Harman Kardon Soho Review: Small Headphones Just Miss The Big Picture

 @redletterdave
on November 01 2013 1:43 PM

Headphones come in all shapes and sizes, but all headphones should satisfy three basic requirements: They should be sensible, they should be attractive, and above all, they should be comfortable to wear. The new Soho headphones from Harman Kardon are satisfying in regards to structure and fashion, but unfortunately, the design falls short of being truly comfortable. (This review covers the Soho-I model, which includes remote controls for all iOS devices including iPhone, iPad and iPod.)

Sensibility

If you’re looking for a pair of headphones that are small, light, portable and sound fantastic, the Soho headphones from Harman Kardon are an excellent choice. Delivering a solid frequency response between 16 and 20 kHz, the Soho headphones offer crisp and accurate sound at any level; bass sounds particularly good in these headphones, but highs and mids also come through clearly as well. Better yet, this particular Soho model comes with an iOS-compatible remote, which means users can easily control their music without needing to open their iPhone, iPad or iPod. It works the same way as Apple’s EarPods, so users can adjust volume, pause and play their music with the attached remote, and I found the controls exceedingly easy to use.

Design

The Soho headphones are certainly beautiful: With their small 30mm drivers, thin earcups and expandable leather headband, Harman Kardon created an extremely elegant, classy pair of headphones with the Soho. What’s even better is that the Soho design is fully foldable thanks to its new hinged structure, which allows the cups to be folded and laid flat inside the bow, making it an ultra-portable accessory even if it’s not collapsable and pocket-friendly as Apple's EarPods. 

Compared to previous Harman Kardon headphones, the expandable leather headband in the Soho is a major plus, and I definitely won’t miss having to swap out bows to accommodate the different head sizes of anyone who wants to try on my headphones.

Comfort

The Soho headphones are pretty to look at, but I found them to be disappointing once I put them on. They’re not wildly unstable, but they can barely handle any sudden head movement, and the thin leather headband tends to slip off one's head (I tested this out with several other reporters in the IBTimes office, and we all experienced the same issue). The small earcups also tend to wiggle more than I’d like since they can’t really fit fully over the year, and thus I never feel like the headphones are ever completely secure on my head.

Final Thoughts

The new Soho headphones from Harman Kardon are sleek and beautiful, and they offer the same premium listening experience synonymous with all Harman Kardon products. But for $199, the Soho headphones don't feel like a slam dunk as much as other Harman Kardon headphones, including the glorious NC headphones, or the Red Dot Award-winning CL headphones. Soho has a few things going for it: it’s modern, small, lightweight, and ultraportable, probably more so than any other headphones I’ve reviewed (with the exception of EarPods, but those also fit in your pocket).

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I really wanted to love the Soho design, but when it was all said and done, I could only call it “good.” I rarely sought out the Soho headphones, but when I used them, I was pleased with my listening experience, even though I constantly wished the headphones could be a little more stable and, dare I say it, bigger. The headband slipped frequently, and wrinkles quickly formed in the leather with plenty of bending and stretching, but to me, the feature that needed the most work was the new earcup design, which felt a bit too small over my ears and certainly in my hands. I almost wished Harman Kardon could’ve created an earcup design that was somewhere between the small Soho cups and the large rectangular earcups in the NC, CL and BT headphones, which fit over almost any ears with ease. I want my headphones to feel secure on my head, and the lightweight Soho design felt a little too loose.

I understand why Harman Kardon called these headphones “Soho.” It’s light and fashionable, it and represents the intersection of solid architecture and design, but like the gentrified neighborhood in Manhattan, it’s just a bit too small for me.

Grade: B

Harman Kardon’s Soho headphones will soon be available through Harman Kardon for $199.99.

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