We reviewed Philips' previous colloboration with surf brand O'Neill last year, giving the first version of The Stretch headphones a well-deserved four our of five stars. When we heard that there was a new version in town, once again featuring the handy non-tangle cable, we jumped at the chance to get them in for testing.
The Philips O'Neill The Stretch SHO956BK closed-back headphones sport a largely black finish with gold detailing that immeditely looks more classy than the previous version. The cans sports a similar smoky plastic headband, albeit darker and this time without 'The Stretch' written across the top. Finishing off the look is the black nylon lead with fancy gold thread woven into it.
Weighing about 180g, the headphones are nice and light and shouldn't add to much heft to your bag, even if you're carrying them around all day. This also means that they sit relatively lightly on your head and ears. The headband is crafted from a "high-grade nylon TR55 superstretch polymer" which is designed not only for durability but also for flexibility. What this means is that you should be able to expose your headphones to all sorts of punishment without them breaking. So shoving them in the bottom of your rucksack or accidentally sitting on them shouldn't do them much harm. This also makes them great for watching TV or listening to music in bed. Not only does this mean that you can listen to your tunes or films without disturbing your significant other, but it also means that the headphones won't get damaged if you fall asleep with them still on your bonce.
As well as some aesthetic tweaks, the new headphones also throw an in-line remote into the mix, which is a really nice touch that makes the cans just that little bit more convenient to use. There's also a mic for using with your mobile phone. The headphones are compatible with iPhone, BlackBerry, LG, Motorola, HTC and Palm handsets and there's also an adaptor for Nokia and Sony Ericsson phones.
We found that the headphones worked well with an iPhone 3GS, although the person at the other end of the call reported that the sound was rather muffled compared to a conventional call - though not enough to make it too difficult to hold a conversation. It was a bit more of a struggle when using the mic on the cable when out in a busy street, but we still managed to carry on a conversation, albeit with a few cries of "you what?". However, The Stretch were certainly no worse than any other mid-range headphones with mobile calling capability.
Like the previous model, the black and gold nylon lead has been designed to stay free of tangles, so that even if you chuck the headphones into your bag you won't need to spend precious time untangling the cable when they emerge. This is great news, and one of The Stretch's key selling points. The cable also features reinforced connectors for extra durability, while the lead can be detached from the left earcup meaning that if the cable gets caught on anything it should just detach itself, rather any damage occurring. The cable itself measures an industry-standard 1.2m, which should give most people more than enough room to move.
Just underneath the outer plastic headband, the headphones sport a stretchy elastic band that's designed to fit anyone. The band is not only wider than on the previous model, it's also been given some extra padding, both of which combine to make it even more comfy. The one-size-fits-all appraoch meant that the previous model could sometimes feel a tad loose, but the new Stretch cans feels substantially more secure.
Each earcup is well padded with faux-leather cushions that sit around the ears, rather than on them - a bugbear with so many other models that makes them uncomfortable and hot to wear. Not so, with The Stretch cans. We found that our lugholes were still perfectly comfy even after several hours of being encased in the earphones.
These surfy cans look cool and they're outstandingly comfy, but how do the sonics measure up? The audio is surprisingly good with warm, clear sound on most material. We found that some clarity was lost when we pushed the volume up, but no more so than you'd expect from a pair of mid-range cans. Likewise, the bass is also pretty impressive and although it's not audiophile grade, it's certainly packs enough power for a decent low-end performance.
The Philips O'Neill The Stretch headphones may have a preposterously long name, but they're mighty fine cans.
The manufacturer has managed to improve on what was already an excellent product by adding mobile phone mic integration, along with a handy volume control and extra padding on the headband.
These extra features, combined with the fact that the cans include a new black and gold finish (which looks much classier than the previous version's red and black) make this an excellent product. At £119, the headphones may be a little pricier than other mid-range models, but the tough build quality, along with the mobile phone capability and comfort are more than enough to justify the price tag.