Urbanears is a Scandinavian design collective based out of Stockholm, Sweden whose mission, it would seem, is to build sleek headphones that combine—in roughly equal parts—chic Nordic industrial designs, genuinely high-quality sound, and absolutely killer value for money. My first exposure to the brand came through the firm’s delightful Plattan headphones, which I reviewed in Playback issue 29, but here we’ll turn out attention to the firm’s even smaller and lower-priced Tanto on-ear headphone/headset ($40). The Tanto, like many Urbanears products, is available in a plethora of fashionable colors, and serves—in a sense—as the modern day equivalent of one of the great on-ear headphones from the past; namely, the Sennheiser HD414. (Readers of a certain age may recall the 1970s-vintage HD414’s as the headphones that won the hearts and ears of an earlier generation of listeners seeking ‘phones that looked cool, felt good, sounded great, and were, for their time, very affordable.).
My thought is that the Tanto may play a similar role vis-a-vis a new generation of listeners that has grown up with devices that could scarcely have been imagined back in the 1970s; namely, iPods, cell-phones, tablet and netbook PCs, etc. In Urbanear’s own colorful words, the Tanto “is constructed for maximum mobility without the compromise of performance, adorned with a sleek, minimalist look. We designed it thinking you want the full sound experience in a lightweight and portable headphone made for everyday use to be taken along wherever you go, like a good friend.”
Attention, Playback readers. In a moment, I’m going to offer some very favorable comments on the sound of the Tanto. But before I do, I need to tell you that with the Tanto’s sonic excellence is highly dependent upon finding a wearing position that enables the headphone’s earpieces to rest squarely and firmly against the surfaces of the listener’s outer ears. You might think that, since the Tanto earpieces are attached via swiveling ball joints, it would be easy to obtain an optimal fit, and for many listeners that is indeed the case. But for some listeners, the Tantos seem much harder to fit, so that they quickly slip out of position, causing a significant drop in sound quality. For this reason, I would urge prospective buyers to try a pair of Tantos before making a purchase—just to make sure the headphones fit properly and thus achieve optimal sound (which, at its best, is very good indeed).