Review: Perfect Loungeroom Companion With ST-800 Headphones

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The ST-800s make for the perfect, stylish lounge-room companion for kicking back and watching your favourite flick in solitude – though a few pitfalls make this enticing budget-buy take on the pro-audio headset a little less appealing.

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The ST-800s deliver great sound quality that is pushed by the large 50mm drivers that provide deep, well-rounded bass. While the bass is smooth and complementary to the other sound ranges, it’ll still leave you wanting a little more if you’re listening to music. Sound quality for film audio fits best with this set, with mid-range shining on any volume and vocals coming out clear as day.

Thanks to the attached bass/treble equaliser, you can crank up the treble if the bass starts to spread over the top-end sound frequencies. You’ll rarely need to tweak the settings to make any peaking high-end sounds bearable, with the smooth sound rounding out the edges and avoiding harsh screeching from the speakers even at its highest volumes. This is an extra nice feature since you’ll only really notice how clear these headphones can be on low-, mid- and high-range sounds at the same time when you pump the speakers high.

Back to this equaliser – this is the feature that makes the sound what it is. Acting like a typical amplifier, a 5x3cm unit attached to the thick, braided cable enhances the sound by boosting the signal and allowing users to customise the sound with a few simple buttons. While it isn’t an all-out equaliser, it does benefit from its simplicity, sporting only an ‘on’ button, an ‘EQ’ button to switch between bass and treble functions and a ‘plus and minus’ to adjust levels.

 
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On the downside, the sound is nothing without this little unit functioning. The headphones provide a base of flat, tinny sound on their own, so users are reliant on using the attached equaliser. This wouldn’t be a bad thing if it weren’t for the battery-life issue. Running on two AAA batteries, the ST-800s are meant to last up to 12 hours, though my own tests fell a couple hours short of the mark. If you’re playing audio on high volumes you’d have to invest in a rechargeable pair of AAAs – but the fact that there’s no integrated battery to charge is a big downer.

A mute button and volume knob on the right earphone make for simple sound adjustment on the go, but doesn’t make up for a few annoying automatic functions from the EQ. While power-saving is handy on a unit that sucks juice, it is often the opposite here when after a minute of no sound input the EQ turns the headphones off. Pause your music for too long or take a bathroom break mid-DVD and you’ll have to go through the tedious task of reactivating the set which lags turning on. (Sounds like a nitpick, but it can get irritating if you stop/start a lot or try to sit through a TV show series).

Large cups attached to a full-leather headrest and cushions make this a comfortable set to wear, but the same bulky build and slightly higher-than-average weight doesn’t make them the most subtle pair of headphones you can get. Cups adjust on x and y axis to fit snugly onto the ear, with billowing leather cushions comfortably rest against the ear. While the style is there with the black and gold finish, matching braided cables, stitched leather and overall classy design, these aren’t a pair suited to much portable use.

 
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These are ideally a pair of lounge-speakers for your own personal use, and excel at being that (minus 5.1 surround, but you get what you pay for). They look good sitting next to your TV in the same way that iPod docks are now made to be a centrepiece in the lounge room. On top of that, TDK have thrown a few extras into the box that make the ST-800s more functional around the home (and studio).

The cord length on its own is 1.22 metres, but a 3.6 metre extension cable makes lounging back and watching TV with personalised sound a simple possibility. A 6.3mm adapter allows the headphones to be plugged into older professional audio equipment, amplifiers and anything else still using the larger 6.3mm connection.

TDK’s ST800s have just been released with an RRP of $249.

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