Don't let the brand fool you. Philips knows a thing or two about audio. They might not be the first audio brand to pop in your mind when you think about upgrading or getting your first pair of headphones, but Philips' recent bevy of new on-ear and over-ear headphones has much to offer for both the casual and discerning music aficionados. We're taking Philips' most recent on-ear cans for a spin, the CitiScape Downtown headphones. Be sure to head past the break for the full review!
After you severed all of your fingers because Philips put these headphones inside a ridiculously tough to open, plastic packaging of blistering hell, you'll get to the Downtown headphones only to find out that nothing is included with them. That's okay considering these will cost you a penny under $100.
From an aesthetic standpoint, the Downtown aren't the most gorgeous looking pair of on-ear headphones. Maybe it's because I prefer wearing headphones that don't look like they belong on a teenage girl's head, but that headband wrapped in fabric like a fancy set of dinner silverware isn't really doing it for me. And it's not because we're reviewing a purple colored pair, the Downtown headphones are also available in white and brown. Yet they still manage to look like as if they were fashionably designed for women alone, and there's nothing wrong with that of course. Fortunately, the rest of Philips' entire headphone collection is suitable for everyone design wise.
Philips' Downtown headphones sadly suffer the same discomfort fatiguing as just about every on-ear headphones that we've tested. The ear cups are fitted with chubby, little circular MusicSeal pleather ear cushions padded nicely with memory foam, however, they put excessive force onto your ears and after just an hour of wearing them you'll want to take them off right away. And if you're ears are sensitive, expect a much shorter duration. They're comfortable to wear at first just like any other on-ear headphone with articulating joint ear cups similar to the Purity by Nokia headphones, albeit not suitable to wear for much long.
Speaking of ear pads, the Downtown feature what Philips calls MusicSeal ear cushions which are designed not to leak music out into the wild letting you turn up the volume without having to worry about disturbing others around you with your awkward taste in music. The ear cup housing and ear cushions work together in order to contain the audio within without leaking it out. And as it turns out, this actually works really well in practice. So well in fact, that I don't think any other headphone is as resilient to sound leakage as the Downtown headphones.
Other than that, there's an in-line one-button headset microphone for answering an incoming call and basic voice chat usage. Disappointingly, there are no music or volume controls to be found, and the mic quality sounds tinny and slightly muffled. Philips saved those for the higher-end Uptown over-ear headphone model instead.
The Downtown headphones have a simplistic, old school with a modern twist construction. They feel a big cheap with a thinly padded, inside-out headband held together by an exposed thin plastic and adjustable brushed metal band. Philips wanted to be a little creative with this exposed metal headband design and then wrapping the exposed adjustable parts with a napkin, but it just seem like a lazy construction job. The flat audio cable while tangle-free, is too thin to be thought of as durable. At $100, I'd expect a more robust build quality.
As with the sound quality, Philips really stepped it up this time with their recent line of headphones. The Dowtown perform admirably, that is if you like a natural sound signature. Often times companies like to hype up their product description with flavorful promises, but when Philips featured the Downtown headphones to have a clear and natural sound, the truth couldn't be any more accurate. So yes, the Downtown do have a very clean, clear sound signature that's really natural sounding and not in any way colorful or flavored with MSG; for the lack of a better word. If you laid back music is what you like, these are the kind of headphones you'll really enjoy to listen with, until your ears start to hurt. They're not exciting to listen with, nor are they anything to brag about, especially at $100, but they do sound very good and music sounds rather flat yet acceptably light.
The highs sound clear and well controlled while the mids aren't very pronounced but definitely have a clean presence. The Downtown being tuned to sound natural more than anything else, lack punchy lows. Which is to be expected. The bass isn't going to give you a migraine, however, it has a really balanced and laid back low thump that's unfortunately not going to satisfy you if you like your bass to shine and liven what you're listening to.
It's worth mentioning that the Downtown headphones are quite under-powered, meaning that you'll find yourself turning up the volume higher than you would normally in order to hear something properly. It's a shame considering these were meant to be used with smartphones and portable players which don't have much power to drive these as it turns out. I suspect Philips wanted to turn it down a bit so that there will be less sound leakage at these levels making the MusicSeal feature to be a questionable gimmick.
And on that bombshell, we think Philips did a good job tuning those 40mm drivers to sound just as expected. Despite having a somewhat under powered sound performance, anyone who enjoys to listen to a wide variety of music without too much fireworks in their sound signature will really like the natural, clean audio quality from the Downtown. With that said however, we don't think that at $100 the Downtown headphones offer enough to justify their price. They're uncomfortable to wear, under powered even when using a MacBook Pro to drive them, cheaply constructed and come with a cheap thin cable that lacks simple playback controls.