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Harman Kardon Classic review: Harman Kardon Classic

The Harman Kardon Classic on-ear headphones combine an impressive design and excellent sound quality to create a very enticing pair of headphones for a somewhat reasonable price.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
4 min read

Harman Kardon has recently made a big push into the headphone space with a number of new models, including the Classic (or CL for short), a set that retails for $199.95 and may be the best of the bunch.

Harman Kardon Classic

Harman Kardon Classic

The Good

The <b>Harman Kardon Classic</b> headphones have a unique, sleek design with excellent fit and finish and impressive sound quality. They also fold flat (a nice carrying case is included) and have a detachable cable and an Apple-friendly inline remote and microphone that makes them a good companion for iOS mobile devices.

The Bad

The headphones are fairly pricey, and the inline remote and microphone won't work with many non-Apple smartphones and tablets.

The Bottom Line

The Harman Kardon Classic on-ear headphones combine impressive design and excellent sound quality to create a very enticing headphone set for a comparatively fair price.

This is an on-ear model that has a very distinct design, with a modern take on an old-school double headband and square earcups that harken back a little to the Bowers & Wilkins P3 and P5 headphones. The top portion of the headband is made of metal. Here's what's interesting: Harman includes two sizes of that metal piece and you can easily swap one band in for another, depending on the size of your head.

I personally don't have a very big head (at least I didn't think so), so I went with the default Small band. The headphones were fairly comfortable but didn't feel great, especially over longer listening sessions, so I looked at the instructions and swapped in the XL band. It definitely made a significant difference. And while I can't say these are the most comfortable headphones I've tried, they're comfy. Just not supercomfy. Of course, comfort level varies from head to head, but a couple of editors I passed them off to for a test run felt similarly.

The Classics' on-ear design passively seals out ambient sound. Sarah Tew/CNET

It's worth noting that they did create a tight seal on my ears and managed to shut out a lot of ambient noise. In other words, while this isn't an active noise-cancellation model, the Classic does passively block out a good amount of sound, and it doesn't leak sound either.

As far as extra features go, you get an Apple-friendly inline remote and microphone. With Apple iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod), you can use the Classic as a headset for making calls. Call quality was good in my test calls. Using the inline remote, you can raise and lower volume, skip tracks forward and back, and pause/play your music. Those features will be more miss than hit for non-Apple smartphones, so take that into consideration if you're an Android user (the microphone and some of the remote features may work with certain Android models, but they aren't supported and don't usually work).

The headphones fold flat and come with a nice carrying case. Sarah Tew/CNET

The headphones don't fold up, but they do fold flat -- and by flat, I mean really flat. While the included carrying case is fairly large in terms of height and width, since the headphones fold so flat there isn't much depth to the package. It stows away nicely in a laptop bag or backpack, or potentially your suitcase.

The headphones have a detachable cable, which is nice, though you do have to detach that cable to get the headphones to fit properly in the case. Luckily, the headphones' designers have been thoughtful enough to include an interior pocket in the case for storing that cable.

The detachable cable with its Apple-friendly in-line remote and microphone. Sarah Tew/CNET

Overall, I really liked the sound of these headphones. I tend to like well-balanced, "accurate" headphones, and the Classic fits that profile, with detailed sound and bass that's plump and pleasant but not overreaching. For closed-back headphones, the sound feels open and not canned at all. There's a bit of restraint in the treble, so you're not going to get that edgier detail of "faster," more aggressive headphones that push the treble harder. I wouldn't call these laid-back, but they're fairly warm and I tried them out with a variety of music and came away feeling that they were quite versatile. That said, if you're someone who wants headphones that can deliver a more thumping bass, the Classic may not quite satisfy you.

Close-up of the square earcup. Sarah Tew/CNET

At $199.95, the Harman Kardon Classic headphones are fairly pricey. But when you combine their impressive fit and finish and sound quality, they actually seem fairly reasonably priced compared with the competition. I compared this model with the $199.99 Bowers & Wilkins P3 headphones, which I also like, and came away feeling that the Classics were better and offered slightly richer sound, measuring up well against the $300 B&W P5 model. I also put the Classic pair up against the Audio-Technica ATH-M50 headphones, which are one of CNET's highest-rated over-the-ear models and a relative bargain at their $160 price. The ATH-M50s had the slight edge in sound quality (a little more bass, a little more detail), but the Classics have that built-in microphone and iaredesigned for both home and mobile use, whereas as "studio monitor" headphones, the ATH-M50s are more for home or office use.

For those considering Harman Kardon's step-up Bluetooth Wireless Over-Ear Headphones ($249.95), alas, I haven't tried them yet, but I'd venture to guess that the Classic earphones sound better. And despite my small quibbles about their comfort level, I have no problem recommending them.

Harman Kardon Classic

Harman Kardon Classic

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8