Two years ago, an excited pair of entrepreneurs approached me with their new headphones, sights firmly set on breaking into a market that was already going absolutely ballistic. They wanted my honest, unfiltered feedback about the product they were working on, and I gave it to them: The headphones weren’t great.
I delivered my criticism in the kindest, most considerate way I could, but I recall Shaz Amin and Imran Patel, co-founders of Plugged headphones, leaving perhaps a little disappointed. But not dejected. If anything, they seemed determined to make some changes and come back to prove me wrong.
I had trouble getting it out of my head that the headphones were just $100.
Two years later, they did just that.
After years of diligent research, tweaking, more research, more tweaking, many sleepless nights, and at least a few trips to China, Shaz and Imran came back to me with the subject of this review: The Plugged Crown headphones. The Crown are stylish, comfortable, durable, and they sound very good. But that’s not the best part:
While Shaz and Imran could easily price these cans to compete against Beats and other premium offerings in the $150 to $250 neighborhood, they’ve managed to keep the price surprisingly low at just $100. Is there another high-style headphone out that that can touch them at that price? If there is, I haven’t seen it yet.
Out of the box
For $100, I expect headphones to come in the kind of blister pack that shreds your hands to pieces when you try to open it – you know the stuff. But the Plugged Crown come in packaging pulled straight out of the Apple handbook, complete with heavy-gauge cardboard box, invisible magnetic clasp, and a heaping serving of that unmistakable new-headphone smell.
Inside the box is a pair of Crown over-ear headphones, an Android or iOS control cable with microphone, and a high-quality carrying satchel with a nice, heavy-gauge zipper. I’d like to see a ¼-inch adapter for anyone who might want to use these as DJ headphones, but at $100, I’m not going to complain.
The headphones take a few queues from the Beats brand, with supple leatherette wrapped around squishy memory foam earcups and a headband that’s cushioned modestly with that grippy silicone stuff, but that’s where any similarities end. The cans’ outer surface – available in black and white — has a resilient matte finish that is said to be scratch resistant. I deliberately took my keys to the headphones and can indeed vouch they are sufficiently scratch resistant. If they take a tumble onto the tarmac, you’re probably going to be OK.
Otherwise, the Crown have an understated-yet-unmistakable style and appeal. Sometimes simple is better, and these headphones exemplify that notion. I expect I’ll be seeing a lot of the Crown around town.
Comfort and noise isolation
Sometimes simple is better, and these headphones exemplify that notion.
I’m always concerned when I see such modest padding on a headphone’s headband – I tend to get a sore crown (no pun intended) over long periods of use if I wear a pair of weighty headphones for longer than, say, an hour at a time. And the Crown are a bit on the weighty side at 9.35 ounces, owed to their solid build quality. However, a well-balanced amount of clamping force puts most of the headphones’ grip around the ears, where their ample padding cushions the squeeze enough for a soft-yet-secure fit.
I also want to call attention to Crown’s smooth and stable adjustment, which feels almost hydraulic in nature, and their superior noise isolation. This is about as good as it gets without going for active noise-cancelling cans.
As I listened to the Crown critically, I had trouble getting it out of my head that the headphones were just $100. These cans really do punch above their price class, delivering poignant, deep bass hits, truthful vocals, and, my favorite part, treble that offers a respectable amount of detail, sparkle, and refinement without getting too hot and crispy.
Discerning listeners will probably note a bit of a mid-bass bump which can add some coloration to string instruments as they work through their lower octaves. The issue manifests itself as this sort of hum that some may actually enjoy when listening to hip hop or EDM, though I found it a little distracting for some pop hits and acoustic tracks.
For instance, when I listened to Kendrick Lamar’s “These Walls” from his recent To Pimp a Butterfly release, I had no sense of this mid-bass bump whatsoever. What I heard was deep, sustained bass accented by a punchy kick beat with perfectly clear lyrics that rose just above a wash of background tracks and swirling synth sounds.
When I switched over to Snarky Puppy’s live recording of “Sintra” from the band’s release, Sylva, however, I couldn’t help but feel some of the Moog bass and electric bass began to encroach on the delicacy of the string section, and even cover up some of the more breathy elements of the brass.
Overall, though, I think the Crown deliver the sort of listening experience their target audience is looking for: engaging, energetic, powerful, and suitable for multiple styles. If a strictly audiophile experience is what you’re looking for, check out the Momentum On-ear from Sennheiser – you won’t get the same style look or passive noise isolation, though.
There’s far more refinement here than I’d ever have expected for a $100 headphone. The Crown successfully blend style, superior build quality, comfort, noise isolation and a surprising level of sound quality in a headphone that could easily cost double its asking price.
Pre-order it now from: Amazon
- Stylish and comfortable
- Scratch-resistant finish
- Excellent noise isolation
- Solid, energetic sound
- Awesome price
- Midbass boom crowds some instruments
- Slightly weighty
- Cable kinks up