Denon often impresses us with its headphone and earphone products, and today we're hoping to add another model to a list.
Immediately, you see the same effort has gone into these 'phones as went into the C700s. Their bullet-like build, made from a machined aluminium, offers a feel certain to be alien to dedicated fans of Shure 'phones. Despite their heavy-sounding build, they're remarkably lightweight and feel no heavier in the ear than any competitor.
Packed into the box is an excellent zip-fastened carry case, silicon tips in three sizes and a 31-inch extension cable.
Our performance test started with a particularly bass-heavy favourite, 'Yeah Yeah' by Bodyrox. Hearing that powerful kick drum furiously pounding away without difficulty was a great start. The trippy distorted bass on Pendulum's 'Tarantula' was superbly driven by the C551s and vastly more impressive than Shure's SE110s.
Moving onto some Primus and Les Claypool's sometimes-smooth, sometimes-frantic bass lines drove beautifully through these 'phones. Drummer Bryan Mantia's crisp snare had the punchiness you'd expect to hear through good hi-fi speakers and his intricate hi-hat and bell rudiments had the tight, bright flavour so integral to the Primus signature sound. Also, the Octoban-driven intro to Primus's track 'Eleven', allowed us to see perfectly then-Primus drummer Tim Alexander performing live in our head.
Even more complex songs were reproduced convincingly through the C551s, such as Dream Theater's track 'Octavarium', which combines a frantic progressive drum and keyboard tracks, twin guitar solos, string sections, vocals and an underlying and intricate seven-string bass line.
However, towards the end of 'Octavarium', there are some extremely subtle, barely even audible vocal melodies that most ears would miss. Through the C551s these subtleties were even harder to detect and had slightly blended into the array of crash cymbals used in the song's climactic moments. So while these earphones are stunning compared to the competition, it's still important to remember they are sub-£100 'phones, and it's noticeable most in the high end.
We were sad to see Denon hasn't used the same cabling in the C551s as features on more costly models. The C551 cable tangles. The cable on the C700s never tangled and while it's a rare joy to see, one we think even a £70 pair of 'phones deserved to have. The cable used is still excellent though, but could've been that much more so.
Our final point is not a criticism, but simply an observation: when wearing the C551s for more than 45 minutes or so, the cartilage just above the lobes of our ears, ached uncomfortably -- something that only happened previously with Denon's C700s. Only one of us experienced it, so it's a very, very rare problem. If you're able to we suggest you try a pair out before buying, just to be safe, or at least keep your receipt.
These are absolutely superb earphones and blow almost all the competition out of the water. They're exceptionally clear with smooth, powerful bass and meaty mids. As an all-rounder, these take the gold medal. If you're prepared to sacrifice a bit of bass in favour of extreme high-end accuracy, check out Etymotic's ER-6is, otherwise the C551s will not disappoint.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday