There seems to be two extremes in headphones and most people inhabit one or the other exclusively. On one hand you have the people who are quite content with the tinny travesty that either comes with their MP3 player or they can get from Argos for less than £10. On the other, you have the pompous sound-snobs who have never spent less than £100 for a set of high-end headphones. These are the people who claim to have the “Golden Ear” that can discern sound quality differences between encoding bitrates. When I establish my Reich, these people will be forced to listen to Jedward’s Eurovision song ‘Lipstick’ repeatedly through their overpriced headphones until they puncture their own eardrums with a rusty screwdriver to make it stop.
As with a lot of technology markets, there is a neglected middle-ground in headphones that so far only Skullcandy has any real brand identity in; the problem is that Skullcandy’s memorable but garish designs are most definitely an acquired taste. Can the ‘duo’ headphones from Radiopaq, available for around £20, bring an air of understated style and quality to the melodic mid-range?
Radiopaq espouses the comfort of wearing the ‘duo’ headphones, and indeed they withstood prolonged use without making me look or feel like Gary Lineker. Rather than entombing the ears in the earpieces as most headphones do, the ‘duo’ instead presses lightly on the edges of one’s lugs with its enormous padding. Indeed, the whole headset is encased in so much padding that, had this not been a review model that I am obliged to return in full working order, I would’ve dropped it just to see if it bounced. However, the sad outcome of all this padding is a product that I am almost physically repulsed to touch, let alone wear on my head. Both the rims of the earpieces and the upper-headband are covered in padding wrapped in a slippery plastic coating that almost made my drop-test an inadvertent reality. Overall, I found the overuse of padding to be very off-putting. Sure, I’d much rather have that than a brushed metal finish that would cut into my cranium like a carving knife, but it still feels like overkill. Within the earpieces themselves, the speakers are covered in an oddly ill-fitting material that is extremely loose, feeling more like the underside of an elderly iguana (trust me). Where the wires meet the earpieces, the grips are also very loose, so unless you remain eerily still in listening to music, you’ll get the grating crackle of static if you knock the wire. The headphones are available in a wide-variety of colours, from low-key black to a green that I avoided for fear of it being radioactive. All things considered, the ‘duo’ headphones look and feel poorly built, though relatively cheap you would still expect better for the price.
But enough of my vain fixation on form, what about function? Well, the sound quality in these headphones is…fine. Just fine. I can’t fault them on sound quality, they certainly do better than cheap earbuds that make it sound like you’re listening to your tunes from the inside of jam jar, but at the same time they lack anything to make them particularly memorable. Radiopaq describes the bass as “defined [and] mellow”, which sounds like a terrific way of saying ‘imperceptible’. I don’t claim to have the ‘golden ear’ but I do have at least two semi-functional lugs that can’t detect any notable management of bass. Sound comes through crisp and clear, which I suppose is all you can really expect.
Portability is usually the deal-breaker when it comes to deciding between headphones and earbuds. If you’re studious enough to have a bag crammed with books but too much of a Luddite to have replaced them all with an eBook reader yet, then you won’t want to shoehorn a cumbersome set of headphones in there too. Luckily, the ‘duo’ headphones can fold in and out like a Transformer and tuck away rather nicely. The earpieces are lean enough that they could be fairly portable without this feature, but it’s useful all the same.
So if you’re looking for a set of functional and portable, if otherwise unremarkable, headphones, and you don’t mind feeling like you’re routinely handling a dead eel, then by all means look into Radiopaq’s ‘DJ-style’ duo headphones. If you’re willing to shell out a little more you can get more solidly build built, higher quality or even wireless headphones that will serve you far better. Incidentely, wireless headphones, with an average price tag of around £30, can double-up as a cheap Cyberman costume for Halloween when combined with tin-foil and a voice synthesiser.