California Headphones Fill The Non-Rap Gap In Quality Over-Ear Headphones [Review] | Cult of Mac

California Headphones Fill The Non-Rap Gap In Quality Over-Ear Headphones [Review]



Local SF Bay Area startup California Headphones presents two high-performance headphones that combine fetching good looks with a less bottom-heavy audio usually associated with a lot of over-ear headphones aimed at rap/hip-hop listeners. These retro-styled headphones instead emphasize the middle and higher sonic frequencies of guitar and vocal music, the sound milieu of breezy California. And my favorite part is that the headphones come with Duo-Jack smart signal divider, so you and a friend can both listen simultaneously to your iPod.


Stella Blue: The Silverado headphone set offers high-end details such as zebra cord, stitched leather headband and ear cups, die-cast metal sound chambers and ratcheted adjustors.

According to California Headphones CEO Tim Hickman, according to NPD data, revenues from headphones manufactures in the US alone are in the order of $1.2 billion. And traditional major players such as Bose, Sony and so on are losing their market share to newcomers of the likes of Beats by Dre, who are fast taking the lead.

In the past, fashion headphones were designed mostly to retail at $39 and were crap. Then people like Dr. DreSkullcandy, Ludacris and 50 Cent changed that by lending their cool to serious over-the-ear headphones. The over-the-ear market is seeing enormous growth: these high-end products are hugely popular and sound good as well.

What California Headphones have done is access the high-performance / fashion headphones market with two new products that are better suited not to rap but to rock and country music. The image is of “California sound,” from Bakersfield country in the 1950s to the Beach Boys and Grateful Dead to Santana to Green Day. With 50mm drivers and custom sound chambers, these headphones emphasize more of the music’s mid-to-high frequencies to accent acoustic instruments and, most especially, vocals.

I first checked the more expensive Silverado model ($199). Even though I was sitting in a loud music bar in San Fran’s SOMA, I could not hear any external noise beyond the music in my ears. The female vocal track was beautifully enhanced, and I could hear each individual string plucked on the guitar. There was no distortion at louder volume, just a very precise and enjoyable sound fidelity. The over-ear design removes the drivers a short distance from the ears, really dividing the stereophony, known as headroom. And despite the non-rap product descriptor, the bass is round and full.

The headphones have several useful and thoughtful features. We all know that the first thing that breaks on most headphones is the cord snaps internally and there is no way to fix it, and so we keep having to buy new headphones. On the Silverado, the 1.2m zebra cord plugs into the headphones end with 3.5mm jacks, so if the cord goes we can replace it without having to throw away the entire headset. The cord also has another excellent feature, a Duo-Jack for plugging-in two sets of headphones to your iPod. This is a smart divider for listening to music with a friend — instead of merely dividing the signal, the Duo-Jack’s chip draws more power from your device so as not to lose volume. So no more passing your headphones back and forth!

I next tried the less expensive Laredo headphones. According to California Headphones, there is nothing worthwhile on the market between the $39 and $149 price points. So the company wanted to make a $99 pair of premium headphones. And the Laredo, they say, is the most badass headphone for $99 (quote). The Laredo has a slightly less warm sound than the Silverado model, and doesn’t cut background noise nearly so well, but is still really responsive to vocals.

The two new headphones were launched this week on KickStarter at discount prices. The company has so far secured eight regional US outlets as well as international retailers, and aims to ship in August. Other retail partners will be announced shortly.