Can You visYoualize Yourself Wearing Denon Headphones?
In late September 2012 from their headquarters in Bergen County’s own Mahwah, New Jersey, Denon Electronics announced the launch of their interactive visYOUalize Yourself website and mobile app as an accompaniment to their four headphone lines released in the summer of 2012. These four headphone divisions target offer clearly positioned models unified through product image and technological goals targeting four different sects of customers. Denon wants to know: which one are you?
With their Music Maniac line, Denon targets listeners completely obsessed with music and willing to put down the dough to reflect their commitmentessentially, the audiophile. Their product literature shows a middle-aged man, handsome (an audiophile?), and with time on his hands to dive into his collection. He listens to his over-ear Music Maniac Artisan AH-D7100 ($1,199) plugged into a Denon receiver while lounging. A cool breeze blows back his curtains. He could be at his beach house in the Bahamas or just taking a break at home. Either way, in this moment it is just him and his music.
The Artisan rocks a patent-pending 50mm “Free Edge Nano Fiber Driver”. This technology circumvents permanently affixing the driver to the baffle by fixing the headphone’s driver to a polypropylene rubber surround first, which is then fixed to the baffle. The ultra-rigid nano-fiber driver, an improvement on their previous micro-fiber driver, is given room to breathe behind itself with the space provided by the rubber surround. With the Free Edge Nano Fiber Driver technology, Denon promises “the high performance sound of a box speaker in such a small form factor, expanding the frequency range to lower levels while reducing distortion.” The Artisan model features hand-carved African mahogany ear cups that rotate a full 360 degrees on a ball & socket design allowing the ear cups to rest comfortably at whatever angle fits the listener’s bone structure the best. Per the specifications, the Artisan has a 110db sensitivity, 545k frequency response, and 25ohm impedance.
Also in the Music Maniac line is the more “affordable” over-ear AH-D600 ($499) which has a lower sensitivity at 108db and 25ohm impedance. It also uses the 50mm Free Edge Nano Fiber Driver technologyand a patent-pending pentagonal earpad design. The reasons for the price difference between the $499 AH-D600 and the more than twice as costly Artisan model include:
- Hand-carved African mahogany wood ear cups which are not featured on the AH-D600s
- The 99.9999999% oxygen-free 10-foot long cable that comes with the Artisan is measured to spec unlike the AH-D600s 10-footer which is not measured to spec and only states itself as “oxygen-free”
- The Artisan model comes with an aluminum stand to hold your cans; the D600s do not.
The dual balanced armature based Music Maniac AH-C400 in-ears are housed in shiny and stiff Zinc Die-Cast housing. Like the two on-ear Music Maniac designs, it features an iPhone/iPod microphone and control. I listened to the AH-C400s at a September press event, and despite the loud surroundings, I could still tell this pre-production model sounded sick. I found their sound similar to the in-ear UE900s ($399.99). D&M Headphone Category Manager Petro Shimonishi informed me the AH-C400’s designer was actually listening to some Ultimate Ears while designing the AH-C400s. While similarities existed in their up-front and clear projection and palpable but uncolored midrange, the Denons offered more air and sense of recording space height while the UEs opted for depth within the sounds. The UE900s’ high end was more smoothly resolved compared to the Denon’s crisper high-end extension. This could lead one to consider the UEs highs a touch blunted compared to the Denon’s, but the Denon’s also came along with a slightly harsh treble.
The Globe Cruiser line positioned towards business travelers and others constantly on-the-go includes the on-ear noise-cancelling AH-NCW500 ($499) and the in-ear noise isolating AH-W200 ($179). The AH-NCW500 offers sophisticated style. It reminds me of an old leather couch, worn down by rears over the years. If personified, the Globe Cruiser is refined and experienced and prefers Caetano Veloso to Cream. His life is stressful, but his music is relaxing, like his old leather couch.
The on-ear Globe Cruiser models use a Bluetooth connection exclusively over the apt-X codec and claim CD quality audio over a wireless connection. Ballsy, like the Global Cruiser himself.
The Globe Cruiser on-ears integrate microphones into the headpiece and one can control incoming calls, volume, and music playback via the pinwheel on one side of the earcup. When testing these out for a short period, I listened via Bluetooth connection to some of Feist’s Let it Die, a modern audiophile classic. Through the Globe Cruiser on-ears, the guitars sounded relaxed and surrounded by air. When connected via Bluetooth, one does not control the volume of playback from one’s phone but instead on the built-in integrated amp within the headphone. The amp volume is turned up or down by rotating the wheel on the right ear cup forwards or backwards. If the battery on the integrated amp runs out (it’s supposed to last for 10 hours), the headphones can run in passive mode via 3.5mm connection. The on-ear Globe Cruisers are designed to fold flat for storage and run on a rechargeable battery. The two models of the Globe Cruiser, the AH-NCW500BK/Black and 500SR/Silver, retail for $499.
For those who prefer to travel light, Denon also offers the AH-W200 Globe Cruiser in-ears for $179. Featuring an adjustable neckband, these in-ears wrap behind your neck, and their lightweight look and feel more truly match the nature of someone constantly on the move. The in-ears also utilitize a Bluetooth 3.0 wireless connection and a 5-hour rechargeable battery.
The third division in the Denon’s new line of headphones is the Exercise Freak obviously made for people who need their jams while running or lifting. Unlike the penny-loafer feel of the Global Cruiser, the Exercise Freak is more like an Adidas sandal: bouncy, rubbery, and colorful. Available in tarmac black, pool-water blue, or a finish-line yellow, the Exercise Freak AH-W150s are sweat-proof and use a reflective band on the neck to make yourself visible while running at night. Each color retails for $149. Be careful though, the Exercise Freaks cannot run without Bluetooth connectivity i.e. it does not come with/allow connection via a 3.5mm cable. If your playback device does not have Bluetooth connectivity, avoid these.
Finally, we have Denon’s Urban Raver line of headphones, designed specifically for bass-lovers. The over-ear AH-D400s ($399) have an LED ring on the ear cup which glows in Skrillex blue when activated. While charging the headphone’s integrated amp battery, the LED ring pulses in red.
Reminds me of…
Denon specifically states the type of music the Urban Raver is made for: “perfect for bass-heavy Techno, Trance, Drum & Bass tracks.” Listening to Andy C’s Jungle/Dub/Trance remix of Major Lazer’s “Get Free”, the Urban Ravers went incredibly DEEP reproducing the track’s throbbing hoovers and bass blasts with hefty weight and pressure but lacked textural detail in the bass opting for size, depth, and impact in the lower frequencies. Using a 50mm driver and massive cushy earcups, these headphones look as powerful as they promise. The on-ear AH-D400s have a 115db sensitivity, a 537k frequency response, and provide 12 hours of Bluetooth playback via a rechargeable battery but also work in passive mode.
The in-ear AH-C300 Urban Ravers use two 11mm drivers mounted in parallel in each earpiece. Each driver uses Denon’s patent-pending Double Air Compression Driver technology. The in-ears retail for $249.
Both the over-ear and in-ear Urban Ravers utilize a built-in control wheel for iPod/iPhone/iPad volume control, phone calls, and playback.
Each of the four Denon Headphone lines has a suggested accompanying smartphone app. The Denon Club app for the Urban Raver connects listeners to TuneIn radio, as does the Denon Music app for the Music Maniac series. The Globe Cruiser app connects listeners to their devices travel apps instantly all from one screen. The Exercise Freak’s Denon Sport app uses your phone’s GPS to map and measure the distance and speed of your workouts. All three of these apps allow users to create custom EQ curves and share them with other Denon app users.
But as introduced and then totally ignored for the majority of this article, Denon has also just released another app: their new VisYOUalize yourself app, which allows listeners to connect to their iTunes libraries or to the online Soundcloud catalog, create a three-dimensional image-mapped version of their own face (or a friend’s) based on an uploaded photo, and manipulate the graphics. This 3-D-ified head is fitted with the Denon headphone of your choice and then bobs along with the music. The image’s face is overlaid with different styles of graphic EQs with adjustable color and intensity settings. Watching your disembodied head bob along with the music thing is actually pretty darn creepy. The folks at Denon showed me their renderings with their cats. Definitely cuter. The image at the top is of my dad bouncing along to some Rodrigo y Gabriela.
The new Denon website (http://usa.denon.com/us/headphone) features the same little programmable head game but looks way cooler/more terrifying on a bigger screen. There one can also find out more about the various new Denon headphones.
So which is right for you? Most of the grimey-raver kids I’ve chilled with probably would not spend/have over $400 to spend on headphones and would rather opt for some nitrous unless they DJ professionally or if their daddy gave them the cash, two possible subdivisions of the Urban Raver market. I guess Wall Street bros into the club scene dig trance too. So this headphone’s target expands to everyone who digs the music indicated by Denon (“Techno, Trance, Drum & Bass”) that can also afford it. Maybe they are targeting the Wall Street club bros. $499 is always a lot to pay for headphones, especially if they are targeted to a youth-based music demographic.
The Exercise Freaks are sleek and futuristic and look great for actual exercise freaks, but only offer Bluetooth compatibility. If working out with a chunky iPhone on your hip is a hindrance, think twice before buying these (a hip-attachable case is provided with the Freaks in case you are still interested).
The Music Maniac line is directed obviously at people who love music, a target so large by people who would admit to being part of it, only people with the wallet big enough to show their love will matter, but maybe that’s their intended target to begin with: music lovers with money.
The Globe Cruiser is the most clearly and correctly targeted headphone of the line with a price-point and image both matching their intended target. People constantly travelling for their job most likely earn the disposable income to shell out $500 for some sophisticated ‘phones that match the cultured and confident feel of the Globe Cruisers. I predict success with this line.
One question these clearly targeted and designed products make me ask is does sound even matter to the non-audiophile when deciding their headphone purchase? Consumers hope that purchases are reflections of who we are on the inside, and the headphone, an incredibly personal and often-used tool, should be the ultimate expression of our personalities. This is why there are so many companies jumping into the headphone market. It’s not a competition based on sound. It’s one based on who can connect the clearest to the customer as to how the music one listens to makes them feel as a person. Denon does a great job of having their headphones embody the suggested music and lifestyles with each of these ‘phones, and since they are so specific with their targets, hopefully customers will more easily identify themselves with the ‘phones.
In a recent meeting I had with another headphone manufacturer, one that was selling their luxurious appeal and color options rather than their sound technology, the majority of our conversation was spent discussing “price points” and how that would determine success in the headphone market. While the price point of the Urban Raver lines may be mismatched to its intended target, at least Denon is effectively differentiating their products with a strategy other than using a celebrity (Simon Cowell! Michael Phelps?) or by different color options (mustard yellow cans does not equal good sound). Instead, Denon is targeting people by specific lifestyles and hopefully the consumers will be able to identify themselves with their message.