I tried the SHL-5500 a couple of months ago in a big electronics store here in Holland, and I was also very much impressed by its sound and wearing comfort. It was clearly better than all other headphones in its price range (they had a big selection of AKG, Sennheiser, Sony, Beyer and other brands). The first headphone, price-wise, to sound and feel better was the Bose On-Ear, at 3 times the price! (I am not a Bose fan, but the On-Ear is actually quite nice). I should add that most headphones there were of the 'over ear' type, which don't feel comfortable to me. There were a few of those that had comparable or slightly better sound quality, mainly Sennheiser and AKG, but none below the SHL-5500's price point. The biggest problem with headphones these days seems to be muddy, boomy, over-emphasized bass. I guess most people don't appreciate the difference between quality and quantity! Thankfully the Philips SHL-5500 did not suffer from that at all. Anyway, I have ordered one from Amazon.co.uk for about 40 euro's, shipping and VAT included, and I hope to receive it next week.
In the meantime though, I had also ordered an SHL-9700 based on Dutchflea's message above (dank u!), and because of the stylish looks and one-side cord. It cost me 55 euro, VAT and shipping included. It arrived earlier today and I am very happy with it! It replaces a very old Sennheiser HD-455, which had nice unoffensive sound and great comfort, but which is not good enough to enjoy high quality music recordings. My impressions of the SHL-9700, in short:
SHL-9700 sound quality:
Very nice, and I'm quite picky where audio is concerned! These headphones have a neutral and quite natural sound with good detail, timbre and definition over the whole spectrum. They do not sound agressive or extremely revealing and the basses don't boom. I've been listening to it basically non-stop for 8 hours now, mainly to rock, jazz, electronic and small-ensemble classical music, without fatigue. In all, a well-balanced pleasurable sound with good (not perfect) detail. Vocals sound nicely intimate, but not warmer or more 'present' than they were recorded. I noticed two weak points: 1) it tends to emphasize sibilants a bit (sharp 'S'-sounds in vocals, cymbals, violins and white noise) but except with poor recordings this is not too distracting. 2) Bass, while well defined and deep, seems a little recessed, as if its volume is cut by -4 dB or so. For that reason, I suspect that these headphone are less suitable for fans of rap, metal and dance. For all other types of music, I'd warmly recommend them.
By the way, I listened only through a Sony midi-set and through the on-board sound of my PC. Obviously, neither of those is of very high quality. I thought I'd also give it a try on the hi-end system in my living room, but then realised that it has no headphone socket..! :). The reason why I had wanted to try a better source is because these SHL-9700 headphones did not give me a good sense of big, 3D space and instrument placement. You do hear 'air' and natural reverb in good recordings, but these SHL-9700's are not as finely detailed, revealing and effortless-sounding as e.g. $200+ Sennheisers and AKG's. Of course, that may in part be due to the mediocre sources that I used. Besides, those are not really qualities that one should expect in < $75 headphones.
Other observations: The SHL-9700 are surprisingly light weight and very well-built. I think they'll last a long time. As for wearing comfort, I have a fairly big head and when I first put them on, I found the pressure that they exert slightly uncomfortable (the Sennheiser's that I'm used to 'sit' with hardly any pressure), but I got used to them and had no discomfort after hours of wearing them; and still they have good enough grip so they won't drop off your head when you walk or jump around. With their 'on the ears' shells they feel much better to me than the more popular 'over the ears' type headphones (and those usually press much harder on your head, too). They do not block all of the outside noise, but likewise they do not shield others from the music either so I wouldn't use these in public at very loud levels. The cord is quite short, 1.20m (I'd have preferred it ~30cm longer, so I could more easily move around at my desk) and cannot be replaced. It has a 3.5mm jack. No 6.3mm converter for full-size sockets is supplied.
To sum up, I think these SHL-9700's are pretty good headphones in absolute terms, and they're very good -a great value!- compared to competing headphones in the same price range.
Well, I hope this is of some use to fellow Head-fi readers. When I receive the SHL-5500, I'll let you know what I think of those as well. For now, I'm going to spend some more time with Natalie Merchant..