I'm from a generation where wearing headphones that are anything other than almost-invisible, manufacturer-bundled in-ear buds when outdoors is something that, at the least, makes you feel a little self-conscious, and at most a bit of a berk. So this, plus coming as we do from a design standpoint where everything we own should have some kind of style to back up the substance and say a little about your personality on top, has put Onkyo's latest High Resolution Audio outdoor H500M 'phones at something of a disadvantage from kick-off.
Let's get the audio out of the way first - these cans deliver sumptious sounds throughout the range when you use them for their intended purpose – listening to lossless, 'high-res' audio. With performance on a par of headphones costing two, even three times as much, the H500Ms are stunning in every way.
Featuring 40mm drivers with a 7Hz to 40kHz response, the depth of sound is immense for the outlay and there is impressive noise cancellation from the closed-back cans blocking out unwanted noise and isolating you with your tunes impressively. I tested them out on a busy train and in windy outdoor conditions, and can vouch for their ability to cocoon you satisfactorily in your musical bubble.
The only issue that arises is when you are tuned into lower bitrate compressions; your standard MP3s. There the mid-ranges can be a little tinny, as if the excellence of the hardware serves to emphasise the quality drop of lossy files. It's a minor point, and one that can be dealt with in part by an equaliser adjustment – or switching to a High Resolution Audio player and Tidal…
So onto the appearance, and despite sitting in a bright white-'n-metal chassis, there is very little self-consciousness when these are perched on my head. They appear much more upmarket than their price tag suggests, being relatively petite and certainly don't shout about their performance like those vulgar Beats headphones.
The H500Ms are also just about the most comfortable on-ear 'phones I have used for some time; they are secure but settle gently on the ears with soft foam padding taking the strain. They are impressively light, too – although I am used to bulkier Bluetooth headphones (Onkyo also make wireless versions of the H500M, predictably named the H500BT) – and not in a way that makes them feel flimsy. Far from it, in fact – I feel that I could be relatively rough with these on a daily basis and they would shrug it off like a Gallic front-row forward.
But like a social climber's shoes, there is one giveaway to the Onkyos' mid-price roots and that's the headband ends – the white plastic looks cheap and is slightly translucent with sharp edges. They don't quite taint the overall aesthetic, and make not a jot of difference to the overall feel of solidity to the chassis build, and while you will not come into contact with these very often, you'll know.
Overall, indoors or out the Onkyo H500M headphones are a delight, great value for money and hugely impressive sound backed up by solid build and stylish looks.