Harman Kardon Soho Wireless review

Ultra-portable Bluetooth headphones with innovative features and flaws alike

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Our Verdict

The Harman Kardon Soho Wireless is a bit of a confused product, offering as much to the table that is spectacular to that which is, unfortunately, not up to spec against the competition.

For

  • Clean design
  • Spot-on touch controls
  • Alternative wired listening

Against

  • Expensive
  • Scratch-prone leather
  • Comfort issues

Continuing down the path of making edgy portable audio technology, Harman Kardon has whipped up the Soho Wireless. Like its Bluetooth speaker brethren, the Esquire Mini, these headphones are laden with classy detail and design. They even pack the same "that sound came from that tiny thing?" punch.

The Harman Kardon Soho Wireless has a lot going for it, but there are a few problems. At $249 (£229, AU$318), it's coming in at a premium price point for wireless headphones. Does this offering justify the investment required?

Design

The Harman Kardon Soho Wireless headphones are petite and portable. Accents of stitched leather and stainless steel make up the frame. The materials themselves are inarguably premium, but the execution sometimes feels like a misstep.

Harman Kardon Soho Wireless review

The headband is wrapped in leather on the top and bottom and under this smooth detail, my first issue with the Soho Wireless. The headband padding is awfully stiff against my head. The lack of plush support makes them feel more like wearing winter earmuffs rather than a pricey set of headphones.

Reaching down from the headband are the stainless steel sidearms. While they serve as the shiny highlights of design, the 6 adjustable notches also provide plenty of wiggle room to fit around my large-ish head.

Harman Kardon Soho Wireless review

Framed in the stainless steel bracket, the ear pads can swivel a full 180-degrees. For some extra portability, the hinges allow a 90-degree flex of the pads which allows them to achieve an impressively small form factor.

Each earpiece sports a leather-covered appearance topped off by subtle branding. Facing the ears, the thin coating of leather fixed to the padding is perforated to allow sound to pass through. These pads feel breathable, thanks to the mesh material underneath the grille.

Here, we'll also find the gamut of features. There's not much to see on the left, but the right ear pad is loaded. On the bottom, there's a 3.5mm alternative wired solution if you want to save battery. We also find the micro USB port for charging and the Bluetooth discovery button which doubles as a power button.

Harman Kardon Soho Wireless review

The right ear pad also boasts touch support for easy song navigation and volume control. Although you've only got a small area to move your finger around in, up and down accurately control the volume, with left and right swiping forward and backward between songs. One tap on the outside of the pad plays or pauses music and can also pick up phone calls.

The Harman Kardon Soho Wireless hope to be the go-to set of sporty, yet classy wireless headphones. They have no problem achieving something special with the design, but how does it stand up to everyday use?

Performance

Speaking on portability, the Soho Wireless are a breeze to carry around. I prefer to travel as light as possible and even without the included carrying case, these headphones fold up pretty nicely in my coat pocket. But you're not going to want to forget about the case. The leather headband was scuffed without incident, only the result of normal wear and tear.

The sound that the Soho Wireless produces is generally favorable, but it doesn't get the recipe totally right. Treble is the high point here, with tunes like "Only In My Dreams" by Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti coming through clearly. On the other hand, "I Could Be Underground" by Spoon shows that bass, while very present, is a little muddled and less defined by comparison.

Harman Kardon Soho Wireless review

I achieved just over 9 hours of continuous wireless play before I needed to charge again, which is a surprisingly good turnout for such a small package. The tether over Bluetooth was strong and never faltered. Calls come through without a hitch and the built-in microphones could pick up my quiet, inside voice as well as my "shouting outside in the streets of Manhattan" voice.

The touch controls are responsive. You'd think that the conductivity of a leather surface would be pretty bad, but correct inputs registered every time. It should be noted that, if you're using the wire to save battery, the touch function doesn't work. You're left with expensive wired headphones without inline controls or a microphone.

Comfort was a bit of an issue for me. I bring it up in every review of on-ear headphones that the on-ear style has its share of haters, but I'm not usually one of them. That said, these ear cushions are splendidly cozy, but the headband is about as uncomfortable as can be.

When I first started using the Soho Wireless, I noticed a subtle hiss in the right ear speaker while listening wirelessly. As of late, I haven't noticed it but it caused some worry off the bat.

We liked

Harman Kardon is onto something here. The flashy design and stellar portability will appeal to many. On top of that, these headphones offer fun, and more important, useful features.

We disliked

While the sound is approaches greatness for many genres of music, enthusiasts won't find much to clamor over here. And or as comfortable as the ear pads are, the headband is another story. More padding would have been appreciated for the price.

The design is tight and aesthetically pleasing, but handling them is an exercise in caution. The leather scuffs easily and it makes toting them around in the included bag necessary.

Final verdict

If you're in the market for stylish, portable, full-sized headphones, you'll really enjoy the Harman Kardon Soho Wireless. They make wireless listening easy and fun with the innovative touch integration.

If the questionable build material and passable sound quality are a bother to you, check out the wireless Koss BT540i. They offer several similar features with stellar sound quality backing it up for a cheaper price.