It’s not often you see headphones as feature-packed as the Philips SHB8850NCs for less than £100. They have wireless, active noise cancellation and even NFC, which lets you pair them with most phones just by waving the things close to one another.
So, how did Philips get here? The obvious cut corners are in the finer points of these headphones’ build. Rather than using high-quality fake leather, the pads are coated in stuff that looks like it might be made of old bin liner. And the faux-metal on the cups is about as convincing as the acting in a primary school play.
So, you can get more expensive-feeling headphones for £90, but does it matter? The SHB8850NCs are very light, don’t seem flat-out flimsy and are pretty comfortable to wear even for a few hours at a time. They also have controls on the cups, including an ultra-accessible play/pause button right on the back of the right one.
Don’t expect too much from the active noise cancellation, though. It reduces some low-frequency noise but its effects are minor compared with the best from Bose and Sony, and it adds a bit of hiss to the sound. Unlike some, though, it doesn’t radically alter the tone, just smoothing out the mids a little, in quite a pleasant way.
These aren’t the best-sounding wireless headphones at £90, but they’re good. Bass is neither anaemic nor dominant, the treble isn’t veiled and there are no strange black holes of detail. Despite so-so mid-range detail, they can handle complex arrangements well. However, the soundstage is unremarkable and the best pairs at the price provide a smoother, more refined tone and make vocals sound more realistic.