The debut headphones from Definitive Technology offer multiple abilities and excellent performance.
A few years back, when headphones were going bonkers on the back of the Beats revolution, every hi-fi brand under the sun rushed to release its own take on high-end headwear. But not Definitive Technology, which has waited until now, perhaps rounding out its range alongside the delights of its ‘W’ wireless multiroom offering, or perhaps simply waiting until it had the right product for its discerning users.
Certainly the Symphony 1 design jumps in at the deep end — they offer the lot, being over-ear closed headphones that can be used with a cable connection or wirelessly via Bluetooth, plus they’re also active noise-cancellers, and have one other trick up their blue-accented sleeves. Even better, they get everything pretty much right, even the tricky task of controlling wireless functionality from the headset itself.
The Symphony is entirely black except for the thick steel extension band and DefTech-blue highlight where this enters the soft headband. Even the small buttons are labelled in black on black (very Douglas Adams), so that familiarisation is your best friend when learning these controls. They are all on the right headshell, with three buttons beside the charging and cable sockets to power them up, turn on Bluetooth if required (the Symphonys will connect automatically to the last paired device if it’s available), and a third button to activate or turn off active noise cancelling.
There are also volume and play/pause buttons very sensibly separated on the side of the earshell (unlike some rivals which are all too easy to power down when trying to adjust volume), and the play/pause has a raised dot for identification. Next/last track control of our iPod touch was usefully possible via Bluetooth by two or three presses of this button, even rewind and fast forwards by a slightly tricky holding after the third/second press. These headphones also allow you to take calls — there’s a microphone also in the right headshell.
For music listening, the Symphony can, in fact, be used in six different modes. You can use the short supplied cable and listen passively (not powered on), or actively (turned on, somewhat brighter and much louder, conserving power on your device), or actively with noise-cancelling on. Clarity was actually best when used passively, but it does take a bit of juice from a headphone socket to do so (our iPod touch was flat out). Note that the pausing/call-taking headshell buttons don’t work when you use a wired connection.
Or you can listen via Bluetooth, with or without noise-cancelling. Unusually the noise cancelling has no dramatic effect on the tonal qualities of the Symphony, just slightly raising the level and blooming the bass, while the noise-cancelling itself is excellent — effective if not class-leading at lower frequencies, and nicely benign, so it doesn’t feel like your eyeballs are being sucked out, as can some more severe implementations.
We loved the sound by Bluetooth, the slight brightness of the active circuitry compensating for any softness through the Bluetooth link and delivering a lively, balanced and energetic performance. Their 50mm drivers can deliver low, as witnessed by Neil Young’s Walk With Me suitably shuddering the skull under its low resonances, they had the light touch required for the detail in Paul McCartney’s My Valentine, and they passed the congestion test of kd lang’s The Air that I Breathe, its tricky layers and rising dynamics remaining smooth and information-rich even during the massed vocal peaks. Bluetooth range was also exceptional; we could move several rooms away from our iPod touch before drop-outs began.
There is a sixth way to use these headphones. The internal battery required for active and Bluetooth use is charged via USB — DefTech quotes 15 hours battery life, or 10 with noise-cancelling engaged. But when connected in this way, via USB to a computer, they will not only charge, they also serve as a USB audio driver, taking a direct digital feed of your computer music and using their internal DAC to play it direct to your ears.
For laptop use, say, playing and charging at once is gold, fabulous stuff. You can play from USB using your computer when working, play via Bluetooth from your phone when resting. An attractive hard carrycase is provided for when you’re not doing either. (In USB mode the headshell volume buttons controlled system audio on a Mac, though the pause/next didn’t seem to do anything.)
Overall they feel just a little less than totally airy; there’s a slight feeling of enclosure in their fit. And with noise-cancellation engaged they can exhibit just the teeniest woof on bass guitars. Some might think they look a bit plain in their extreme blackness. But that’s all we’ve got against them — bottom to top, these headphones get it right, including a near-perfect sonic presentation for our preferences. With all the options — wired, wireless, USB, and active noise-cancellation — it really is a Symphony of talents, and one of the few headphone models to which we give a complete recommendation. JF
Definitive Technology Symphony 1 headphones
+ Excellent sound by wire, Bluetooth or USB; Active noise-cancellation; Good and logical controls
- Not a whole lot against
Type: over-ear closed-back headphones with active noise-cancellation and Bluetooth
Driver size: 50mm
Impedance: 32 ohms
Warranty: One year
Product page: www.advanceaudio.com.au