I do most of my listening on earbuds, whether it’s at work or at a coffee shop or exercising. It’s just easier to keep several pairs in my car, computer bag, etc. But when I’m listening at home there’s nothing like a good set of over the ear headphones. And if for home listening you can’t beat open back headphones. The open design means they’ll leak a lot of sound, so they aren’t suitable for public use, but it also allows for a more open, airy sound. My cans of choice are the Philips SHP9500.
Before we even get to the sound I just want to say these are incredibly comfortable. The headband holds them on securely but not so tightly as to cause pressure. The foam pads are supportive but soft, they don’t irritate the ears and, in my experience anyway, don’t cause much sweating. The cord is detachable and easily replaceable with any 3.5mm male-to-male cable so you can choose your own length, which is appreciated because sometimes you don’t need a 10 foot cable.
All that comfort is important because once you start using these things you’ll find yourself listening for hours. These are tuned to be reference headphones, which means you’ll get a fairly flat, even response across the frequency range. Bass is not what you’d get out Beats or other consumer-oriented headphones. It’s there, and sounds great, but it’s not booming or bone-shaking. Mids and highs where this headphone shines. Voices and instruments are clear and clean, well defined. Soundstage is good, not exceptional but the I hear the sounds as being external and around my head, as opposed to centered inside like it is with earbuds or closed back cans.
While listening to music in the background of my other tasks I found myself stopping to listen more intently. Songs I’ve heard many times before, like Blondie’s Rapture, sound so much more vibrant and alive. Classical and Jazz especially sound good on the SHP9500. Ellington’s Blues in Orbit is one of my favorite albums and The 9500s elevate it to an almost live performance.
If there’s on negative to the Philips SHP9500 it’s that the highs can be just a touch too harsh. This isn’t noticeable on all recordings but it’s there. Fortunately they respond very well to EQ modifications and there are several easily-found EQ curves out there. I applied these settings and the sound went from very good to great. I imagine that there’s better sound out there if you spend a lot more money. But I think we’d be getting into diminishing returns very quickly. This site is all about bang for the buck, and so far I haven’t found anything that matches the SHP9500 in that department. And the best part? You can pick them up on Amazon for less than $80!