TDK’s NP100 headphone set aims clearly at walkman users, and what you see is what you get with them- just the Sony-styled neckband cans and 1.1m of cable.
It’s a good job that this design hugs the ears, so that you’re not taken away from the sound in any way, although unlike a conventional closed-back pair, some sound will simultaneously get in (like in traffic or on the underground) and leak out for others to hear you broadcasting, according to how far you raise the volume to compensate. Listening to them as you work at a desk gives you a pleasant quality. In that case it’s sad that even turning your head will threaten you with whiplash- had the cable been 1.5m that would have allowed a minimum amount of travel.
There’s not much to dislike about the NP100s other than the length. The sound is upfront, so the snares on Justin Timberlake’s Like I Love you are razor shape and the vocals are brought to the forefront, rather than going for the deepest bass in the world- that’s left to whatever your player can do to adjust the sound, or it’ll just give you what your portable is capable of without any extra base/EQ changes, as if you’d hit the source direct or tone disable on your amplifier.
We didn’t find the NP100s sucking up battery life like heavier ‘phones either. They did hit their limits with operatic soundtrack music such as Ave Maria by Calli (from the Donnie Darko soundtrack), where Lesley Garrett combined with the surrounding bassy orchestra just proved too much for them, but that was a deliberate push to see what would happen. When the high female vocals were sampled and filtered in dance music, they fared slightly better. The best surprise was when we located the booming Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger from a remastered Bond compilation - the bongos at the end were audible and the instruments balanced where cheaper sets would lose the background to the vocals. There was also enough bass weight to reflect the improved production on Duran Duran’s View To A Kill and A-Ha’s Living Daylights. If the production had been lacking though, the NP100s wouldn’t have had anything in reserve to try and improve it like pricier headsets.
Maybe at the price an in-line remote is too much to ask for but the other minus would be the lack of a carry case like the NP100's portable stablemate. If you can find a third-party cable extender, they're worth shortlisting, otherwise the Audio Technica Icools rule the roost under £30 unless you've got to have the latest look and don't mind not turning your head.