TDK's relaunch into the consumer audio realm has been interesting to watch over the last few years. The first products were stylised boomboxes that offered more in the way of design than performance, while the TDK ST700 High Fidelity On-Ear headphones provided a better audio experience.
Now, with the TDK EB950, the company has knocked it out of the park. These headphones sell for a touch over £40 online, and have a sound quality which is way above that sort of price range. It should be noted that purists looking for flat response should steer clear, but the EB950 provides plenty for lovers of deep bass and crisp highs. A highly sculpted frequency response makes modern mixes and classical music shine. Throw in the inline remote and microphone for iOS devices, and you're getting some serious value for your investment.
The TDK EB950's design is quite unassuming – all black, with lightweight earpieces that house dynamic drivers and outward-facing grilles that help the earphones convey a greater sense of space and depth in the stereo field. This also means, however, that like open headphones, the EB950 leaks audio to the outside world – when you play these loudly, your fellow train commuters and co-workers will hear your playlist.
The default eartips for the EB950 are the woefully under-used Comply foam tips. You often see Comply tips ship with earphones, but they're rarely the pair attached to the earpieces out of the box, probably because they have a sort of boring, functional look to them. Who cares? Press these into your ear canal after compressing them with your fingers for a second, and they'll slowly expand, forming an excellent, secure seal that shuts out a wide range of ambient noise, and helps provide a solid bass response.
The inline remote sits in the compartment where the left and right earpieces' cables join. It works with Apple iOS devices for controlling playback, track navigation, and answering calls. The built-in mic provides reasonable clarity, but we're talking about cellular audio fidelity, so don't expect anything better than what you're already used to during a mobile phone call. The remote compartment itself feels a little cheaply made – tap it with your finger, and you can hear the central button rattling around a bit. The good news is that's the only thing that feels budget about these earphones.
Along with the EB950 you also get: Three sets of silicon ear tips in various sizes (in addition to the Comply pair), a shirt clip, a TRRS-to-TRS adapter, and a small black snap-shut pouch.
The EB950 passes the deep bass test easily. At top volumes, there are no hints of distortion, even on challenging deep-bass-loaded tracks like The Knife's "Silent Shout" and Thom Yorke's "Cymbal Rush." There's definitely some boosting going on with the sub-bass frequencies, though; not only do these frequencies not distort, but they are conveyed with power. This doesn't serve to make things muddy, primarily because, like many deep bass earphones, the EB950 matches its substantial low frequency response with sculpted high-mids and high frequencies. Guitar rock is delivered with a serious crunch and crackle in the highs, and deep thumps on the kick drums. It may not be the most accurate response out there, but the EB950 definitely delivers an exciting sound.
The kick drum loop on Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild" has a nice treble edge to its attack, but the EB950 also makes sure it's not lacking in low-end presence, while the sub-bass synth hits that sometimes take a backseat on earphones with less low-end sound powerful here.
Yet, for all the booming low end, vocals are front and centre, clear and articulate, and despite all of the high frequency boosting, things never sound harsh. For bass lovers, the EB950 is a great example of how music can be boosted and tweaked and still sound clear, clean, and exciting.
It's not that the EB950 sounds overwhelmingly better than, say, the Bowers & Wilkins C5 In-Ear headphones or the aforementioned Denon Urban Raver – it's more that this TDK offering can hang with both pairs, yet it’s (slightly less than) a third of the price of these.
When it comes to bang for your buck, you'll have a tough time beating the exciting, distortion-free audio performance of the TDK EB950. Indeed, this pair actually seems under-priced, which is a refreshing enough reason to give out a well-deserved Best Buy award.
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