Harman Kardon Soho-I review: Small and swanky on-ear headphones

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The Good The Harman Kardon Soho-I are stylish, compact on-ear headphones that are relatively comfortable, fold up, and offer strong performance for their size. The headphone cord is detachable and replaceable and the headphones come with an Apple-friendly remote/microphone (Soho-I) or universal remote (Soho-A) for making cell phone calls.

The Bad The hard clamshell case is ill-suited to the headphones' compact design and hard to use; the headphones let in a fair amount of external sound; could sound better for a $200 model.

The Bottom Line The Harman Kardon Soho-I headphones are appealing if you're looking for a compact on-ear model, but they do have a few shortcomings.

6.9 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Sound 7
  • Value 6

Harman Kardon, a relative newcomer to the headphones market, impressed us with its debut models, which include the CL (Classic), BT (Bluetooth), and NC (noise-canceling). They're a good blend of unique styling, impressive sound, and a fairly comfortable fit.

I had high hopes then for the company's latest edition to the roster, the Soho, a more compact on-ear model that features Harman's sharply angled square earpads and vintage-inspired industrial theme. The Soho-I model reviewed here is an Apple-friendly version with an integrated remote/microphone. There is also a Soho-A version that has a "universal" inline remote designed for use with non-iOS devices.

Unlike the aforementioned Harman Kardon models, the Soho trims away excess material, including the company's signature interchangeable metal headbands that allowed you to tweak the headphones' fit according to your head size. Instead, the stainless-steel arms on the sides of the headphones gently taper into the unified leather headband for a padded listening experience. For sturdy headphones, they're pretty light, and I thought their overall comfort level was good, though some people may find that the thin headband doesn't offer an incredibly secure fit (if you shake your head with some force, the headphone may move around a bit). And due to their smaller size, they don't seem to work great for those with larger heads (I had big-headed editor Ty Pendlebury give them a whirl and he didn't like their fit as much as I did).

The Soho comes in a version for iOS devices and one for Android and other smartphones. Sarah Tew/CNET

The Soho-I, which comes in black, white, or camel, reminded me of Bowers & Wilkins' P3 headphones. Those, too, have square earcups that are removable (they adhere magnetically). You take off the earcup to attach or detach the included cable, which can be replaced should it get damaged. That's a nice plus.

However, I wasn't too thrilled with the hard, clamshell-style case that ships with the headphones. I felt similarly about the B&W P3's case, but at least with that case, the headphones were easier to put away. In general, Harman Kardon could do better with its cases across its line, and the Soho-I should come with a simpler soft case. The fact is these headphones are very compact for an on-ear model -- they fold up -- so they should come with a case that preserves that compactness. Instead of the P3, HK should have looked at Bose's OE2i, which come with a perfect carrying case that takes up little room in a bag.

You remove the earcups to detach the cable (click image to enlarge). Sarah Tew/CNET

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