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.]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ...