Sometimes, you don't need to pay a lot to get good headphones, if you're willing to make a few small compromises. The Denon AH-C120MA is lacking in a lot of ways, but it actually sounds pretty impressive for its middling price tag.
What Is It?
The AH-C120MA is the step-up model in Denon's 'Music Maniac' earbuds series, sitting above the lesser AH-C50MA. The C120 is one of those pairs of headphones that sits in between an in-ear and a regular earbud; the small silicoe eartips sit deep in the wearer's ear canals, but they don't block a great deal of sound and the earbud itself mostly rests outside the ear.
Truth be told, there's not a great deal to distinguish the Denon AH-C120MA from any other in-ear or earbud headphones. The earbuds themselves are finished in unspectacular satin black plastic and rubber, with a machined metal tip on the rear and some white-on-black Denon branding on the point where the thin cables connect at the bottom of the bud. The C120's eartips are curved slightly inwards from the rest of the body of the earbud, which might look uncomfortable but actually improves the overall fit.
What Is It Good At?
Denon makes a big song and dance about the AH-C120MA's 11.5mm drivers — quite large for a pair of in-ear monitors — and the fact that they've been tuned for a flat frequency response. When it comes to actually listening to music, you really do appreciate that flat response, which is as close to balanced as you'd want a pair of non-studio earphones to be. A bit of equalisation doesn't go astray if you want a bit of pop to your music, but having a good blank canvas to work with — that flat response — comes in handy.
The inline mic and remote play/pause/skip control of the Denon C120 comes in handy, too. It's not a huge selling point, since the remote isn't especially exciting or well-constructed or innovative — the integrated microphone is nothing special, for example — but the fact that it works completely with Android is a rarity in the world of headphones. It's nice being able to skip tracks without taking your phone out of your pocket.
The bundled carry case is a bit larger than it needs to be to carry a relatively small pair of earbuds, but it's sturdy and well designed. Denon includes a few extra pairs of in-ear tips with the AH-C120MA, one of which is soft and pliable Comply memory foam — by far the best choice for sealing out outside noise and giving the headphones the best possible detail and bass response.
What Is It Not Good At?
Denon's complementary Denon Audio app for iOS and Android lets you minutely adjust the sound of the AH-C120MA with a 1000-band equaliser, although you have to pay for the privilege. Even the free 5-band equaliser is effective enough in that it lets you adjust the sound of the headphones and create impressively strong treble and bass response if you so desire. Unless you have a lot of music stored on your phone, the app doesn't offer any advantages over streaming from Spotify or Rdio, though, so it's more of a curiosity than a big selling point.
The construction of the Denon C120MA certainly isn't bad, but it's nothing special, and that gives me the slightest cause for concern as to how these headphones will survive repeated use and months of being stored away and knocked around in a backpack or purse. The connection between cord and earbud seems sturdy enough, although only time will tell. Denon does provide a three-year warranty if you register online within a fortnight of purchase, so this should give you some peace of mind.
Should You Buy It?
Buying a pair of earbuds can feel like an exercise in futility sometimes. It's hard to find a pair that isn't completely flimsy and that also sounds good. The C120 doesn't make any huge improvements in build quality over competitors, but the audio quality that these earbuds can produce is impressive for the $119.95 asking price.
Denon's add-on music app isn't a patch on Spotify or Rdio, and the headphones' build quality isn't exactly great, but for the purpose of actually listening to music I haven't heard too many earbuds better in their price range than the AH-C120MA.