I love to be surprised by new headphone brands. Sometimes, the surprises are not happy ones, but the LSTN Troubadours manage to surprise in both good and not-so-good ways. The not-so-good? These $150 headphones are not comfortable and feature a limited inline remote control. The good? They look pretty cool, the cable is detachable, increasing their overall value, and oh yeah—they sound excellent. Bass lovers and audiophiles alike could enjoy these well-rounded, balanced, distortion-free headphones, even if the design team needs to rethink the headband for the next iteration.
The Skullcandy Aviators seem to be inspiring lots of similar-looking headphones, the Troubadours being the latest to cross our paths. The earcups are shaped very similarly to the lens of the famous sunglasses—and the Troubadours even place another, smaller lens-shaped piece just above the actual earcup. Wood accents—a nice, solid polished panel on each earcup—set the Troubadour apart, however. Our review unit was Cherry Wood, but you can also buy a Beech Wood or Ebony Wood version for the same price.
There’s another price you will pay for wearing such alluring, good-looking headphones: These are not going to feel very comfortable for most people. The earpads are reasonably well-cushioned, though they get hot easily. But the real issue is the headband. It is metal, with no padding whatsoever—you don’t see that too often these days, and for good reason. Metal feels like metal on your head. I have felt less comfortable headphones—recently, even—so I wouldn’t necessarily put this in the category of deal-breaker, but this pair ranks quite low in the comfort department. You have been warned.
The cable has an inline microphone and remote control that rests along the left ear’s cable, near mouth level. Call clarity is fine through the mic. Unfortunately, the remote is of the single-button variety, meaning it controls playback, answers calls, and skips tracks, all based on the number of clicks you give it. But you can’t adjust volume—a surprising decision on a pair this expensive.
Yes, this means the remote will technically work with more phones, but it would be ideal if there were different versions sold—one for Apple iPhones, which support inline volume controls, and another for other smartphones that use this style of remote. If that seems like a tall order, it shouldn’t be, given that the cable is detachable.
The cable actually has dual connections for each ear—and the left and right connections are labeled on the cable itself, not the headphones. Since the headphones are identical in shape no matter which way you wear them, all you have to worry about is plugging the left connector into the earcup on your left ear. Now that is a nice design touch—too bad it’s not coupled with a more useful remote control.
The Troubadours are light on accessories—there’s a canvas drawstring carrying pouch, but that’s it, and since the headphones don’t fold down flat, they’re less easy to pack than many competing models.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like the Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Troubadours make you forget about the slightly uncomfortable fit. Even at top, unsafe listening levels, the challenging low frequency content on this track does not distort, and it’s delivered with plenty of thunder. Bass lovers will be pleased, but the big surprise is that audiophiles might like these headphones, as well.
On Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” the drums can often sound too heavy and boosted on headphones that really pack big bass. Here, however, the drums get just the right amount of low frequency presence—they’re graced with an added richness, for sure, but they don’t sound unnatural or compete with Callahan’s vocals for your attention. What’s more, the vocals sound crisp and clear—a sign that the Troubadours boost the high-mids in all the right places. There’s no real sibilance issue, yet Callahan’s voice has a nice treble edge to it, as well as a subtle added richness that compliments his unique baritone very well. Sometimes, with the treble edge on this track, we often hear added unwanted sibilance, but that’s not the case with the Troubadours. This sound signature is pretty close to ideal.
The kick drum loop on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild” has a crisp attack that often gets dulled by headphones that boost the lows too much and don’t sculpt the high-mids to balance things out. Again, that’s not the case here—the Troubadours nail the attack of the kick drum. It sounds sharp and clear, followed by a nice, full sustain. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate this beat pack a nice, deep punch, even at moderate levels. The synth never overwhelms the mix, but it definitely adds some subwoofer-range presence to the track. And once again, the vocals here are clear, with a nice treble edge and no real sibilance issues.
Classical tracks, like John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances” are delivered with both a brightness in the upper register strings and brass and a nice rich presence that boosts the lower register strings nicely. Basically, the Troubadours have a bass response that gracefully adds richness in the lows, and seems to pack a little more punch when we get down to the sub-bass frequencies. What this does is allow natural, acoustic instruments—the orchestral ones here, or the drums on the Callahan track—to sound natural while the synth hits on the Jay-Z/Kanye West track sound booming and ominous, like they would in a club through a PA.
So there we have it. These uncomfortable headphones sound fantastic. The detachable cable adds value to the equation as well, but if you want a more padded headphone pair that still delivers great audio, there are options. The Marshall Monitor and the Sennheiser HD 558 are both stand-out pairs that offer more overall comfort and similarly balanced performance—but they both cost a bit more, and the Sennheiser pair lacks a remote at all. If you’re looking for a bit less sculpting of sound, the lightweight Bowers & Wilkins P3 is both a bit more subtle on the bass and less crisp in the highs—a different sound signature with a pleasant balance of its own. And if all of these are a bit more than you wish to spend, the Logitech UE 4000 offers comfort and solid audio performance for a significantly lower price.
At $150, it kills me that the remote lacks a volume control and the headband lacks any padding at all, but when I listen to the LSTN Troubadours, I no longer care. These are great-sounding headphones; they’re just hiding in a slightly flawed design.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc