The headphone market explosion over the past few years has inspired nearly every speaker manufacturer to jump on board with its own spin on personal audio. And this is (mostly) a great thing because headphones are very personal, with style, fit, and comfort that is far more important than with traditional speakers. And, the popularity of headphones has helped raise awareness about high-performance music listening for a new generation of listeners.
The Definitive Technology Symphony 1 headphones feature a machined aluminum band, black leather earcups and headband, and subtle “D” impressions on the cups One major audio manufacturer holdout in this category had been Definitive Technology. But, with its new Symphony 1 headphones the company is finally joining the club with a product that is far from another “me too!” offering; they are coming in at the high-end of the market with serious performance features.
The phones arrive in an attractive blue box with a retail-friendly full-color picture of the headphones on the outside and a detailed description highlighting the features on the back. Inside the box is a classy black envelope enclosing operating instructions and below that a foam-padded, leather travel case that holds the phones. The case features a carabineer for clipping to the outside of luggage when traveling.
Also included are a 3.5mm/2.5mm headphone cable, USB cord, and soft, plush-lined carry pouch. At this price point, I think Def Tech could have upped the accessory ante a bit. For example, the headphone cable isn’t very long (an extension would be a nice option) and pretty thin gauge. Also I would have liked a quarter-inch adapter and USB charger. Even so, the unboxing process feels like you are handling a luxury product, with nothing (save the headphone cable) feeling cheap.
The actual headphones exude a rich, premium, executive look. With a machined aluminum band, black leather earcups and headband, and subtle “D” impressions on the cups, the phones look like something a Goldman Sachs partner would grab while jumping out of his black Porsche with a Mont Blanc Meisterstück document case while heading to his waiting Gulfstream. To me, the headphone’s aesthetic was evocative of the old Maxell “Blown Away” ad. These are not the flashy, “Look at me!” style of a Beats, but understated, “I know I’ve made it” luxury.
Considering their size and materials, the phones are actually fairly light and the band offers a good range of adjustment that should fit nearly any head. One of the first lines of noise cancelling is passively blocking out outside sounds and the large cups of Symphony 1’s over-the-ear design completely surrounds and encloses the ears, creating a tight sonic seal. The leather on the cups is incredibly soft and supple, as if your ears are slipping into the wonderful leather driving seat of an Aston Martin, while simultaneously walling off the sounds of the outside world. I found the phones stayed snug and in place, however the band is a little light on the padding, and I found myself becoming aware of it after about 30-45 minutes, making me shift its position on my head periodically.
A foam-padded, leather travel case holds the phones. The case features a carabineer for clipping to the outside of luggage when traveling. All controls are on the right side, with three small buttons both front and rear. In front are toggles for Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), power, and Bluetooth, and in back are volume up and down and a multi-function button that will play, pause, track skip, answer calls, etc. depending on when it is pressed and how many times. Suffice to say, using the phones is very intuitive.
The Symphony 1s are in a small group of phones offering both Bluetooth and ANC, but even so you get hours–up to 10 with both engaged, 15 with ANC off–of listening time. I never put a clock on these claims but actually think they are conservative estimates. If power dies, you can use the phones with the cable, albeit at a significantly reduced volume. The ANC did a terrific job of silencing outside sounds, and while I didn’t take any plane flights during my review, I did sit under a blowing HVAC register to similar effect and the ensuing silence was terrific. I noticed virtually no impact on sound quality when toggling ANC on/off. Also great is that those around you will barely hear a peep of sound escaping your personal audio sanctuary, letting you rock on without disturbing the peace.
While the phones support high-quality Bluetooth aptX, I didn’t have a source device with this feature, and the audio was slightly brittle in the upper mid-range when using Bluetooth from my PC. I did have an iPhone that transmits Bluetooth using AAC, which the Symphony 1s also support, and the audio definitely sounded better from my phone than my laptop via Bluetooth, revealing the brittleness to be an issue with Bluetooth’s compression. Even still, Bluetooth is compressed (250 kbps for AAC), and when switching to the corded connection, the Symphony’s really came alive, delivering more depth, detail, and sparkle.
With the large 50mm drivers, you might think the Symphony’s would be bass monsters, with low end jacked up several dB, but the sound is actually quite balanced, with good deep, tight bass that isn’t bloated, boomy, or overbearing. The bass certainly plumbs low and hard when it needs to, such as the solid bassline in Florence + The Machine’s “What Kind of Man” that produced bass I could feel.
While capable of delivering deep notes, the Symphonys aren’t one-note wonders, and the bass doesn’t come at the expense of midrange clarity up highend texture and detail. The 192/24-bit recording of “When the Saints Go Marching In” off Dr. Chesky’s Ultimate Headphone Demonstration Disc produced the wonderful rasp and real-life quality of a sax while the binaural recording of Amber Rubarth’s “Sessions From the 17th Ward” delivered amazing width and staging well beyond the confines of my head.
For a bit of sonic sleight-of-ear, I listened to the DTS Headphone: X track on The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 1 Blu-ray. This proved to be a terrific combo, like strapping a multi-channel home theater to my head, with the phones delivering terrific ambience as well as amazing height and surround immersion.
The Symphony 1s sound like a terrific audio system with well integrated subs, or exactly what you would expect from Definitive Technology. Thy also ensure that music lovers never need to leave home or travel without great sound.
Great sound; terrific noise isolation and cancellation; luxury look
► 50mm drivers create full fidelity and deep bass
► Built-in DAC ensures highest quality transmission from any digital source
► Rechargeable lithium-ion battery delivers up to 10 hours play time with noise cancelling on and 15 when off; can play via 2.5mm mini-jack cable with no power
► Bluetooth wireless with aptX and AAC for high quality sound transmission
► Luxury dark leather and machined aluminum exterior