Too many headphone makers these days think they have to tattoo a rapper's name onto the plastic, otherwise they won't sell.
Thankfully, the Sony MDR-ZX600 headphones dispense with such nonsense, instead offering the delightful combination of good looks, great sound and an affordable price tag.
They can be yours in a choice of colours for £60 from the Sony store.
Design and build
The ZX600s offer an over-head, on-ear design that's definitely aimed at the style conscious. My review model came in a crisp white colour that would appeal more to the minimalists among you than those looking for the brashness of 'phones like Skullcandy. The back of the ear cups have a brushed metal panel, on which you'll find an etched Sony logo. It adds a pleasing premium touch and saves the headphones from looking cheap.
If clean white doesn't appeal, then the ZX600s also come in black, with either blue, red or grey accenting. All of these look smart and will certainly fit in among all those devilishly cool people walking the streets to their own soundtrack these days.
The styling is more subtle than models in the inexplicably popular Monster Beats range, but they're arguably rather smart. And you won't be charged a whopping premium for their looks.
The headband can be adjusted to fit even the most gargantuan of noggins. It manages to be just tight enough to keep the 'phones in place, without squeezing your cranium like a polar bear's jaws. It's surrounded in a soft padded material that adds nicely to the comfort, although it does feel a little thin. It put up well with my testing, but I fear that it would quickly wear through after extended use and that's sure to spoil the stylish appeal.
The ear cups are a fair chunk bigger than some on-ear headphones. They're able to fit around the ear, but they're not as bulky as closed-back cans like the Denon AH-D2000s. That means a more comfortable and secure fit, giving better passive sound isolation than ear cups that simply sit on your ear. They also help to reduce noise leaking out and annoying everyone on the bus.
The cups fold flat, which makes them slightly easier to store in a bag, and more comfortable when they're hanging around your neck.
The cable is sturdy and feels well attached to both the ear cups and the input, so it's unlikely to be ripped out if you're the type to frequently get it caught on a door handle as you walk past. It's been made flat, rather than rounded, which seems to help it resist tangling. I find most headphones become impossibly knotted after a stint in my bag, but the ZX600s avoided such a fate for the most part.
The headphone world is currently being swamped by models arriving with artists' names on (I'm looking at you, Justin Bieber Beats), most of which assume that brain-banging bass is the answer to audio nirvana. For a pair to really impress me, they need to offer a fine balance between good definition and punchy bass.
The ZX600s use a single 40mm driver in each cup to power the sound, rather than use multiple drivers to tackle different frequencies, as you'd find on some more expensive models. The audio produced is very pleasing for a lower-end set of 'phones though.
Bass is handled well, coming across punchy and warm, without being overpowering. Fans of pop and rock music will be pleased with the level of low-end provided, although if you like the sort of sub-sonic bass woofs that can tear down a house, they might not be quite up to the task. I found the bassy synth lines in Noisia's track Stigma to be loud and forceful, while still letting the kick-drum enjoyably cut through.
Best-song-in-the-world Plug in Baby by Muse was handled with equal aplomb. The synthy bass line was warm and powerful, while the crunchy guitars cut through well in the mid-tones.
The headphones don't do quite so well in the high-end, with the cymbals failing to offer quite the amount of sparkle I'd normally like to hear. I've certainly heard worse efforts from more expensive headphones though. Sigur Ros's stunning track Glósóli was reproduced well, with the pounding drums and rhythm guitars cutting through without muddying up the ethereal lead guitar parts playing over the top.
They don't offer quite the sonic separation you'd find on high-end closed-back headphones, so die-hard fans of classical music will want to stick to the audiophile Denon AH-D7000s or the AKG Q701s, for home listening at least.
The ZX600s really aren't for the audio purists. They're designed for out-and-about use -- probably plugged into a phone playing 128kbps MP3s, rather than high-quality lossless audio files on a Hi-Fi system. For their intended use, the ZX600s cope extremely well for most musical genres.
The Sony MDR-ZX600s offer that much sought-after combination of style, good sound quality and a reasonable price tag. If you're looking for an upgrade from the earphones bundled with your phone and want something with more swagger for the street, the ZX600s are an excellent option.