When I reviewed Denon’s $50 AH-C351K ( ), I found it to be a good value for an affordable set of canalbuds, but otherwise unexciting. So when the company sent its $100 AH-C560R canalbud headset, I was curious to see what improvements a couple of years and a step up in price would yield. In Denon’s current lineup, the AH-C560R sits between the $50 AH-C360 and the $150 AH-C710, both of which omit headset functionality.
Canalbuds like the AH-C560R essentially split the difference in design and (usually) price between traditional earbuds and in-ear-canal (“canalphone”) models. (See our in-ear-canal headphone primer for more details.) Since they fit partially in the ear canal, canalbuds block some external noise and aim to form an acoustic seal that improves bass performance. However, they don’t block as much sound as true in-ear-canal models, and, as with those models, getting a proper fit can be tricky, the cord can produce unwanted microphonic noise in a listener’s ear, and using the headset function can be weird due to the occlusion effect of having your ears plugged while talking.
The AH-C560R sports black earpieces with metal highlights; each eartip attaches to its earpiece at an angle. At the junction of the cables for the left and right earpieces sits a moderately sized, three-button (Volume Up, Volume Down, and Play/Pause/Call) remote with a microphone. Denon includes with the AH-C560R an ovular, semi-rigid, zippered carrying case; three pairs of silicone eartips in small, medium, and large sizes; a set of medium-sized foam Comply Tips ( ); and a shirt clip.
Although Denon’s restrained styling lacks the “luxurious” design of competitors such as V-moda, the AH-C560R’s build quality feels solid—I suspect these headphones could take a pretty good beating. Because of the angle of the eartips, the earpieces have a fairly shallow fit, which I found to be comfortable, although it didn’t feel very secure. Turning the earpieces upside-down and routing the cables over and behind my ears—an approach some canalbud vendors recommend by default—allowed for a deeper and more secure, though less comfortable, fit. (Using the Comply foam tips improved comfort.) The remote’s buttons have a stiff, satisfying action, although the buttons are identically sized and shaped—even though the volume buttons are embossed with + and – symbols, and the center button is slightly recessed, it isn’t easy to tell them apart in normal use.
I was initially concerned about the positioning of the AH-C560R’s microphone, which places it several inches below your mouth. In practice, I found that voices captured by the microphone sounded a little distant and quiet; however, this was similar to the performance of some headsets with microphones positioned at mouth level. So while the AH-C560R’s microphone performance is only average, I don’t think its position puts it at an inherent disadvantage—as with much of the competition, the microphone is adequate for phone calls, but it falls short of the best headset microphones I’ve heard.
Turning to music reproduction, the AH-C560’s sound is impressively smooth and coherent. Bass, midrange and treble frequencies are all clear with good (though not exceptional) detail. The AH-C560 emphasizes strong (and only slightly boomy) bass, but manages to do so without obscuring the midrange and highs, which is, in my opinion, the best compromise for a bass-heavy headphone. I did find that the AH-C560R somewhat lacked a sense of silence between notes, as well as separation between individual instruments or voices. However, audio is otherwise so smooth and likable that this is only a minor complaint.
A comparison between the AH-C560R and the $80 Maximo iP-595 ( )—one of my canalbud favorites—was revealing: Overall sound quality is comparable, but the Maximo offers slightly more-detailed midrange and treble, while the Denon has a slight edge in bass detail and weight. The biggest difference is that the Maximo provides a more-spacious sound, while the Denon sounds more smooth and relaxed. In this respect, the AH-C560R is more similar to the $90 ThinkSound ts02+mic ( ), which has a comparably likable sound (and only a single-button remote), but with greater bass emphasis, less bass clarity, and more-relaxed treble. The AH-C560R’s midrange and treble also tend to sound better than those of the ts02+mic, if only because they’re less obscured by bass. Finally, although I didn’t have any of V-moda’s canalbuds on hand for a direct comparison, I found the voicing of the AH-C560R to be similar enough to V-moda’s house sound for the Denon offering to be a compelling alternative.
Macworld’s buying advice
I think just about anyone would enjoy the AH-C560R—its audio detail is good without brightness or harshness, and the overall balance is good enough that the slight emphasis on lower frequencies won’t offend most listeners. If you’re in the market for a great headset with a three button remote, but you’re not quite sure what sort of sound you’re looking for, the AH-C560R is a good, safe choice that’s easy to recommend.
R. Matthew Ward lives in St. Louis and enjoys the finer things in life: food, drink, Apple products, and well-reproduced music. You can find his thoughts on these and other subjects on his personal blog.