Philips Citiscape Downtown

Philips Introduces a Broad Range of Headphones
If you've read about my visit to the Philips display at CES you'll know that they've been working very hard to refresh their headphone lines, and that they've managed to do a proper job of it. Over the next few months you'll start to see products available in five different lines:

  • Made For Andriod - A line of headphones and an app specifically for Android OS smartphones.
  • Fidelio - A line of two audiophile headphones. The Fidelio L1 semi-sealed over-ear; and Fidelio M1 on-ear, sealed headphone.
  • ActionFit - A line of water/sweat resistant, in-ear sports headphones.
  • Philips/O'Neill - A line of action sports headphones for folks who like to ride around on boards of various types.
  • Citiscape - A line of urban lifestyle headphones.

Generally, I thought the sound, styling, and pricing of these new headphones were quite good. I think Philips have really done their homework in positioning these new product lines. In a market that's gone a little crazy for the $299 headphone, I suspect Philips will do rather well ... and hopefully will provide some downward price pressure in the headphone world.

Philips Citiscape Downtown ($99, expected availability March 2012)
The Citiscape Downtown is a extraordinary example of elegant design. At first glance, it is just a simple but good looking headphone, but look a little closer and you find a whole lot of thought has gone into these headphones.

[Editors note: Curiosity got the best of me and I just had to take a pair of these apart for a look-see. These headphones are nicely engineered, but are not designed to be taken apart. Even after my destructive disassembly session, I could not figure out how these cans could be taken apart without breakage. I think the final assembly steps include some gluing. At any rate, these are not good headphones for DIY uses and would be extremely difficult to repair. They do appear to be built well enough to provide a long service life, however, so repairability is probably not an issue.]

Headband
The headband is a simple metal strap with a couple of plastic pieces on either end into which the earpiece arms slide for adjustment. The cable is single sided entry, so there is a wire which traverses the headband from one earpiece to the other. This wire is coiled within the plastic headband end-caps to allow the arms to adjust while keeping the cable free from pinching and kinks. Otherwise the cable is trapped between some foam tape across the middle of the headband, or behind plastic trim pieces in the arms.

philips_downtown_photo_headband

The headband pad is a gorgeous design using a single piece of laminated cloth with various layers of padding within. The pad has flaps on either end with holes that "button" onto a small plastic post on the headband end pieces. The result is a very elegant solution for creating both a comfortable headband pad and a pleasing overall look. I think this is one of the coolest looking and functional headband pad designs I've seen.

Earpieces
Each earpiece encloses a 40mm driver, which is mounted in a two-piece baffle plate. This is a fairly complex plate with numerous openings covered with two types of acoustic damping materials. There's even some chambers created when the two plates snap together that vent energy from the front of the diaphragm around to the chamber behind the driver. It's quite obvious a lot of thought has gone into these drivers.

philips_downtown_photo_inside

MusicSeal
One of the features touted by Philips on the Downtown is called the "MusicSeal." This feature is intended to prevent the music being played to be heard by others close by. I don't have a way to measure sound being emitted from the headphones during use, but I can measure how much the headphones isolate you from outside sounds, which should be strongly related. These headphones do isolate you quite well from outside noise, and they do seem to trap their sound within the headphones quite well.

I was very curious about this feature and wanted to try to determine how it was executed. After much disassembly and mulling it over, I remain unsure of what's going on exactly to trap sound inside the cans. It appears to me to be a combination of things. The soft pleather ear-pads are very tightly gripped by a lip around the back plate of the earpiece. (Do not try to remover the ear-pads. Many headphone ear-pads are removed by pulling the edge of the pad material out of a groove. Though the Downtown may apear to have this feature, it doesn't, and trying to remove the ear-pads will likely damage the headphones.) Underneath the outer pad material there is a donut of memory foam which is encased in a very fine, non-porous synthetic material. I think the sound enclosed in all these layers simply has a very hard time finding a way out. Regardless of how it works exactly, it does seem to work quite well.

Tangle-Free Cable
The cable on these headphones is very flat and somewhat "springy." The result is that it's somewhat hard to wad up and shove in your pocket, but that's exactly its advantage as it does seem to resist tangling very, very well. The cable is four feet long and terminated with a 90 degree angle mini-plug that is slender and long enough to get into the headphone jack even when it's buried in a thick protective case. The cable does have a microphone and one-button remote that is compatible with both Android and iDevices, but has limited functionality relative to three-button remotes. The cable is permanently attached to the headphones.

Styling
I think the look of these headphones is absolutely terrific! Philips is currently set to offer them in three colors: light gray; medium-dark brown; and pizzazingly purple! I find the design of the Citiscape Downtown refreshingly feminine ... and I welcome it with open arms. There are FAR too many headphones out there that appear to designed by men, for men. Sometimes utilitarian black plastic fugly blobs where form follows function only, and sometimes glossy garish blingwear shouting your hip-hoptiness at full volume; I'm sick of headphones with the design sensibilities of a Hummer. Women listen to music and have smartphones in nearly the same numbers as men, I would think. Consumer audio has traditionally underserved women, in my view, and I think it's great that Philips kept its design criteria broad enough to have produced these very attractive headphones. Great job!

Ergonomics and Comfort
The Downtown is a very light and comfortable headphone. Caliper pressure is light, and the cans seem to gently hug your head. Ear-pads are very soft and conforming, and only mildly warm. The cable is a good length, doesn't tangle, and picks up very little mechanical noise when talking on the phone. I suppose I could complain that they don't fold flat for storage and transport, but that would require design complexity that would negate the clean and simple beauty of these cans.

All the above would be for naught, however, if they didn't sound good. Let's have a listen ...

COMPANY INFO
Philips
1600 Summer St.
P.O. Box 120015
Stamford, CT 06912
888-744-5477
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COMMENTS
Tarweb1562's picture

Just curious - does this pass with bass head standards?

XB500/700 vs. Cityscape ( only if you consider it bassy enough for it to be called a bass head can ) vs. Crossfade LP/LP2?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
You know, it just might. At least in the sense that they do a great job of reproducing the lows on the track. Most bass heavy music has ... wait for it ... plenty of bass in the recording. These do a great job of that, and tame any harshness in the recording. A really versatile general purpose can.
RPGWiZaRD's picture

I think these headphones look like great candidates for EQing, I suppose you never tried that? Even with the standard 10-band EQ you could probably do a huge improvement by simply lowering the 1kHz but leaving 2kHz slider alone and boost 4kHz and 8kHz slider while leaving 16kHz alone. Should make it very balanced sounding without the lack of bass response (bass extension) the headphones in this price category usually lack. Big thumbs up for the design though (and more "feminine" look).

I know what "nasal" midrange sounds like, I've experienced the same thing to maybe lesser extent in for example Sony XB500 and V-Moda LP2 as the midrange is uneven and have noticable peak vs dip in the midrange. These days I'm very allergic to that and would probably fire up EQ right away if I picked up these headphones lol.

Fidelio L1 review will be up later right? I'm more curious about this one personally. :) Quick question, does L1 also sound "nasal" in midrange or does it seem to be fairly balanced sounding there? I see from the graph it does have a slight peak around 2kHz but is it enough to be audible with your ears in this case? (I'm thinking of female vocals especially)

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I think these tend to need less tweaking than the cans you mention for bass emphasis. Though you're certainly right, the benefits of a judicious eq of these cans should be clear.

Yes, L1 coming soon. A good headphone, but different in character.

Roy G Biv's picture

These seem to look much smaller than I thought when you were holding them. Would these be close in size to V-Moda M-80, AT ES7, Porta Pros?

These should be a big hit among the gay community too!

johnjen's picture

I laughed mightily when I read...
"It was with both pleasure and dismay that I realized I had just more fully enabled her connection to Justin Bieber."

A great one liner for sure. :thumb

JJ

Pablo's picture

These only come in pink ?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
No. Light gray, medium brown, and Purple.
John Grandberg's picture
I wish the light gray option was a little darker (it looks practically white in the pics) but still, a nice looking design. It's great that Philips is interested in making good stuff at reasonable prices.
Roy G Biv's picture

Girly's employing negative stereotypes!

Tolerance. Respect.

alvin's picture

at $34 the older philips shl5500 has similar sound signature. and, i find it to be more stylish than the downtowns

Gelocks's picture

exactly that...

Is it the same sound signature?!?

Still, the citiscape downtown (and uptown) looks really great! I might buy the black/brown version... (or the brown silver uptowns... decisions decisions...)

MarcoGV's picture

I own (as of yesterday!) an SHL5500. I chatted with "Nick" at Philips support earlier today. I asked him whether the SHL5500 and the SHL5605 ("Downtown") used the same drivers. He answered that they both used the 40mm drivers but did not conclusively state that they are the same.

If you compare the specifications on the Philips site (http://download.p4c.philips.com/files/s/shl5500_28/shl5500_28_pss_aen.pdf and http://download.p4c.philips.com/files/s/shl5605bk_28/shl5605bk_28_pss_ae...), you will notice that the main physical characteristics of the drivers are the same (Magnet type: Neodymium; Voice coil: CCAW; Diaphragm: Mylar dome; Speaker diameter: 40 mm; Impedance: 32 Ohm). However, there are differences in Frequency Response, Maximum Power Input, and Sensitivity: 10-28K vs. 18-22K, 50mW vs. 30Mw, and 106 db vs. 102db (5500 values given first). Surprisingly, the 5500 is listed (incorrectly, I would say) as an open headphone, while the 5605 is listed as a closed headphone.

It would be interesting to hear from someone who has both headphones, or at least has listened to both!

HammerSandwich's picture

I expect this is driver breakup. Most hard-dome 1" tweeters have something like that in the 20-28KHz range. What's this 40mm made of?

zzffnn's picture

Thanks Tyll for your review.

I have some similar questions as Roy above.

1) How do these Philips feel on head compared to V-MODA M80/V80 and Porta Pros?
2) Are these Philips cooler on ear and lighter than V-MODA M80/V80?
3) Will these be good full sized-portables for summer time (are they cool and light in general)?

I currently have V80 and headband mod KSC75s. V80s are much heavier than KSC75s and warm up my ears more. KSC75s, on the other hand, can not compete with V80s in terms of sound quality, look and build.

Thank you in advance!

Rezhasan's picture

Philips has been selling a wide range of headphones, both in-ears and over-ears, in Asian markets for many years. While their in-ears were nothing to write home about, their over ears have generally been very good. One of my favourite pair of cans is from Philips. But no, they never come in colours like purple.

huow's picture

I feel great having view your review on kinds of headphone. I feel sad I haven't watched your review before I get my first headphone beats solo hd. I want a headphone which is comfortable to wear ,noise cancelling, and have good quality of displaying classical music. Sadly, they are the stuffs solo 's lack of. Can you recommend some headphone around 100-150 dollars which can meet my requirement?
Is cityscape downtown or uptown a good choice for me?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Yes ... if it appeals to you with what I've written, yes it is.
huow's picture

Thank you so much for your professional suggestion. So which one should I buy for the best classical music experience regardless of the price, uptown or downtown?

Dick Emery's picture

The L1's review can't come soon enough. I'm not happy with my current cans (Sony MDR-ZX700's) as I have to EQ them to get a warmer bottom (ooer missus!). I am by no means a bass head but I really want a bit more oomph in the lower frequencies. I will also be interested in how these compare comfort wise with the ZX700's.

Once you have the L1's I would also like to know whether they are preferable to say the Beyerdynamics DT990 Premiums or perhaps the Fischer Audio FA-003/Brainwavz.

mikes62's picture

First off, want to thank Ty for his great review on the Downtowns'. I own both the Crossfade LP 2's and Sony XB 500 and these(Philips) to me would not be classified as heavy bass phones like the Vmodas & Sony XB's. They are well balanced more towards the Senn HD 25 II's,Sony mdr-v6's and the Sony mdr-zx 700. The bass is certainly there but the mids & highs balance in nicely for a very good headephones especially at the under 100 price point.I personally like the sound of these better than the 2 sony's but prefer the HD25's.

mikes62's picture

Has anyone had chance to listen the top of line philips uptown?

Oranje's picture

I have found a review on Youtube about this headphone. Here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWJ8Xeve5_o But I think it would be great if Tyll from Innerfidelity would do a review on it also.

gordonf98's picture

What about the Philips Citiscape Uptown SHL5905GY/10 model? do you recommend it? it has the same price that the Marshall Major headphones, which one should I choose?

JIGF's picture

Wow, I don't remember the Ultrasone Pro 750 (last pair of closed headphones I owned) sounding as good as these Downtowns.

Philips knocked it out of the park.

I hope they pick up in popularity as they seem a bit underrated at the moment.

ychu2000's picture

The wire connects to the ear cup looks flimsy.  The headphone itself sound fantastic but I just afraid the wire can break easily.

Any comment?  Thanks

pajamma's picture

My pair is now resting at the bottom of the garbage can. It's an understatement to say they are not repair-friendly. Stuff's glued that doesn't need to be, and there are three pointed star screws in use, just for spite apparently. The right side went glitchy after about 4 months, and what should have been an easy repair left me with a pile of broken plastic and remarkably thin wire.

 

Never did find the short.

Alex Altorfer's picture

Hello Tyll!

I'm using the Citiscape Downtown at work, a rather noisy environment, and find its isolation quite satisfying. They sound good, but as I use them for long periods of time (at low volumes), I believe I need crossfeed. I want to use a hardware solution as opposed to a software one, as my player of choice lacks crossfeed plugins. So, I'm about to order a Total Bithead from HeadRoom before the stock runs out. 

I understand the Total Bithead is one of your designs. I was wondering whether you have ever paired the Downtown with the Total Bithead to check for synergy. Do you think the Downtown could be a good match for the Total Bithead?

Also, I see you have not reviewed the Fidelio M1, but you did review the other two Fidelio models. I could not help but notice how similar the Downtown is to the M1. Did you ever have a chance to audition the Fidelio M1? If so, in you opinion, do you think the Downtown offers a sound similar to that of the M1 for less money? Would an upgrade to the M1 be at all worthwhile? Could both use similar drivers or perhaps even the same drivers?

Thank you for the attention.

Alex

koptelefoon's picture

I dont have too many on-ear headphones yet. This one reminds me of the over-ear CitiScape SHL5905BK Again i get appealed by the way these look. The musicseal and earcups are some big pros if you ask me. I'm definitely putting these on my wishlist, considering that these aren't new anymore the price might just drop ridiculously low, i'm waiting!

Ekomak's picture

I have this headphone, but now only one ear produce sound.

I want to open it to see if i can do anything but i dont want to break it i saw in one pics on this post that you dissaemble it. Could you give me indication to open it without damage?

Thanks.

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