Despite being established since 1946, Onkyo headphones are a rare sighting out on the streets. And with on- and over-ear headphones dominating the daily commute these days, now is the perfect opportunity for Onkyo's latest Bluetooth H500BT cans to make their statement.
Dressed in white, these dinky on-ears cut a distinctive stance, but do they cut through the other wireless contenders available at this £170 price point? We've been using the H500BT headphones for a number of weeks now to make-up our minds.
Onkyo H500BT headphones review: Design
You've probably spotted plenty of giant on-ear headphones lately, but the H500BT avoid falling into the super-massive category; they're not tiny small, though, as when perched on the ears they protrude outwards and kind of make your head feel extra large (and not necessarily in an ego way).
In terms of materials Onkyo has opted to use a mixture in the H500BT. Initial feelings are "oh, these are plastic", with a selection of faux brushed-metal-style platic sections and dotted transparencies to add texture and interest to the otherwise monochrome white design (they're also available in black). The only glimmer of colour is the red strip around the metal "pillar" which injects into the right earcup, indicating it's the right-hand side.
Just because plastic is prominent, doesn't mean it's the only material used. Those metal pillars add some needed sheen and solidity, while the subframe to the headband is also metal lined for stability - you'll see that when adjusting the headphones for fit, which is easy to do by tugging individual earcups downward, accompanied by reassuring clicks between sizes, of which there are many.
The 3.5mm cable included is an interesting entwined cable, which clicks into place at both headphones and receiving device ends - which we found handy to use as a separate 3.5mm cable once or twice when inputting into a speaker - or you can ditch it altogether for wireless Bluetooth (if the on-board battery is charged).
Comfort is a subjective thing, of course, but we've found the H500BT headphones a bit of a mixed bag in this department. The squishy foam padding of both earcups and stitched-on headband provide ample softness, but as these are on-ears there's the apparent feeling of them resting on your lobes. They're far from a proper lobster-pinch by any means, quite the opposite in fact: their lightweight build rests gently on the noggin.
The main issue we've found is not comfort, but positioning for the most pertinent listening experience.
Onkyo H500BT review: Sound quality
Onkyo is going big when it comes to high-resolution audio, meaning you can squeeze a little extra out of various HD formats from the H500BT (when using a wired connection only). Although you might struggle to notice when out and about, as the isolation of these cans isn't especially good.
That's the biggest issue we've had with these headphones really: positioning them for an optimum listen. Because the 7Hz to 40kHz frequency response range from the 40mm drivers is massive, encompassing punchy bass through to twinkly highs. But a lot of that bass can be lost if the earcups don't ensconce your ears entirely, despite their closed acoustic design. Plus 7Hz seems like an oversell: because sub-bass is around 20Hz and that's barely audible anyway.
When stomping along on a commute, however, we've not felt any kick-back resonant vibrations like you can experience in some bass Bang & Olufsen offerings, for example. It's a clean listen in that regard.
Whether you choose to go wired or wireless, we've found the Bluetooth connectivity to be solid and easy to sync with a relevant device. There's lots of volume too, unlike some brands that can't deliver as loud sonic levels without the wires, and the battery life has lasted us for days at a time without issue. Plus when it depletes you can still use these headphones passively with a wire.
Oh, and if you're wired-up to a phone then incoming calls can be received instantly, plus there's a built-in mic on the headphones themselves. Perhaps not the number one reason to buy, but a decent feature nonetheless.
Overall we rather like aspects of the Onkyo H500BT on-ear headphones. They're small and light, yet deliver decent audio whether using them wired or wirelessly via Bluetooth. The caveat, in our experience, is that potentially poor positioning will lose you bass and overall impact due to external noise.
What we also don't like so much is the £170 price tag, as there are plenty of competitors out there capable of offering just as much or more for that money. And many of those competitors aren’t necessarily as plasticky, can be positioned better for a more direct-to-the-brain listen, or are over-ear derivatives.