Not long ago I wrote a blog about a recent discovery of mine: the Urbanears Plattan headset/on-ear headphones, priced at $59.99. In my blog, I said the Plattans reminded of the first set of really good headphones I ever owned—the classic Sennheiser HD414s that arrived on the scene way back in the 1970s. In truth, you could draw a number of parallels between the two products, because the Urbanears, like their precursors, the HD414s, are affordably priced (even for college students on tight budgets), sound better than they have any right to for the money, and offer an unmistakable touch of style. Back in the day, you could personalize your HD414s by buying foam earpads for them in various colors, but Urbanears ups the ante in two ways: first, by constructing the Plattans of astonishingly upscale materials, and second, by offering them in fourteen different colors.
Of course, beauty is as beauty does, but the attractive Plattans offer a warm, sophisticated, and compelling sound, which means their appeal runs more than skin deep. While they are not, by any stretch of the imagination, state-of-the-art contenders, their sound is rich and evocative, flattering most types of music you might choose to play. In turn, their sonic “sins,” per se, are mostly those of omission meaning that the Plattans have both a welcoming and also somewhat forgiving quality, meaning that they have an almost uncanny knack for revealing the good stuff in most recordings—even those that tend to be a little rough-edged.
But two of the slickest aspects of the Plattans, which are very much 21st-century products, involve their iPod/iPhone/cell-phone friendly design. First, the Plattans are very sensitive and can be driven to satisfying volume levels by iPod or cell-phones without the use of outboard amplifiers of any kind. Second, the Plattans can function not only as headphones but also as headsets, because they incorporate a handy inline mic module with a built-in send/end button. Third, though the Plattans are full-sized on-ear headphones, they offer an ingenious collapsible design that lets them fold up into a compact, fist-sized package for in-pocket carrying.
For those of you unfamiliar with Urbanears, let me mention that the firm is based in Stockholm, Sweden, but manufacturers its products in China in order to contain costs. It’s one of those serendipitous marriages where the consumer gets to enjoy Scandinavian design and sonic sensibilities coupled with the precision and cost efficiencies that have, of late, made Chinese manufacturing options (or at least well-executed variations on that theme) so popular. By way of introduction, allow me quote from the Plattan owner’s guide, which reads,
“Urbanears is a collective out of Scandinavia, motivated by a common interest in global relationships and shared involvement in the relevance of the living brands. Urbanears promotes a deeper connection to color, form, and people while providing the freedom to transcend individuality and unify the sound experience.”
“Urbanears makes headphones that fit your everyday life. With a legacy in functionality, we supply the perfect listening device for anyone with a pocket full of music and a wish to make the most of it…”
“We designed Plattan to be the perfect classic headphone, utilizing innovative functions and performance with today’s technology. It is a full size headphone allowing for rich, secluded sound. You can fold it down to the size of your fist for maximum mobility. Plattan also comes with a “zound plug” on the earcap, allowing for a friend to plug in and enjoy your music.”
Consider this headset/headphone if: you want a product that offers very good sound quality, great flexibility, and a pleasing Scandinavian sense of style—all at a very modest price. Consider the Plattan if you respect designs that have chosen their points of compromise well—almost always erring in the direction of flattering the music, rather than deliberately and ruthlessly highlighting its rough edges.
Look further if: you don’t really need or want the Plattan’s iPod/iPhone/cell-phone friendly features. If you’re willing to invest another $20, you can get somewhat more sophisticated sound with an option such as Grado’s SR-60i headphone, though it will mean sacrificing the Plattan’s cool headset features and collapsible design.