These on-ears aren't quite as perfect as they look, though. A compact shape and looks-to-kill easily earn our ovation, but the Soho's tight on-ear design makes for a wearisome fit where extended listening is concerned. If you have sensitive ears, or if you're shopping for a luxurious feel, consider the Soho's big brother.
Top marks, from top to bottom
Where the Harman Kardon Sohos absolutely win, win, win is audio performance. As soon as I took these for a spin, I predicted a high score: Music sounded robust with a full foundation in bass, but mid and high notes were very audible and detailed, as well.
Sure enough, testing revealed that the lowest portion of the musical scale is emphasized to the point that you'll enjoy the strong bump, bump, bump of bass—but not at the expense of other notes. Meanwhile, though prominent bass keeps you bumping, middle and high notes sound out clearly, too. Music therefore sounds very robust, but with all the pretty details you get from higher pitched strings, vocals, woodwinds, and so forth. This is a great, balanced soundscape that will do your music justice.
Rounding out the top marks, the Sohos also avoid audible distortion or imbalances in volume between left and right speakers. Nice job, Harman Kardon. And though I've certainly seen better leakage scores before—meaning your neighbor might hear some of your music if you're listening loudly—these are still fine for in the office or on a commute. Just be sure to maintain a reasonable volume if you're right next to someone on an airplane. As far as the opposite issue, keeping outside noise out, the Sohos block a fair amount of high-pitched sounds, but they won't silence traffic and other very low noises at all.
Show-stopping looks, but not a five-star fit
When it comes to sheer aesthetics and quality of parts, the Soho on-ears really are special. Harman Kardon's pretty, pint-sized package comes in white or black, impressing the eye with an arc of well-stitched leather that falls neatly into stainless steel joints and matching ear cups.
Invisible magnets hold each square ear pad in place—just pop them off to plug the removable cable in and out. The sockets pivot up and down so that you can more easily insert the cable, and the fact that the jacks are completely covered by each pad means less wear and tear for these normally vulnerable points. A three-button mic/remote awaits your orders: Change a song, tinker with volume, or answer a phone call without reaching for your phone. Note that if you have an Android, you'll get a universal remote with no volume controls.
As for portability, these on-ears have a brilliant collapsible design. The arms fall into the band, forming a very compact shape. The hard case is just silly, though. It looks like a jewelry box for a massive diamond necklace or something—totally impractical. Why put your tiny headphones in a much-bigger box? Why not just a soft carry case, Harman Kardon?
Now for the most serious complaint: The Harman Kardon Sohos aren't exceptionally comfortable. The band clamps rather tightly, and since the cups sit right on top of your ears, aching can occur after listening for an extended period. That means that the Soho is out of the question for people with tender ears.
Another issue is that it's tough to get a firm fit. For instance, even after carefully adjusting them to my head, these headphones still fell off as I leaned over to tie my shoes yesterday. Even in an upright position, when you move your head abruptly, the slick, narrow band tends to slide around. Therefore, if you want killer style, but the Sohos are just a bit too small and wobbly for your noggin, something like the similar-but-larger Bowers & Wilkins P3 on-ears might work better for you.
No deluxe comfort here, but A+ sound quality and style
The only folks I'd warn off the Harman Kardon Sohos($199) are the tender eared. You know who you are. If your ears get to aching with constant pressure, these on-ear headphones are absolutely not for you.
Play it safe and try them on for size prior to purchase, or at least check the return policy. Due to their small size and narrow band, the Sohos can't offer every head the firmest fit. That said, if you want some of the best-looking design around, try them out.
In terms of sheer sound quality, these Harman Kardons offer extremely tasteful, balanced emphasis across the musical range—and that should please even picky listeners.
Since beauty only runs skin deep, we put the Harman Kardon Sohos through a day in the lab. Test after test revealed praiseworthy quality: The Sohos tested with a well-balanced frequency response, very low distortion, and acceptable tracking results. These on-ears offer high quality from the inside out.
Great sound to please a variety of listeners
The great thing about the Sohos' frequency response is that it suits casual and refined listeners alike. That's because these on-ears don't put too much emphasis on bass, but there is just enough power in that low end to maintain the rich, deep bass notes that so many listeners crave. Not only that, but mid and high frequencies are allotted plenty of emphasis as well.
The final result is a soundscape with prominent bass support, but one that retains lots of detail and volume in the mid and high portions of the range as well—full, textured sound.
Clipped harmonics and extra garbage won't rain on your parade.
Another performance highlight under the Soho's belt is the distortion test. These headphones produce very little distortion across the board, with no audible issues on the whole. Note that the spike in the sub-bass range is nothing to worry over, given that human ears are so insensitive to frequencies this low.
Be sure not to increase volume past 111dB, though—this is not only an unsafe volume for extended listening, but will also increase THD (total harmonic distortion) to upwards of 3%.
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