Since my regular headphones — the Shure 250s — have taken quite a beating, I wanted to get them serviced and, in the meantime, wanted something cheap but with decent enough quality to listen to. My selection was quickly narrowed down to the Sennheiser CX300, the Creative EP 630 and the Philips SHE 9550. Among these, the Creatives were the cheapest, coming in under $25, and the Philips coming in second (around $25) with the Sennheisers being the most expensive (between $35 and $50). I finally ended up buying the Philips SHE9550/27 and here’s my review.
The Philips SHE9550 is an in-ear model canalphone. It sure is designed well; the orange line along the earpieces quickly draws your attention once you see them. The packaging also includes a cable winder as an accessory. To start out, I have to say, yes there are numerous great headphones out there at around 70 bucks, but if you are just looking for something cheap and reasonably good at the lower end of the budget, the Philips 9550 sure kicks ass.
The Philips 9550 has a sensitivity of 105 (dB/mW) and an impedance of 16 ohm. That’s makes it a comfortable buy for any portable music player. The cord is about 1.2m, which is actually short compared to most other brands, though it works out okay if you're not above 6ft tall and keep your music player on your torso region. In fact, if you like to wear it around the neck, the cable winder should be very helpful. The headphones themselves come with a neodymium magnet and a mylar dome diaphragm. The headphones comes with “angled acoustic pipe channels for directional and precise sound.” Also provided is a vent control port for better bass response.
Taking a first look at the Philips 9550 pack, the words “rich bass” are strongly pronounced. If you are the kind of person who likes balanced outputs, then the 9550s could turn out to be leaning on the lower frequencies more than required. Bass lovers, this thing is going to rock your world!
Let's start with fit kit. The package comes with three sets of silicone fittings to see to it that the phone positions itself perfectly in your ear. Remember that, unlike normal headphones, IEMs or canalphones require a tight fit with your ear canal to produce good output (as well as bass) and noise cancellation. That said, though the fit in my case was good, I somehow felt that the noise cancellation (passive) was not good enough. Now I used the 9550 as shown in the package, by directly inserting it into my ear. After meddling around with fit for at least 15 minutes I decided to wear the Philips 9550 over the ear (as I used to wear my Shure SE250) and boy, did that make a difference!
The angled headphone pipe makes it very convenient to wear it as an over-the-ear, then plugging them into your ear canal. The noise cancellation improved significantly and was comfortable as well. I must add that Philips does not include any instructions on how to wear the headphones (go by the picture on the cover), but trust me the over-the-ear fit provides better sealing and comfort. Once I had my fit figured out, it was time to rock!
I started out with Mark Knopfler’s "Boom Like That" and boy was the boom great! The bass frequencies came out clean and clear with great depth. But somehow the mids and the treble were not really getting through. A quick check of my iPod settings showed that my equalizer (EQ) preset was the culprit — it had boosted the bass so much that it completely masked the rest of the spectrum. Once I disabled my EQ presets, the mids and the treble came out pretty well. Next on was "Barcelona" by the Plasticines, the 9550 picked up the feeblest treble that comes up in the track, and the guitar came out clear enough, though it could have been a bit shinier. "Waiting" by Santana with its wide range of sounds was a good test bed for the 9550. As expected, the drums came out great with observable texture difference between the different drums used, keyboard felt a bit dull, but the electric guitar was of course represented well enough. After testing it with a variety of music, I found that the Philips SHE9550 came out very strong in the bass feature (as expected) with shiny treble, though could have been better. Finally, the mids are a little recessed for my tastes.
If you are looking for a cheap pair of headphones but not cheap quality audio then the Philips 9550 is definitely a fantastic buy. The great bass, good treble and decent mids makes it a wonderful buy to fans of R&B, hip hop, and rock especially. The soundstage of the 9550 is not wide but is definitely decent enough for the price. If you’re into classical music then you probably shouldn’t be looking at headphones at this price range in the first place. Playing around with equalizer settings on your music player will definitely help you tailor this pair of headphones to your tastes and various music genres. On the whole the Philips 9550 is a great buy at a very affordable price and perfomance.