Reviewed by Steve6
April 27, 2012
Pros: Bold and clear; excellent marriage of deep bass and detail
Cons: None, particularly at this price point
Trying out a fresh piece of audio gear might not be quite as thrilling as getting into a new car for the first time, but as enthusiasts know, it’s pretty close. And it’s even more exciting when it’s a brand-new product that has yet to hit the market.
I was lucky enough to spend a week or so with Spider Cable’s new PowerForce over-the-ear headphones, which are about to make their official debut.
At $129, these guys will have quite a bit of competition in the marketplace, and that’s a good thing for consumers. But I’d be very wary of a direct comparison to any specific product. I think they’ll find their own niche in the marketplace, and quickly.
I tested the PowerForce with my nothing-fancy desktop PC sound card, an iPod nano, and my beefy Outlaw Audio RR 2150 receiver. Physically, I found them to be lightweight and comfortable, eliminating a surprising amount of exterior noise. As for the music, I slapped on a few of my usual reference downloads and CDs, then scanned my digital cable music channels – a nice, eclectic way to sample a variety of music.
I was immediately struck by a bold, beaming, energetic presentation. I’m a headphone veteran who has run the gamut, through myriad Koss, AKG, Sennheiser and (most recently) Grado products. Frankly, I was pretty much bowled over by the sheer clout of these ‘phones. From Gotye/Kimbra to DJ Tron to Cristian Arango and Rush, I was struck by a wide soundstage and bountiful level of bass; lots and lots of bass, but not so much that it obliterated the rest of the music.
On jazz cuts, I appreciated the simplicity and intimacy of a quartet; I could close my eyes and “see” exactly where John Coltrane, Jimmy Garrison, McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones were sitting or standing. On a Mickey Gilley tune, I could revel in the sonority of the steel guitar. When Arthur Rubenstein played Beethoven all by himself, I was transfixed. On a vintage Duke Ellington romp, the band was absolutely front and center – and roaring!
One night I watched/listened to an entire Rolling Stones concert from Austin, Texas, circa 2006 on YouTube. Without divulging my age, let’s just say that this is rock ‘n’ roll as I know and knew it – loud, raucous and performed with complete abandon. When Keith Richards plays a truly nasty guitar lick on his Fender or Les Paul, I want it to sound that way – raunchy. Rock isn’t “smooth.” It isn’t “sweet.” It isn’t “polite,” and any type of sound reproducer shouldn’t attempt to render it so.
As control, I went back a few times to my trusty and beloved Grado SR80s. My first thought was, “WHAT HAPPENED? Where did everything GO?” Suddenly, even with the volume boosted, the music was nearly devoid of fire and excitement, almost as if a veil had been placed over everything.
This, of course, raises an essential point about the world of audio. We hear differently. We listen to different kinds of music. A terrific sound for some will be grating and headache-inducing for others. A headphone or speaker that plays back, say, a string quartet in a delicate, creamy way will likely be far less than satisfying when called upon to deal with pop, rap, hip hop, electronica, etc.
The PowerForce was designed to strike the best possible balance. I was told that prototypes were returned to the engineers repeatedly until the proper result was obtained. All of this refinement shows. PowerForce is ready for prime time, and I can’t imagine any headphone, especially one costing $129, doing more. No, it’s not for everyone. It will be “too much” for some, and “not enough” for others. But that’s what makes this hobby fun, no? I think that headphones are a more personal consideration than any other component, even speakers. After all, it’s your head we’re talking about, folks.
Spider – already successful in the audio- and video-cable market – wants to attain a position in the headphone world, based on a combination of sound and build quality and (especially) price. If the PowerForce is any indication of what the company can do, I’d have to say this about Spider: Yes they “cans”!
(More info is available at http://spidercable.com/detail.php?g=46)