MP3 players are practically as prolific as cell phones now--heck, some of them are cell phones. Regardless of what portable device provides the music, one thing is a given: the stock earbuds that come in the package aren't doing ears any favors. Clearly, the landscape is ripe for aftermarket headphone manufacturers, which explains why companies such as Denon, which is normally associated with home audio, continue to expand its portable product lines. The latest midrange model from Denon is the AH-C551 In-Ear Headphones, a $100 pair that offers solid sound quality and a low-profile design. These earbuds certainly stack up against competition from Creative and V-moda.
We're pretty pleased with the design of the Denon AH-C551 earphones. The 'buds are very small and low profile, and the overall style is understated. Unlike Denon's lower-end model, the AH-C351, the AH-C551 only come in one color option: black. The earpieces are aluminum and don't feel cheap--a thin silver ring around each end gives them just a hint of class. Also, since they are so small and feature slightly rounded edges, they're quite comfortable, even during extended wear. Denon includes three sizes of silicone ear tips to help users get a proper fit--you'll need that to achieve the best sound isolation and bass response. We had no issues achieving a good seal with our ears.
Fortunately, the cable design of the Denon AH-C551 earphones is different than that of the AH-C351, so you don't get the annoyingly uneven weight distribution. Rather, the AH-C551 features an even Y-cable (measuring 14 inches) descending from the earpieces. A slider at the bottom of the "Y" helps to prevent tangles when the headphones are not in use. There, the cable joins and extends a further 4.5 inches to the straight plug. Denon also includes an extender that measures about 32 inches long and terminates in a right-angle plug. All told, the cord ends up being plenty long enough to carry an MP3 player in a pocket or bag. Plus, the cable is relatively thick and seems fairly durable. The included zippered hard-shell case can also help to increase the life of the headphones.
The Denon AH-C551 In-Ear Headphones offer nice, balanced audio quality. They're definitely not as bass-heavy as V-moda models, so if you prefer a more even sound, this is the place to look. Still, the AH-C551s are not incapable of pumping out the bass, especially for tracks heavy on the low-end (Paul Oakenfold's remix of Justin Timberlake's "My Love" really thumped). We paired the headphones with both our computer and a Creative Zen V Plus for testing and were not disappointed. In general, music sounded rich and encompassing, with plenty of warmth through the mids and clarity on the high-end details. There were a few songs here and there that suffered from some jarring highs, but they were few and far between. These 'phones are definitely worthy of their $100 price tag.