Pro-Ject Audio Systems is best known as a leading manufacturer of affordable audiophile turntables, but now, with the $129 Hear It One, the company has entered the headphone market. You'd expect, then, to get an affordable pair of audiophile headphones -- and you mostly do. But while the company's debut model sounds decent and is comfortably lightweight, the headphone space has become extremely competitive, and the Hear It One design doesn't do quite enough to distinguish itself to measure up to its $129 price tag.
Design and features
The Hear It Ones may be classified as full-size, over-the-ear headphones, but the earcups are smaller than the ones on the Audio-Technica ATH-M50 monitor headphones. If you have big ears the Hear It One's oval-shaped pads won't completely cover your ears. The headphones are unusually light, just 6.5 ounces, but the moderately high earpad pressure made for a fairly uncomfortable fit after a few hours of use, and the faux leather pads might make your ears sweat in warm weather. The closed-back design does a fair job of hushing environmental noise, and people nearby won't hear much sound "leaking." The mix of faux leather, glossy black plastic, and real aluminum caps on the earcups is attractive, but the Hear It Ones look like a near twin of the $30 Incipio f38 and $70 Fischer Audio FA-004 v2 headphones. (Note: the Hear It Ones do weigh more than the Incipio f38s -- 0.42 pound versus 0.36 pound -- so it's quite possible that the Hear It One model has higher-grade drivers and other components).
Like the Incipio and Fischer Audio models, the Pro-Ject's Hear It One model has earcups that slide up and down over steel wires that exit a plastic housing to compensate for differently sized and shaped heads, but a gentle twist of the cups revealed some play, and that didn't inspire confidence in the headphones' long-term durability. Then again, the Hear It Ones come with a two-year parts-and-labor warranty, and that's double the coverage of most headphones in this price range. It features 38mm drivers, which have a rated impedance of 32 ohms. It's an efficient design, so the Hear It One can play nice and loud with an iPod or phone.
Some of the design choices made for the Hear It One are out of step with the competition, starting with the fact that the headphones have a permanently attached, fabric-covered cable, terminating in an all-metal 3.5mm plug. The 42-inch-long high-purity oxygen-free copper cable feels a little stiff and has a tendency to kink. We consider the non-user-replaceable cable a major design flaw, because when the cable or connector fails, the headphones will have to be returned for service (the two-year warranty might come in handy at that point). That's why most competing models have user-replaceable cables. Worse yet, the Hear It One's cable doesn't have a mic or phone remote controls.
Accessories include a 6.3mm gold-plated adapter plug and a very basic soft carrying bag. However, the headphones don't fold flat, so they're not as travel-friendly as we'd like.