Harman Kardon CL Review: These Headphones Can Handle All Your Listening Needs

It's not remotely easy to create a pair of headphones that combine awesome audio quality, portability, style and a favourable price tag. Could Harman Kardon's new CL headphones be the rare pair that does it all?

What Is It?

Lightweight, well-made, on-ear headphones.

Who's It For?

You know those people who really like music? It's for them.


A steel band connects the matte black foam and pleather on-ear cups, and a leather inner band sits on top of your head. Plenty of cushion.

Using It

Designed to be used on the go, the Harman Kardon CLs are sensitive enough to deliver plenty of detail, clarity and bass from a smartphone, tablet or computer. But they also respond well to more power. When plugged into Audioengine's D1 DAC and headphone amp, 320kbps tracks instantly sounded cleaner. Bass tightened, resolution improved and highs sparkled. The low-end frequencies were a bit too boomy, and the mids could be a bit more present, but nothing sounded bad. All in all, audio coming from the CLs is stellar.

The Best Part

Versatility. Use them at home or on the go. Use them with expensive gear or mass-market electronics. Shove 'em in a bag. Put them on display. There are few other headphones that work in as many situations.

Tragic Flaw

To detach the cans from the headband, you turn the ear pieces outwards and remove them. If they get twisted too far in a bag, the earpieces come loose on their own. It's annoying to have to readjust the headphones, and you question how durable the wiring could be.

This Is Weird...

The CLs were actually louder when connected to an iPhone 4S than to a MacBook Pro.

Test Notes

  • Tested with an iPhone 4S, MacBook Pro and Audioengine D1 DAC/Headphone Amp using 320kbps MP3s and no EQ.
  • Compared against the Aiaiai TMA-1 and the Bowers and Wilkins P5 headphones.
  • Listened to songs spanning hip-hop, jazz, rock, pop, electronic and R&B genres.
  • These may not bleed the same level of quality as the Bowers and Wilkins P5s, but the CLs hardly sound cheap.

Should You Buy It?

Definitely. Are there better-sounding headphones out there? Of course, but they're all likely bigger and bulkier, more expensive or open-air.

When you compare them to other lightweight, closed-back cans in the same price range, there aren't many that can top the CLs. The P5s may have superior construction and better imaging, and the TMA-1s may feel more durable, but neither combines price, design, portability and sound quality in quite the same way the CLs do.

Real people aren't concerned with the extreme nuances of audio. But they're sure that $40 pair isn't quite cutting it. For them, these Harman Kardons are a very good pair of headphones.

Harman Kardon Cl Specs

• Design: closed back, supra aural. • Drivers: 40mm neodymium, dynamic • Frequency responce: 16Hz-20,000Hz • Sensitivity: 119db • Price: $259.95 RRP in Australia


    Folks.. be realistic.

    If you listen to MP3 you need nothing better than a tin can, cheapies only. There is no depth, warmth or dynamic range in the sound no matter what you listen with.

    Real music that has not been compressed beyond recognition will warrant a purchase.

    But then again quality cheap phones (Sennheiser for less than $60.) with good sound sources will amaze most of the current generation used to the muddied MP3 outputs.

      Yawn. Don't you just hate it when some tedious audiosnob comes on a
      forum bagging everything in a smart-alecky way? "Realmusic"? Give
      us a break; there's nothing wrong with 320kbps files and even less
      wrong with lossless. Just enjoy your music; I do. All the time. My
      classical, lossless file off my iPod through Etymotics sound just
      great. Music anywhere, anytime. Brilliant.

      Have to kind of disagree, getting better quality
      speakers/headphones makes a difference even on 320kbps files (even
      lower quality files). Have tested with a very large range of
      speakers/headphones, Sennheiser MX980 earbuds, cheaper $80
      Sennheiser earbuds, as well as Senheiser 438s and HD 598s (they
      sound rediculously good) and speakers ranging from Akai SW-137s,
      all the way up to a pair of PSB Image T6 loadspeakers, you can hear
      a noticable difference even with 320kbps with better quality
      speakers/headphones. Oh, and might also add they have been tested
      without amp,s with Cambridge Audio Azur 650A audio amps, and high
      range Denon amps.

        Good comment Mini but just wait till some AudioBore comes on and starts droning on about 24 bit Studio Surround or whatever; "Unles it's a 5Gb file, it's not woth listening to...blah, blah, blah..."

      Yep agree with others tha this comment is ludicrous. A 320kpbs mp3
      is a fantastic way of listening to your music. Audiosnobs - are
      there a more ridiculous group?

        Well said, Shaun. As for a more ridiculous group; the 'haters' on mobile phone forums?

        No, there isn't. Tellingly most of the self-proclaimed 'audiophiles' fail an A/B-X test comparing FLAC to 320 AAC. Bunch of tossers.

      How about you just listen to live music, or play your own instruments and listen to those. No need for heaphones of any kind that way ;)

    The Australian distributor for HK is an absolute nightmare to deal with. Too such a degree that I would never buy any product that they ever bring in.

    Out of curiosity does anyone know if the mic and controller work for Android phones?

    $260 aint cheap.
    Looks like they slide off your ears easily with those square pillows too.

    200 bucks in the US!! :(

      too far tax for us again

        Don't forget to add sales tax and delivery to get your real price.
        Won't be a lot of difference once you do that.

    Sennheiser HD 25-1-II
    Around $200, exceptional sound, and built to be bombproof. I've listened to these, and while they did sound OK, they were noticeably worse than the HD25's.
    As always, your mileage may vary, according to your tastes.

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