XLR8R Review: Phonon 4000
XLR8R judges how the younger brother of the SMB-02 stacks up.
Phonon, a relatively young Japanese hi-fi audio brand (established in 2010), is run by three audiophiles with an impressive combined resume in the field of professional audio, production, mastering and engineering. Their products are aimed at kindred spirits; fellow audiophiles, DJs and other people who take sound seriously. Their previous model, the SMB-02, received great feedback within the professional audio community, and were spotted on the ears of some of the scene’s most influential DJs and producers, such as DJ Harvey and Laurent Garnier. But, how does its younger brother, the 4000, stand up in comparison?
How does it look?
The packaging stands out for its simplicity: a small, black box with a logo discreetly placed in the middle. The headphones come with a pouch bag for protection while travelling, and a decent jack convertor are supplied. Other than that—no bullshit. Evidently the Phonon team prefer to spend their time and money on building a high-quality product, rather than fancy packaging. First points scored.
The design of the headphones themselves is simple and classic. They are similar in size to the Urbanears Zinken and are foldable for travel convenience with a thick, relatively short cable attached to them.
How does it work?
Anyone that intensively uses their headphones knows the frustration of breaking them: stepping on the cable, breaking the neckband, or suffering a faulty mini-jack connection—we have all been there. Sturdiness should come first. Even though the connections seem decent and overall quality is certainly not cheap, there are a few parts that might have problems in the future.
For example: the headband has a fancy ‘80s sliding system, which looks good but doesn’t seem as sturdy as, for example, the ‘good old’ Sennheiser HD 25 headband that has proven unbreakable after decades of mistreatment by DJs worldwide. To be fair, the Phonon 4000 is not just aimed at DJ-usage, but does have an ambition for accompanying audiophiles on the road—one should not have to be overly careful with gear while travelling.
For €250 euro you would at least expect a mountable cable, because cables are almost guaranteed to create problems after some years of daily usage. As it is a downscaled version of the SMB-02, it is likely that these are the points on which Phonon saved money in order to make the 4000 so affordable, rather than using lower quality sound components.
How does it sound?
There is always a certain excitement when trying out new high-end speakers or headphones. Ideally, they let you re-discover your favourite music by, for example, highlighting sounds within the mix you had never heard before. The Phonon 4000 definitely had that magic effect on me, and I subsequently spent three hours listening to my favorite tracks and most elaborate mix-downs—eyes closed, without writing a word. A good start.
Phonon’s mission objective is to “convey to people the most accurate information that its creator imagined through music,” and after spending some time with them, you have to conclude that they did a great job. I discovered hidden sub-layers in some of my favorite hip-hop tracks, admired the incredible stereo imaging of some modern techno productions, and even my own productions sounded surprisingly fresh on the 4000s. Well produced tracks absolutely flourish through these headphones and when a mix falls short, it’s relatively easy to identify the cause of the shortcoming, which makes it a great tool for production and mix downs.
If, for example, your home studio setup doesn’t accurately reproduce the lower lows and sub-frequencies, which is often the case with smaller speakers and non-treated rooms, the 4000 can be a great tool to help you tighten up your bass and kick layers. Unlike many hi-fi headphones that have a boost in the low frequencies, but lack of punch, the representation of the low and sub-frequencies range is punchy and accurate. It’s enough to make you nod your head without overshadowing other frequency bands.
Because of the accuracy in the sound reproduction, tightness in the lows and overall punchiness, the 4000s are also popular as DJ-headphones. Besides that, they are less harsh and direct as the popular Sennheisser HD-25, which will offer some relief for your ears in long DJ sessions.
And the most enjoyable thing about these headphones? The softness and tranquility of sound, which is exceptional for a pair of headphones in this price range. Like many professional speakers and headphones, you don’t have to turn them up to make them sound powerful and so you can listen to them for hours without your ear growing tired.
Taking into consideration that many music lovers budget a new pair of headphones at a maximum of about €250, Phonon released the 4000, a more affordable version of the popular SMB-02. For €100 less, the 4000 offers the same sublime and transparent sound quality as the SMB-02, using the same 40mm driver. Unlike the the SMB-02, the 4000 doesn’t have a replaceable cable or ear pads, which explains the price difference. So, you get the most sound quality for your money and honestly, the Phonon 4000 outshines any others in its price category, proving equally valuable in the booth, the studio and in home-listening situations.
To purchase the Phonon 4000, click here. For a special discount, use the code XLR8R10 at checkout.