Whether the market for high-end Hi-Fi gear is drying up (really?) or audiophile brands are simply taking a leaf out of mainstream consumer electronic maker’s books and diversifying, one thing’s for sure – seeing NAD’s logo on the side of some iPhone ready headphones seems a little wrong – but is it also right?
If you like your quality Hi-Fi equipment you’ll probably be aware of audiophile brand NAD. Now, hold on to your valve pre-amps, they have released some noise-isolating headphones at a price that could tempt those looking at Beats and the like.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year, NAD showed off its VISO HP50 headphones, a pair of headphones that professes to improve stereo imaging thanks to NAD’s RoomFeel technology which aims to give you the same listening experience as being sat in a perfecly balanced room with perfectly placed speakers.
Looks tough, feels soft
The VISO HP50 are described as being portable and light, yet rugged. They feature ultra-soft, noise-isolating earpads to reduce the effects of ambient noises on the listening experience.
The noise-isolating ear pads are soft and comfortable and significantly reduce ambient noise even when no music is playing and although the earpad itself is not that large, it manages to avoid feeling constrictive or cramped.
The HP50 have been ergonomically designed to be comfortable even when worn for long periods of time. The ESO ear pads are oval for a better fit around your ears which serves both for comfort and a good acoustic seal for sound isolation. An Ergo hinge design allows the ear pads to freely rotate which helps to match the contour of your head and adds to the comfort.
The earcups are connected by a manganese steel headband enclosed in leatherette, which feels comfortable when perched on your head. You can extend each earcup by about 2cm so you should be able to get a nice comfy fit.
I watched ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ as well as listening to a further couple of hours worth of music without felling fatigued or the need to remove the cans. Granted, near the end of my train journey, my ears were getting a little warm but that’s closed designs for you I think.
The balance between sprung traction on the side of the head and the support across the skull is pretty good. The design of the headband is a bit… square and, because of this interesting look, you can see quite a lot of light between your head and the band at points which you may or may not like asthetically. On the plus side, it does mean those of you with huge (square) heads should find plenty of room
For additional comfort and convenience, there are two 1/8 inch input connectors (one on each ear cup) making it easier to connect the cord near the source whether that be an amplifier, phone, laptop or desktop computer. This is a pretty neat feature which I haven’t come across before and would like to see this on more wired cans as this helps eliminate having the cord cross in front of you, which can be annoying.
You get a pair of cables to best suit were you will be using them. The first is a conventional headphone cord, a metre long which terminates in a 3.5mm jack while the second is fitted with an Apple compatible inline remote for easier use on the move if you happen to rock an iPhone or iPod. When testing them out with my HTC One I found that, although the +/- rocker button didn’t appear to do anything, the central stop/start button and mic performed their given tasks fine.
The cords are the flattened ribbon type that are designed to reduce tangling.
Even though the NAD HP50s shares much with PSB-built cans, it is refreshing to see that the NADs don’t have the active noise cancelling fitted as seen on PSB’s M4U2 headset. Even though the PSB noise cancelling system is excellent I find that the passive noise isolation on the NAD set is pretty darned good and, personally, I feel safer being able to hear the little bit of ambient sound let in from my surroundings.
What they do share is the same test program used by their kin-folk at PSB which is extensive and gives them a very distinctive performance.
This means that the NAD VISO HP50s are an extremely open and neutral performer which never feels strained or gives the listener the feeling that there’s something unnatural happening between the source and their ears.
Even though the HP50s aren’t huge, they still manage to feel large in the sense of their performance and being able to surround your lugs with audio rather than injecting noise into your ears.
These headphones manage to sound big and powerful without having to rely on huge, phat dominating bass. There’s a genuine ability across various different types of bass rather simple low end shove. This means that orchestral strings possess a warmth, weight and delicacy from violin and viola through to cello and double bass. Mendelssohn’s second symphony seemed to have extra depth when it came up on my playlist when I was relaxing on the sofa with my eyes closed.
Bass is also important for drums as well as electric strings and the HP50′s bass tones are strong enough for you to hear each stroke of the drum as well as dirty picked bass such as heard on the opening bars of Peaches by The Stranglers or the drive of Black Sunshine by White Zombie.
Mids were accurate and smooth, perhaps not the highest resolution out there but certainly not lacking detail. I really like the vocal presentation which seems slightly more up front than my AKGs and are accurate as well as articulate.
Highs are never harsh but sit well placed and always feel reassuringly competent without being obvious.
Dialogue in movies was also well placed and effects such as gun fire and explosions were direct and immersive.
Where I was really impressed was the overall sensitivity of the VISO HP50s.
Whilst still getting to grips with the volume control on the HTC One I had accidentally moved the level up near full whilst queing up a track. When it kicked in the sound was loud. Very loud. I am not recommending that you try this out for yourself but, needless to say, these cans have some kick.
What this means in the real world is that the HP50s can manage to get to a reasonable level even if your amps aren’t that punchy. This is particularly great if you’re listening to your music on a laptop as some can get a bit noisy when pushed.
This has a side bonus of also adding to listening stamina as you don’t have to half-deafen yourself in order to drown out the noises of daily life.
The NAD VISO HP50 are well designed and very comfortable to wear over long periods of time.
Vocals and dialogue stood out from the soundstage and were comfortably supported by music whether backing band or soundtrack. The position of the instruments were clearly audible.
The HP50′s frequency range is wide enough to take on a variety of music although, on occassions, I would have preferred a tad more bass on my funk, rock, industrial and hip hop tracks but that might just be my personal preference as a bassist coming through, rather than a fault of the headphones.
NAD claims its RoomFeel technology can deliver the warm, open sound of a live performance – it is good and roomy, but for me to get that vibe I needed to be sat in a quiet space.
You can’t ignore how good these headphones look, although the choice of a shiny black finish did cry out for my fingerprints to adorn them within seconds.
The HP50 are very comfortable and I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending the VISO HP50 to anyone contemplating buying headphones in the £250 price range. You should at least take them for a test run.