Making wood the primary design element for headphones is a trend, so it’s easy to wonder if companies are simply trying to cash in on a look rather than actually make good gear. The Griffin WoodTones Over-the-Ear Headphones, though, are a nice surprise. At $99.99 (direct), they’re an affordable pair with solid audio balance to go with their good looks. Bass lovers seeking booming lows might not find them beefy enough, and purists seeking flat response will find them too bass-heavy and sculpted, but for those of you somewhere in the middle, the WoodTones offer quality sound in an alluring design and earn our Editors’ Choice. Our other top pick in this price range, the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro, is focused on audio purists and professionals who need studio monitors. But the WoodTones are much more appealing for listeners who have a good enough ear to justify spending $100 on headphones, but want more richness and personality in the mix than a flat-response pair offers.
The WoodTones have real wooden housings on the earcups—you can choose from Walnut, Sapele, or Beech. I suppose I would find the design more eye-catching if it didn’t seem like lots of companies, from LSTN to Senta, were doing similar things with wood and headphones (a trend started long ago by Grado). Regardless, it’s a classy look, and the rest of the design—an all black, auto-adjusting headband and plush black earpads—offers a comfortable, secure fit.
The detachable cable connects at the left earcup, and includes an inline microphone and remote control. The remote has one button that lets you answer calls, play and pause tracks, and navigate forward or backward with multiple clicks, but there is no volume control built in. That the cable is detachable, however, adds tremendous value to the WoodTones—it’s far more affordable to replace a faulty cable than replace a pair of headphones.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like the Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the WoodTones do not distort even at maximum (and unsafe) listening levels. Some budget headphone models circumvent the issue of distorting on tracks with seriously deep bass by avoiding the deep bass altogether, but the WoodTones bring a healthy amount of low-end to the mix.
The WoodTones manage to bring a healthy bass response on the Knife track, and then dial things back very well on Bill Callahan’s “Drover.” Here, Callahan’s vocals are crisp without sounding brittle, and the drumming gets a very subtle bass boost—nothing intense that threatens the balance of the mix. Bass lovers may find the balance here a bit too in favor of the mids and highs, but there’s plenty of low-end in this track, and it’s an impressive sound signature that can bring the bass with the Knife and then keep things crisp for Bill Callahan. It’s commonplace in expensive models, but less common in $100 headphones.
Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild” shows the best of both worlds the WoodTones offer. The attack of the kick drum loop gets a nice treble edge that allows it to cut through the dense mix, while the sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with a healthy low-end presence. The bass here isn’t over-the-top in the slightest, but it’s definitely a healthy part of the mix, while the vocals on this track float cleanly and clearly over everything else.
Classical tracks like John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances” sound a bit more flat-response than the other genres that pass through the WoodTones. Lower register strings aren’t delivered with much added richness; their bass presence is subtle. The spotlight here belongs to the higher register strings and percussion, as well as the growling attacks of the brass. It doesn’t sound thin, though; the balance merely leans in favor of the mids and highs.
If it’s booming bass you’re looking for in this price range, the Skullcandy Crusher allows you to adjust the levels from reasonable to overwhelming. If it’s balance you seek, but in a more traditional headphone frame design, the Sennheiser HD 429s and HD 280 Pro both have plenty of power and dynamic, articulate sound signatures. And bass lovers who still want crisp highs should check out the Logitech UE 4000. For the balance-minded listener who’s looking for a different design, though, the Griffin WoodTones have plenty to offer.
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