Audio-Technica iCool ATC-H5 Headphones review

4 out of 5
£30

For

Good performance; L-shaped jack

Against

Short Cable ; looks not for all; better bass than treble balancing

Look at the design and it’s easy to tell that the late great iMac has stamped its identity all over the design of these headphones - including its name. It also extends to the cable, which is sealed in clear moulded green and red plastic. The copper wiring is visible through the translucent cable and so are some of the electronics in the clear green cans.

The ATC-H5s give you 1.5m of cable, so non-walkman usage with a cable this short extends to plugging them into PC speakers on your desk late at night. Any other stationary use would need an extension for users wanting to sit on the sofa while listening. It is however, enough to put your CD Walkman at the bottom of your bag and still wear them with comfort when on the move. The other positive touch is the L-shaped 3.5mm jack, so you’re not fraying the wire if your portable is carried in a pocket.

The other great design touch is the pair of oval-shaped headphone cones, which are properly cushioned for comfort. The cones are held by two upside-down “U”-shaped clamps which themselves can rotate on a metal band surrounded in more rigid plastic. This ingenious design allows the iCool set to fold up and become ultra-portable. Wrapping the cable around the cones will then stop them from getting battered around in your bag (see photo). The top of that band is also padded for comfort and the entire headset can adjust and move easily.

All this great design work would count for nothing had the sound quality been below par. Listening over time allowed us to run in the ATC-H5s properly, since the brand new set had a hard edge to it. Three months later, the iCool headset gives midrange bass weight to MP3 playback but doesn’t swamp the listener with it. When those MP3s are sourced from high-quality audio streams, there’s no additional hiss brought on by the cans like cheaper headsets can create.

Taking some of the sample music we used to test the Proline DM1945MP3 budget CD player, the additional bass- presumably to enhance relatively neutral sound effects from computer soundcards- helped the music much more often than it harmed it.

Modern and potentially overproduced pop like Britney and Madonna’s Me Against The Music was improved by an infusion of low-end power since the production was bright. Justin Timberlake’s voice or the slap of the snare drums wasn’t adversely affected in Like I Love You. Meanwhile in Bond song Goldfinger, the bongo drums in the final climactic chorus were picked out by the iCool headphones in spite of Bassey’s overpowering repetition of the word “Gold” and the other instruments building to the track’s climax, showing an impressive ability with a digitally remastered, 40-year old piece of music Other sound performance commentaries will be available from the forums.

With each sample we tested, the pattern was repeated: more body to the music thanks to the bass with maybe some reduction in volume (and in the case of “Hell’s Angle” by Regular Fries, an EQ adjustment- the only song that needed it) but no swamping and/or overwhelming of the music. If you need to take your Walkman volume all the way down to below 5 out of 20/30, the bass will still let you hear it and the headphone pads will stop other people from being disturbed. The iCool set also passed the public transport test, screening out mobile phones, crying babies and most of the noise of the London Underground.

Verdict

So, it's another good budget model from Audio-Technica, another company with a solid grounding in studio and professional recording and listening equipment, but who produce an excellent and affordable consumer model every few years. The RRP of £30 is subject to barter on Tottenham Court Road where the street price is negotiable.

Even at full price however, in spite of the ATC-H5s possessing a shorter single cable and a less developed treble range than Beyerdynamic's DT-231/Galactics, they are still cheaper, less bulky and thanks to the fold-up ability, more portable. If you're looking to swap out your Walkman's in-ear headphones you could do worse- unless you want a longer cable for home use.