Philips CitiScape Uptown Review (vs. Brainwavz HM5 and Audio Technica ATH-AD2000) **Last Update: Sept 18, 2012** About: The Uptown is the highest model in Philips' new CitiScape line of headphones. They come in black/brown or silver/brown, and are priced at $150 USD (street is/can be much lower). A few specs: Impedance: 32 Ohm Sensitivity: 103 dB Max Power Input: 30mW Drivers: 40mm Cable Length: 1.2m (~4ft) Connector: 3.5mm As you can see from the specs these should be pretty easy to drive, so an amp isn't required. In fact, I found that apparently the Uptown's are unable to be used with a 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter (messes up the sound). My guess would be that this is due to the iPod/smartphone compatibility built into the cable? In any case, it would would seem that these headphones can only be used with portable players or amps with 3.5mm jacks. I've had these for a little over 3 weeks now, and have been using them as my primary headphones. I did all my listening via: FLAC → Cowon X7 → Uptown, ATH-AD2000, HM5 Where I'm Coming From: In order to hopefully help others better understand this review, I'm going to try and briefly explain my sound preferences, experiences, and outlook. My favorite headphone is the Audio Technica ATH-AD2000. No, I haven't heard any other headphones of similar or higher regard, but I'm also pretty sure I don't really care to outside of curiosity. I have no feelings of upgraditis, because the AD2000 are perfect and satisfy me in every way. However, I know that most people haven't heard them, so I'll be more general. I've been unsatisfied with the quantity of bass in headphones that other people have generally described as being “neutral” (e.g. SRH440, A700 to a lesser extent), but I'm certainly no basshead either. Overall I'm after extension and tightness rather than huge quantity or getting punched in the side of the head. I hate recessed mids and big treble spikes. Both the SRH440 and A700 were too bright for me. I don't necessarily mind color, and I prefer a more forward or engaging sound. I find a headphone that is too laid back to be very boring. I'm less fervently “audiophile” than some people around here seem to be. I don't really take stock in cable upgrades, “tweaks,” or things of that nature. I sold my desktop DAC/amp and started listening to my AD2000s (a headphone which some people pair with the Zana Deux) out of a Cowon DAP and I don't feel like I'm really missing out on anything. I don't claim to have golden ears or anything, and I don't have tons of experience. I just give my honest thoughts and impressions. I'd like to contribute if and where I can, and I know there were at least a few people who were interested in these headphones. Unfortunately I haven't heard most other headphones in this price range, so the helpfulness of my impressions are limited in scope. For that reason, just remember to take things in context and with an appropriately-sized grain of salt. Now then, without further ado... Packaging: Personally, I could give a crap about packaging. Unless the packaging doubles as a carrying case or something, I'm just going to throw it in the closet and never look at it again. I've always been puzzled by “unboxing” videos and reviews that talk about this a lot with tons of pictures. However, in case anyone was curious here's a picture (not mine): Build: I think Philips did a fantastic job here. They look and feel great. Everything feels very well put together, and for once I'm not afraid of putting a pair of headphones inside my shoulder bag. The metal bars that connect the cups to the headband slide up and down in steps and lock into place very solidly, unlike other headphones I've had which felt loose and wobbly. The cups are also able to swivel (to a limited degree) at any angle. The pleather earpads and headband cushioning are good quality—very soft and smooth. Also, I was pleasantly surprised to notice that these actually have angled drivers. There is one exception to all of this...the cable. Well, the cable itself is actually fine. While it doesn't exactly inspire confidence because of how thin it is, the flat, springy, non-tangle aspect of it doesn't really bother me so long as it ends up proving to be durable enough. It's the in-line remote and 3.5mm connector at the end that are disappointing. They are cheap looking and/or cheaply constructed, and quite frankly are not on par with the quality of the headphones. Even the colors are mismatched. The connector looks to me like an off-brand Lego piece, though I can't fault it in the sense that it's functional and seems solid enough. As for the remote, I really wish it wasn't there at all. I never plan on using it. The saddest thing though is that even if I did want to use it, I still wouldn't because it works horribly. It goes from from normal volume to very quiet very quickly, and the slightest touch produces all kinds of static and very noticeable channel imbalance. Honestly, I look at it more as a liability. It's a shame, especially since I like everything else about these a lot. I just keep it up at full volume, don't touch it, and adjust the volume from my Cowon and that works fine. Other than that, the cable is rather short at 1.2m/~4ft. Perfect for reaching down to a DAP in your pocket, but a little difficult for home use without some sort of extension. Comfort/Isolation: Extremely comfortable. Like I mentioned, the earpads and cushioning are very soft and smooth. The cups are circumaural for me, but on the smallish side. I measured the space for the ears to be about 1.75” W x 2.25” H. I'd imagine them to be similarly sized to the Shure SRH440/840. A big problem I've had with certain headphones is pain caused by headband pressure on the top of my head. I'm happy to report that I've had no such experience with the Uptowns. They can get a little warm after a while (~1.5-2 hours in an 80 degree F room), but not hot. Clamping force is sufficient to keep them from falling off the head or sliding around, but is not particularly strong either. Personally, I actually like headphones with a nice firm grip, and wish these clamped a little stronger. It would definitely help out with isolation. Speaking of isolation, it's not amazing, but good. About what you can expect from most other full-size headphones. I've used these in a car and at a train station, and while I can certainly hear all the sounds from the environment, I'm also able to continue enjoying my music without having to turn the volume up too far above normal listening level. I listen at relatively low levels though, so others would probably fare a little better. Leakage is no problem. All in all, I can comfortably wear these for hours. Basic Sound Signature: Seems to me the Uptowns have a very mild “u-shape.” Overall I find them to be well balanced though, with the exception of the treble being a little emphasized (though based on other peoples' impressions on other headphones I've owned I imagine I might be a minority in thinking so). The bass is not at all overpowering, nor do I find the mid range to sound recessed. Bass: Yes! Bass extension! The Uptowns fit my criteria of having adequate extension down to at least 30Hz. Even a 25Hz test tone isn't quite as rolled off as I was expecting. (Note that it is more on the side of “hear” rather than “feel” down in this area.) Without at least this kind of extension, I find upright bass in jazz to be unlistenable and a lot of notes in other songs can just get lost. The bass is nice and tight. I don't hear it straying into any places it shouldn't be. No boominess or one note bass here, though I suspect there is a little distortion. The HM5, in contrast, sounds muddled, indistinct, and is lacking texture. While the Uptown's bass quantity seems to be easily above a general “neutral” territory, it's not exceptionally strong or over-emphasized. It can pick up when it needs to, but is generally well integrated with the rest of the sound. Mids: I guess I would say that I find the mids on the Uptown to be smooth and clean. They are neither extra forward nor recessed, but somewhere in the middle. Overall they have more clarity than the HM5. For example, the HM5 can render vocalists a little boomy/muddy. This never happens with the Uptowns as far as I can tell. At the same time though, certain female vocalists can sound slightly nasal when compared with the HM5, but it's something I only notice when doing direct comparisons. I'm not sure if there's possibly a little bump somwhere in the upper mids, or if I just get this impression due to a treble peak somewhere. Anyway, even though the mids on the HM5 are probably a little higher quality in the end, I prefer the mids on the Uptowns for being clearer and more consistent. Treble: I find the Uptowns to have some emphasis on the treble, but not by too much. While a little peaky, I don't find them to be harsh or particularly fatiguing. They're only a few dB away from being as well integrated as the bass is to me. In terms of quality, I don't have any complaints. I also don't have anything in particular to praise. One thing that I've still got to give the HM5 credit for is producing cymbals with very realistic timbre (I'm a drummer). Although I do think that the HM5 are just slightly dark, their treble is more refined. The Uptowns are just a little too bright and uneven to match that naturalness, but not necessarily in a way that can't be enjoyable. Brass instruments have more satisfying bite, and rock is much more exciting to listen to on the Uptowns. Attack/Decay: I find attack to be slightly on the soft side, but certainly not to the point of being boring like the HM5 are. Bass drums have a good thump to them, while things like snare drums and cymbals are just a little lacking. (My reference for this is the AD2000s though so you can take that or leave it.) Decay is satisfactory. Sounds fade out nice and linearly. Soundstage/Imaging: Odd as it may sound, this is actually the standout feature of the Uptowns to me. People have said that the HM5/FA-003/etc. is very good in this department for a closed headphone. Quite frankly, the Philips blow them out of the water. With the HM5, the soundstage has a strange shape to it. Anything that is panned in the center sounds farther away, while things that are panned to the left or right sound closer. Basically it's like a “v” shape, as if the “v” is around your head and you are looking down into the point. When I first got the HM5, I mistook this phenomenon for depth. In contrast, the Uptown's soundstage is spread evenly from left to right, and it has the ability to communicate real depth/ambiance/layering, unlike the HM5 which simply has a hollowed out center image. It is also at least as wide as the HM5, possibly ever so slightly wider. It's not huge in the grand scheme of things when you take open headphones into consideration, but it's far from small. Instruments have a nice sense of space around them and don't sound cramped at all. One thing I love about the AD2000 is the fact that they are quite good at “disappearing.” What I mean by that is, instruments sound less like they are coming from two transducers on the side of my head, and more like they are coming from the “air.” (Get it? "Air"?) Well, the Uptowns share this same quality, believe it or not. In fact, the soundstaging/imaging of the Uptowns in general very much reminds me of the AD2000s. In the end, the AD2000s still do what they do better, but the margin isn't nearly as big as you might think. Additional Thoughts: There is something strange about the HM5s. Aside from the oddly shaped soundstage with its hollowed out center image, the cups (at least I'm guessing its due to the cups) create a kind of reverb effect on the music. It's a little less noticeable on certain recordings, but other times it is very obvious and weird sounding. I've heard it described by someone else as sounding like “listening to music from inside a well.” I myself said it sounded kind of like listening to music inside of a concrete tunnel or a cave. In any case, with the Uptowns, while you can still tell that the cups are there and it sounds sort of “plasticy” compared to an open headphone like the AD2000 (though this is true of all closed headphones I've owned), it's not at all as invasive as it is with the HM5. Relative to the HM5, the Uptowns sound more natural in this regard. Summary: At the end of the day, my overall experience with the Philips Uptown has been very good. The cable/remote is pretty annoying, but everything else is great, so I guess it's a matter of whether one is willing to compromise on that. They are extremely comfortable and very enjoyable to listen to as a whole. They don't make me miss my AD2000s at all when not at home. I think they make good all-rounders, as I didn't come across any genre that I found particularly lacking with them. If you can live with the cable, I think these would make a fantastic circumaural portable headphone. Update (Sept 13, 2012): Here is a post of mine from another thread concerning my thoughts on the issue of achieving a seal with these headphones and the possible effects it has on sound. Add an additional grain of salt to my original review as this could possibly be a factor which makes me hear these differently than some others might. Update (Sept 18, 2012): Another Head-fier had a problem with the sliding mechanism in the headband. Read about it here: http://www.head-fi.org/t/612677/review-philips-citiscape-uptown-updated-sept-13-2012/105#post_8709718 Be sure to note the responses after his original post as well. RockStar2005 and Sherlockaled like this.