- Oct 18, 2009
Noontec is a name perhaps unfamiliar to most here in headfi. They are an Asian/Australian company that started up way back in 2002 making hard disk based movie/media players. This sort of product never really gained much traction in the North American market, as people here were more likely to use DVDs or stream from a media computer rather than a separate player. But on the other side of the globe, Noontec was making a name for itself and became one of the world's leading manufacturers of media players. By 2008 they had annual sales of well over a million units. Let the scope of that sink in for a minute, so you realize this isn't just some little boutique company.
Over the years they've branched into other media related devices and accessories, and started into the headphone game somewhat recently (I want to say around 2012, give or take). One of their first headphones, the Noontec Zoro, even landed on Innerfidelity's wall of fame. An impressive achievement for a company's first start into the realm of portable hifi (it has since then been displaced by its successor, the Zoro II HD).
I contacted their marketing department about their product cycle, and they told me they only develop new products slowly and carefully, to ensure they only release high quality goods. They also expend significant effort to reduce manufacturing costs, in order to keep their products more affordable. For an MSRP of $109, I can start off this review telling you that the HammoS is a very high value headphone.
So with that brief bit of background out of the way, let's move on to the review itself in my usual rambling sort of way.
Packaging and Accessories
It's a simple sliding cardboard box with images printed on it. It's actually quite a small package and you wouldn't expect a full sized headphone to be inside. On the back they have a brief blurb and tech specs printed in nine different languages. I guess they were going for an international appeal/vibe there.
Open up the box and you see the carrying case with the headphones inside, and a small user's guide. Amusingly, there was also a half sheet of paper comparing the HammoS against the Audio Technica M50 to show superior specs and lower price. Maybe this was just something in the early releases; it strikes me as a bit unnecessary.
The case is semi-hard and does a good job of protecting the headphones. It's got an attractive glossy aesthetic with a carbon fibre pattern to it. Simple zipper enclosure, and a carabiner for... I guess hanging off a bag or belt? The case does not have a built in pocket, but has a removeable one. I would have liked to have some velcro to hold it in place, but this is a minor nitpick.
There are two cables included. One with control button and one without. I only ever used the plain cable.
One annoyance with the cables is that unless you fold them up very very tigtly and/or tuck them into a crevice instead of the pocket, it's actually difficult to close the case without feeling like you're
The immediate thought when one opens up the case for the first time is that the HammoS is very similar to the Beats aesthetic. Same general shape and folding mechanism, and similar case as well. The plastic is matte in appearance, not all shiny blingy like Beats. This can be good or bad dependind on what kind of look you want. The overall build quality is obviously not as luxurious as the Oppo PM-3 that I recently reviewed; the parts definitely look and feel like plasticky, but at a fraction of the price I have no complaints.
While the plastic doesn't look like much, it seems sturdy enough and a few cursory twists and bends does not betray any creaking sounds or feelings of weakness. I wouldn't put them to the full stretch test like V-Moda headphones, but they don't feel like they'll break on me anytime soon. Some light scratching with my fingernails and pen caps left no marks on the plastic, so it should be reasonably resistant to scuffing.
The headband has a piece of metal over plastic, and the adjustment mechanism is a moderately stiff compression slider with light notching. The cups themselves have two degrees of freedom sitting on a double gimbal system and allow a reasonable amount of adjustment to fit your face. The folding hinge is metal and plastic and clicks into place via simple detents. I do wonder whether they could have made the entire hinge metal, but that's a minor niggle.
The pads are ok, The material feels like pleather on top (protein cotton), and a fabric on the bottom. I can also feel the stitching line in the pads between the pleather and fabric which can be a bit itchy if your ear touches it. The overall fit is small, and I have small-ish ears. Those with big ears may not find these circumaural. The depth is also shallow; my ears bottom out on the scratchy foam and the itch gets to me over time. The pads are removeable, but -fair warning- it's a bit scary to do so. Don't pull the pads off the lip, slip a screwdriver underneath and pry up the entire section. It'll make a terrible cracking sound but that's just the sound of the plastic retaining ring popping free.
The headband padding is ok; feels like a soft vinyl with some foam underneath. I do wish it were a bit softer as I frequently get that pressure spot on the top of my head, but I'm more senstive than most to this. I find the clamp average and doesn't cause any comfort issues. Overall weight is moderate, but it's distributed well over the cups and headband so I have no qualms there.
Isolation overall is good. I feel it's about average for a closed can. It's got that slight rise in the midbass though, typical of closed cans that resonate in that region and sometimes amplifies noise. At first I thought the cable was slightly microphonic too, but actually it's just the cup again that is highly resonant. Tapping the cup produces much the same sound as rubbing on the cable.
Sensitivity is high. It gets plenty loud on my Sansa Clip+ and I don't really care about much power beyond that for a portable headphone.
It is a relatively darker sound, but it feels brighter at high volumes, so there's that V-shape sound to it when turned up.
The soundstage is small, but not claustrophobic. It sounds like a closed headphone, but not terribly so. I realize it seems like I just repeated myself, but it's not quite the same thing. Typical closed headphones all have a certain characteristic to them, like a slight boxiness, and the HammoS is no different in this regard. But some headphones are overly “boxy”, which the HammoS does not suffer from. Similarly, the soundstage is very cozy. There's not much depth or width, but what's there is even handed, I would even say rounded. I never felt like it was too closed in.
Overall I felt the sound was quite clean and controlled, with nothing egregious sticking out.
Oddly though, I did find it difficult to get immersed in the sound. Orchestral or anything with environmental/room acoustics in the recording didn't quite feel right. This maybe had something to do with the mids which I'll describe in a second.
I did develop a bit of an uncomfortable feeling during longer listening sessions. It felt a bit like pressure building. This is the opposite reaction I had compared to the Oppo PM-3 and V-Moda XS (which were my most immediate comparisons for closed headphoens) where I usually start off griping but then ease into the sound. I suspect that has a strong correlation to how I react to the comfort. With the PM-3 and XS, they both took some time for the pads to warm up and for the overall fit to settle onto my head and become more comfortable. With the HammoS, I had the opposite where the initial fit was most comfortable, but then over time I felt the need to take it off. It's all in the peculiarities of how headphones fit on your head/ears, so this will be wildly different per person.
- very good extension, feel it down to 30 Hz
- midbass hump, typical of closed cans, adds the warmth
- feels like a mild distortion rise in the midbass/low-mids, moreso than low bass
- lots of kick, well... less kick, more of a grunting stomp. Kinda mushy in the upper bass
- lots of rumble in the low bass, feels slightly boxy ie: closed headphone
- forward upper mids, but not quite shouty, more “presence” feeling
- I can't quite tell if it's a mild dip or a peak I'm hearing in the upper region; possibly both
- I suspect this is partially where I can't get immersed in the sound
- still has some bright spots that give the false detailing
- feels a bit like a Beyer? not quite the right comparison, but something like that
- but overall seemed turned down compared to the rest of the FR
Comparisons against the V-Moda XS and Oppo PM-3 since they are portable closed backs I recently reviewed and were freshest in my mind:
vs V-Moda XS
- XS is airier, more expansive and open feeling
- XS feels like it's aiming for hifi sound
- HammoS is bassier, more kick/punch/grunting
- HammoS feels like it's aiming for consumer sound (not in a bad way)
- nitpicking: XS feels hollow while HammoS feels boxed
- Oppo is a far better build quality and more comfortable
- HammoS soundstage is rounder, while PM-3 feels a bit shallow but wider
- PM-3 much gentler into the treble range, HammoS feels a bit sharp in comparison
- PM-3 mids are cleaner
- HammoS much more “fun” sound, PM-3 kind of boring in comparison
The HammoS markets itself as a competitor with the M50, but I think that's the wrong comparison. The fit and styling is all Beats, not the M50 (nor other “studio” headphones). Soundwise, I actually think the overall shape is reminiscent of open Sennheisers, except closed if that makes sense.
I've reviewed quite a few closed-back headphones in the past that all floated around the $200 range. I feel the HammoS competes quite well against all of them for half the price, and even bests them in some regards. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a gamechanger, but Noontec is certainly setting the bar for good quality at budget prices.