Celebrity endorsements provide no assurance of product quality; in fact, they too often signal that a product isn’t good enough to pass muster on its own merits. So we didn’t have the highest of expectations for these headphones endorsed by second-tier rapper Ludacris. After listening to a number of tracks from Accidental Powercut volumes 1 and 2, however, the Soul SL150 mostly won us over.
The acoustic tracks on these albums were recorded binaurally live at St. Barnabas Chapel, in the UK. Binaural recordings are typically made using microphones mounted inside a dummy head, and they’re produced specifically for headphone listening. The intent is to give the listener the sensation that he or she is in the room with the musicians. These two albums were commissioned by Bowers & Wilkins’ Society of Sound subscription music service, and they’re available encoded in either FLAC or Apple Lossless with 16-bit resolution at a sampling rate of 44.1kHz (we used the former). Given the Ludacris connection, we assumed the SL150s would beat us about the head with thumping bass response, and if that’s what you’re looking for in your next set of headphones, steer clear of these. The SL150s instead delivered a respectably balanced performance across the audio spectrum.
The Soul SL150s look nice right out of the box, but that glossy black plastic is a fingerprint magnet.
Then again, not all hip-hop will rattle your fillings. Just take a listen to “Icarus,” from rapper Kate Tempest and Sound of Rum (we listened to their live performance on Accidental Powercut 2). Vocals, acoustic guitar, and a spare drum kit define this band’s sound on this live album, and the SL150s reproduced it with flair. While listening to “Zambezi,” from Zimbabwean recording artist Tenashé (available on Accidental Powercut 3), we appreciated how the SL150s rendered the delicate overtones from the mbira (an African thumb piano).
The SL150s sounded just a bit muddy, however, when we tasked them with producing more complex arrangements. On “I Dug Up a Diamond,” from the Mark Knopfler, Emmylou Harris collaboration All the Roadrunning,” the three-note bass line that anchors the song’s rhythm section lacked so much definition that the notes almost melded into a blur. We had a similarly blah experience with Tower of Power’s “Squib Cakes,” from their Back to Oakland release. In this case, it was the bari sax that went all flabby. But we have no such complaints with several other tracks we played, including the rockin’ “Fulani Choochie Man,” from the incredible fusion album The Afrobilly Sessions, by Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara.
The SL150s are a circumaural design, although we found their articulated cups too small to fully encircle our mid-sized ears. In spite of the smallish muffs, we found the lightweight headphones comfortable to wear over a several-hour listening session. The headband is wide and thickly padded with a quilted vinyl material inside the top (Soul Electronics prefers to describe this as “high-quality synthetic leather”). The adjustable part of the band is fabricated from sturdy stainless steel, with indexing that ensures even adjustment on both sides. The balance of material is chrome and glossy black plastic that was soon covered with smudgy fingerprints. The SL150 comes with two ribbon cables, one of which has an inline remote control for iOS devices.
The SL150s fold in half, and they come with a hard-shell case that’s slightly larger than the one Sony provides for their MDR-NC200D noise-cancelling phones; but they’re not the most discrete traveling partners—unless you decide to use the included carabiner to clip the case to the outside of your bag. And while we care much more about sound quality than appearances, you’ll want to keep a lint-free cloth close at hand, because these headphones looked a bit grody by the end of our evaluation period.
Soul Electronics SL150 Headphones
Good all-around sound, sturdy construction, and a comfortable fit.
Surprisingly flabby bass response with some material; impossible to keep the black plastic free from fingerprints.