You expect the best in audio when there’s a premium involved. It’s only natural. And when it comes to Bluetooth headphones, the distinction between performance and quality is often blurred. Every popular company has jumped on this bandwagon, and Harman Kardon is no exception with their Premium Bluetooth Over-Ear Headphones, a wireless full-size pair that, along with its family of Classic (CL) and Noise Canceling (NC) varieties provides clear, if not good all-around sound for style-conscious people.
Since I always kick off these reviews by describing the outward appearance of product, it seems a fitting place to start with the BT. These are unquestionably among the more contemporary-looking headphones we’ve seen for some time. From the rectangular and oversized memory-foam earpads, to the fairly distinct dual leather and metallic headband arrangement. There’s an undeniable blend of modern touches with the earcups being able to fold flat for easy transport, and a general style that is reminiscent of trendy throwback headphones. However things like the playback/ and volume buttons, and even an integrated microphone (all of these are found on the left earcup) are included. Finally, a nicely appointed leather carrying case further adds to the premium motif.
As far as aesthetics go, the stylistic considerations definitely go hand in hand with comfort and usability, whether you’re a casual listener or a hardcore hi-fi buff. Before we got into more discernable testing, we regulated the BT headphones for everyday use and had no real nitpicks. This is primarily due to the fact that these Harman Kardon units are over-the-ear headphones that feature aforementioned memory-foam earpads which gradually contour to your shape. Overall the BT weighs in at about a scant 0.62 lbs. with much of the planted mass being centered in the earcups.
There are plenty of reasons why Bluetooth headphones are considered a novelty among audiophiles, chief among them is the tendency for many, if not all devices to sound distorted and flat. Recently other and more expensive Bluetooth headphones have managed to break the much-coveted clarity barrier to plague cheaper alternatives, and in our opinion Harman Kardon has dutifully provided the same experience at medium volumes and frequencies without costing an arm and a leg. With midrange acoustics (rock/alternative) in mind, the BT is an excellent piece of hardware that’s never overworked even in higher volumes, while serious bass-intensive music held up quite well. For people that either dislike top volumes or who like to adjust the presets before listening to music, these serve up plenty of rich, robust responses and unobtrusive treble. And if you decide (oddly enough) to keep the BT wired, the sound is maximized and is slightly better overall – although not enough to discount the inherent Bluetooth abilities and the obvious advantage of listening music in quieter environments. Using the microphone functionality for phone calls worked as intended as well, but is heavily dependent on outside interference, typical of many Bluetooth microphones.
While we weren’t able to test these headphones on a compatible device, the BTs are fully optimized for Apt-X technology, which supposedly makes Bluetooth sound better. Unfortunately, only a handful of devices support the lossless output but we’re assured that the difference is dynamic.
By itself the BT is well equipped but there a number of nitpicks to address if simplicity is important. One area that most headphones seldom get right is the charging (wired) options. Inline connections are some of our least favorite approaches, and the BT exclusively utilizes a 3.5mm jack for charging and battery conservation. You get one headphone cord (for wired audio) and a non-standard USB cord to actually charge the BT. We understand the headphone cord, but the USB/inline cord is the only way to charge the headphones, and heaven forbid if you lose them because it can’t be replaced with a mini or micro-USB alternative.
Another issue we had is that the headband design is a bit too premium for our tastes, as the top metallic portion comes with both a small and large size. We like the attention to detail, but you’ll have to partially disassemble the BT in order to swap the included pieces. It’s a considerable annoyance, but you’ll most likely have to switch for the larger headbands (which feels worlds better) regardless of cranium size.
At $249.99 the Harman Kardon Premium Bluetooth Over-Ear Headphones may be a bit pricey for some, but you’ll certainly get what you pay for if you want a good-looking and generally comfortable pair of Bluetooth headgear. As an all-around contender for audiophiles the higher price-tag may be a hard-sell, but those who aren’t afraid to drop three Benjamins on such a sturdy product likely won’t mind the investment. And while we can’t get entirely behind some of the premium aspects (like headband assembly/disassembly and inline connectivity), we are quite smitten with the BT nonetheless. Those looking for high-quality fidelity could certainly do a lot worse.