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published: Jun-19-2016

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NO SMOOTHING is applied to the shown plots. Most measurement sites have some smoothing applied which ‘irons flat’ sharp peaks and ‘wiggles’. I do not use smoothing because some info about sound quality is lost when plots are smoothed.

Aside from a small correction of the microphone itself also some correction in the lowest frequencies is applied to the plots to compensate for the perceived loss of bass when using headphones. This is described HERE in more detail.
A ‘horizontal‘ frequency response curve on the shown frequency response plots on this website thus indicates a perceived ‘flat’ tonal signature.

ALL measurements are made with a good SEAL on a flatbed measurement rig.
shape of your head, bone structure, pad size, pad ‘softness,  (compliance), hair or no hair and or wearing glasses may (drastically) change the frequency response of some headphones, so… your personal experience may differ substantially from these plots.

Frequency response (tonal balance) is the most sound-determining aspect of headphones. A horizontal line shows audible neutral response in the plots on this website. Deviations in different severities at different frequency bands have an effect on the sound character.
The bigger the deviation the stronger the effect.

Below an aid to help determining the sound character of headphones with relation to the frequency response.


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Philips SHB-9850NC


The Philips SHB9850NC is a wireless (Bluetooth) Noise Cancelling headphone. It is primarily intended for travelling. It was launched at the end of 2015. The streetprice mid 2016 is around € 150.-.
It folds downdown in 2 ways, flat (for in your suitcase) or curled up in the headband (to fit is a small bag) which makes it easier to take along with you.

It is made of shiny plastic which is a fingerprint magnet and prone to scratch easily.
The headband is plastic as well but has a knurled pattern and soft pleather padding.
The cups swivel and tilt very easily so can be adjusted to fit small to large heads.
Room inside the soft pleather earpads is a bit small so people with larger than average Pinnae may find the space inside the pads too small. The pads are soft pleather (faux leather) and soft to the touch and create a good seal. They may get hot and sweaty/sticky on a warm day. The headphones are quite comfortable to wear, even for longer periods.
The clamping force is a bit higher than average but is needed to get a good seal.

Non replaceable batteries can be charged using a micro-USB cable and will last you approx 16 hours (Bluetooth + Noise Cancelling on).
When using it wired with Bluetooth the batteries will last about 36 hours.

It can connect via Bluetooth (4.0) and has NFC for easy pairing. You can skip songs and adjust the volume (only bluetooth) and take calls by tapping the side of the headphone.
Unintentional pausing or song-skipping can happen when repositioning the headphone which can be annoying.
There is a microphone which can be used to take calls and can also be used to hear what people are saying to you while keeping it on your head.
Bluetooth works fine once you have it paired and can reach up to 10m.
All measurements and sound assesment is made wired using the TRS jack.
The headphone comes with a 1.2 meter long cable with 3.5mm TRS jacks that will fit in i-devices. Also an airplane conversion plug is included.
The cable is just slightly microphonic and connects to the right cup. The vast majority of headphones has the cable coming out of the left (or both) earcups.

The headphone is said to have a 16 Ω impedance which is kind of low but allows it to play louder on portable devices. I measured 25 Ω though. In N.C. the load impedance is higher.

Now how about the sound.
In tonally it has a ‘darker/warmer’ sound signature where the treble part and upper mids are somewhat recessed but in a tastefull manner.  Those that like clarity and splashy vibrant highs should look elsewhere. The sound is ‘polite’ and not very dynamic but easy to listen to for long periods. It is not harsh nor shouty nor harsh when playing it softly. This remains this way till ‘normal’ listening levels are reached. At higher listening levels (not very loud yet) the sound gets shouty and muffled/veiled.
Hi-Fi lovers should look elsewhere as it has none of the typical higher-end sound to it.
The sound quality is decent and pleasant though, just not Hi-Fi-ish.

With the noise cancelling turned off:
All frequencies are there. It reaches really deep into the subbass area below 10Hz and extends all the way up to 20kHz. It doesn’t have good clarity but also isn’t lacking clarity in an obvious way. This is a good thing when listening to low quality recordings though.
It has a somewhat ‘hollow/congested’ and ‘closed-in’ sound to it when compared to the better headphones.
Bass and lower mids are a bit elevated making it darker but not a particularly bassy headphone. Bass-heads should avoid this one. Bass is not boomy and sounds realistic.
Mids lack clarity and are ‘warmed over’ in a pleasant way.
The treble is pleasant and ‘soft’ but doesn’t sound rolled-off. The treble is extended but . not accentuated. Not Not splashy, shrill but also not crsip/clear and lacking refined nuances.

With the noise cancelling turned on the tonal signature and level doesn’t change as much as some other NC headphones do.
Snares/piano/brass do get accentuated in an unnatural way though which is obvious when switching it on. Not in an annoying amount though but obvious none-the-less.
Bass is slightly ‘tighter’ sounding though and the clarity appears slightly less as well.
The sound gets a bit of a hollow sound to it in a ‘cuppy’ way.
Reminiscent to listening though a plastic cup instead of listening through a large bucket.
The treble becomes a bit less refined as well. Most obvious in cymbals loosing a bit more reality as when using it with the NC off.
Using tone controls can improve the clarity BUT distortion becomes more obvious as well.
There is an audible amount of noise when NC is switched on which can easily be heard between tracks and in quiet passages. The hiss isn’t ‘sharp’ sounding though and have heard NC models that have higher amounts of his.

Below the frequency response with Noise Cancelling off. (Left, Right)

FR off

What’s obvious is the excellent L-R channel matching. Also subbass extension is great. It goes really deep to well below 10Hz. Given the slight boost around 150-200Hz it doesn’t feel as though it reaches down really deep though. In that case there should have been a drop-off from 100Hz already.
Mids are gently sloping downwards to 3kHz giving it a ‘warm’ tonal balance. Treble level (when averaged) is not elevated and not rolled off at all. There are dips and peaks there indicating reduced fidelity there.

Below the frequency response with Noise Cancelling on. (Left, Right)

FR on

The peak at 600Hz is responsible for the ‘cuppy’ sound and snares/piano/brass being accentuated in an unnatural way.

To show the tonal differences more clearly below the differences (right channel only) with the N.C. off and with N.C. on.

FR on vs off

The peak around 600Hz is quite obvious. From 2kHz and up the measurements look the same yet that elevated part between 300Hz and 600Hz is also ‘masking’ clarity a bit more.
Noise Cancelling works up to around 1kHz, above 1kHz outside noise attenuation relies on the cups being closed and the pads.

Below the distortion plots of the SBC9850NC with N.C. off.

DIST R off

Distortion is mainly 2nd harmonic which for lower frequencies is rather benign.
Higher harmoncs are low in level.
Distortion above 200Hz is what can be expected in this price class (being bluetooth + N.C.).
The distortion spikes below 60Hz are a measurement thing. The spike around 3kHz is not and is exactly there where our hearing is most sensitive. It indicates some problems, moist likely cone break-up. It being a narrow peak doesn’t make it audible as typical distortion though.

Below the distortion plots of the SBC9850NC with N.C. on.


Below 200Hz the Noise Cancelling effect reduces the distortion (ignore the spikes below 60Hz). BUT… above 200Hz the distortion increases substantially. Especially the higher harmonics which reach audible levels and are less pleasant sounding.
This higher amount distortion is most likely caused by a rather poor (cheap chips) implementation of the headphone amplifier inside. The measurement is taken with an average level of around 90dB which is rather high. The reduction in sound quality with N.C. on and shoutier character at higher listening levels may be explained by this increase in distortion levels.

Below the CSD (waterfall plot) with N.C. off. (Left and Right channel superimposed)

CSD off

Not particularly bad but it does show that the 3kHz issue (distortion spiking) also shows some ringing which points to a resonance.

Below the CSD (waterfall plot) with N.C. on. (Left and Right channel superimposed)

CSD on

The 600Hz ‘cuppy sound’ part becomes more obvious here. The 3khz peak is possibly corrected by the N.C. part which may still be somewhat ‘active’ at that frequency.

Spectrum plots can show lower frequency resonances more clearly.
Below the spectrum plot with N.C off.


The 3kHz ringing is obvious here. Because our ear canals also ‘ring’ around that frequency that ringing may not be that audble.

Below the spectrum plot with N.C on.


The 3kHz ringing is greatly reduced but the 600Hz ringing has increased which is much more audbile.

Finally some squarewave and impulse response plots which will also provide some insights in the performance.

On the left with N.C. off, on the right with N.C. on.


Something that isn’t obvious in the other plots but is obvious here is that without Noise Cancelling the phase is reversed. Don’t worry about it, this isn’t audible at all.
Exaggerated lows is obvious. Also the ‘correction’ in low frequency response is visible in the 40Hz plots.
The 440Hz plot with N.C. off shows the reduced clarity (sloping flanks instead of sharp edged). With N.C. off the elevated 600Hz part becomes evident as the aquarewave starts looking more like a sine wave.
The impuls response plot shows that the treble part doesn’t have much ringing. It seems to be a reasonably well damped driver with a good speed but not quite reaching the desired level.

To summarize:
Decent and pleasant, but not Hi-Fi, sounding headphone with bluetooth and Noise Cancelling functionality.
Noise cancelling is effective and Bluetooth works well but adds a low level and audible background noise. Sound quality with N.C. and Bluetooth is slightly less than when used with a cable.
The overall sound signature is ‘warm’, a bit ‘darkish’ and not highly detailed.
Some ‘hollow/cuppy’ coloration of the sound is there but not distractingly.
Not recommended for Hi-Fi lovers that like clarity and dynamic sound but good for travelling and listening to casual music and or movies.

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