Harman Kardon CL detailed review
The CL moniker on these cans presumably stands for classic. The sandblasted steel headband and machined frame give it an industrial look while retaining a decidedly retro appeal. If indeed CL is for classic, we’re in agreement. The headphones are closed back portable cans that come with in-line controls for Apple devices and a microphone for answering calls.
Design and build
The black matte housings, which incidentally are squarish, make the headphone look irresistibly elegant. They’ll immediately catch your attention and any observer would quickly want to handle them and try them on. Since the steel headband attached directly to the driver housings (or ear cups) there’s no mechanism to make it adjustable. Instead, to facilitate the optimal positioning Harman Kardon has thrown in another headband – in effect you have two headbands one for smaller melons and one for larger ones. The swapping mechanism isn’t very easy to figure out. Though once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to do it in no time. But how will two sizes be customisable enough for a good fit, you ask? The suspended padded-leather band beneath the steel bows serves to adjust itself to your head size. The band is suspended using some sort of elastic material.
The steel hinges connecting the CL’s housings to its headband enable the ear cups to swivel and adjust to your ear as well. In fact they can swivel enough to make them completely flat – in the plane of the headband – making them easy to store in say a backpack.
The headphone has a particularly sweet sound signature. You’ll especially relish these if you’re preference in music is guitar driven rock. Bass is accurate and just the right amount over the standard flat response neutral headphones. By and large supra aural headphones have a tough time competing with circumaurals in terms of comfort, but these cans are extremely comfortable even over extended listening. With supra-aural headphones, what we’ve noticed is that the headband clamping pressure is always a bit on the higher side. Perhaps this is to ensure a good seal, in-turn ensuring decent bass response. The Martin Logan Micros 90 which we had for example need a perfect fit and seal to deliver its optimal bass level. With the Harman Kardon CL this is thankfully not the case.
The headband clamping pressure is at a comfortable level and yet without pressing down on your ear, the headphone is able to deliver accurate and tight lows. Perhaps the unique baffle Harman Kardon has used in the construction indeed does create air flow that extends low frequencies. Speaking of bass response, the 40mm drivers on this sonic performer are rated at a frequency response of 16Hz to 20kHz – rather unusual for headphones in this category to go that low even in terms of specs. The pillowy foam makes for a good seal and results in fairly decent passive isolation and perhaps even bass reproduction.
As for the performance of the in-line microphone and quality of buttons, we had absolutely no complaints. Perhaps the only area we found lackluster was sound-staging but now we’re just nitpicking.
The Harman Kardon CLs are one of the most comfortable pair of over-the-ear headphones we’ve had – not even the Grado SR 225 was as comfy. Aurally, they happen to be one sweetest sounding headphones we’ve had. And to top it off, they’re certainly one of the better looking headphones we’ve laid eyes on. That’s three things going in favour of the CL. Slightly pricy? Yes. But justified.