Denon is big news in the high-end audio world. Its name has long been synonymous with the stuff that has audiophiles gazing lustfully in pro-audio stores. The AH-C700s are the company's return to high-end earphones and promise precise sound, optimal comfort and solid build quality.
At a price of £149, the C700s are up against the likes of Shure and Ultimate Ears. This may be a moot point -- Denon's name is renowned for high-performing gear. Whether or not its professionalism in its established fields is enough to rocket these 'phones to the top of the earphone flagpole shall shortly be discovered.
The C700s are without doubt the toughest-looking earphones we've ever seen. While Shure's equivalents reign in a body of plastic, Denon's babies are built with machined aluminium. This gives them a huge head start in terms of ruggedness and the initial hands-on feeling is remarkable.
The main body of the 'phones strongly resembles silver bullets -- in both appearance and aesthetics. A 5mm central shaft secures the delicate but strong silicon tips and houses an 11mm diaphragm driver. A small hole at the rear of each earphone functions actively as a reflex port, as well as equalising pressure around the diaphragm.
With comfort being of high importance, Denon has gone to great lengths to ensure a good fit, especially considering metal isn't known for its general softness. Thankfully, the fit is excellent and the length of the aluminium housing is enough to secure the 'phones comfortably in the ear.
Silicon tips of three sizes are provided to help you get the best fit. The tips are responsible for sound-isolation and also contribute hugely towards the bass performance of any earphone -- choosing the right fit is crucial.
Performance on the whole is exceptional. In fact, these are certainly among the clearest earphones we've heard. The high end is where it feels the most work has been applied -- clarity is beautifully crystalline. The glockenspiel in the opening phrases of Saeglopur by Sigur Rós, is so defined and intrinsically well reproduced, the instrument can be almost felt. You'll hear every subtle hi-hat accent, every delicate pluck of a metal-stringed guitar.
Electronic music stands out particularly thanks to the tuned bass and the precise high end. Although the bass isn't as powerful as some other headphones, it's incredibly well balanced. Only hardcore drum and bass fans may seek heavier bass.
While the bass is tuned and warm, a responsibility lies with the listener to ensure a good seal between the inner ear and the silicon tips. In itself this isn't a weakness, as choosing a larger tip assists in this scenario. But when a medium-sized tip feels most comfortable, correctly positioning the earphone takes some trial-and-error experimentation.
Prolonged usage (four or more hours) caused very slight discomfort along the ear's anti-helix (the base of the curved cartilage), though it should be noted that everyone's ears are shaped differently. This is partly the result of positioning the earphone to help produce more powerful bass. Using a larger silicon tip can alleviate this problem.
The C700s can go up to a high volume. Those people who enjoy really loud music may find that the clarity and treble the 'phones produce give significant discomfort at these high volumes. The emphasis of low- and mid-range sounds through Shure's SE530s counter this error, but at the cost of true clarity in the high-end. For this reason, choosing between these high-end earphones may come down to your taste in music (and price, of course).
Denon's AH-C700s are terrific earphones, it has to be said, and are even more terrific value for money at £149. They shine with most electronic music, classic rock, folk, orchestral, pop... the list goes on. Fans of very heavy rock and metal, who enjoy loud music, may want to try a pair before buying as the superb clarity can on occasion negatively impact on listening pleasure.
If you demand relentlessly powerful bass and are prepared to pay, consider Shure's SE530s. These £330 monsters won't give you the divinely crystalline clarity the C700s give, but the no-holds-barred power produced by this triple-driver earphone is unsurpassed by anything commercially available today.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Kate Macefield