little bit of rock that stuck to this formula, settling on the Dave Matthews Band’s “Crush,” which did provide a little light at the end of a tunnel with its minimalist bass line underneath everything, and Dave’s vocals in the highs sitting atop. In this track, the strange balance for the AH-C120MA actually worked reasonably well, but that was the exception, especially in comparison to the majority of things we were testing.
It’s a shame too, as the on-board drives can make the lows and highs strong and distinct, but that middle range of hearing just sounds like it takes a back seat to everything, leaving this part of the tonality muddled and too well blended to really enjoy your music for anything other than sitting on a bus or train.
Denon’s C120MA earphones are an interesting beast, simply because they appear to come loaded with value, and yet don’t really provide a payoff.
On the surface, they look fantastic, with 11mm drivers, metal housing (not plastic), and a cable that feels stronger than most of what you get on the earphones. But then the sound is a let down, highlighting highs and lows, and little of anything else.
It’s such a shame, because the included tips are reasonably varied, and there’s even a couple of memory foam tips too, which is a lovely inclusion, plus the remote makes it somewhat usable for Android owners, even if it’s a one-button remote for pausing and playback only.
But the sound is just lacking for most types of music out there, so unless you’re particularly swayed by the metal housing and availability of tips, and only listen to music that isn’t engineered much at all, we’d probably look elsewhere.