ag WHP01K Review – Portable, Pedestrian
The WHP01k is perhaps not what one would expect from Final Audio and feels far more reminiscent to Sony’s approach to tuning a noise-cancelling headphone. That means you get a warm, full but also somewhat veiled sound and a smooth top-end that doesn’t do much to counterbalance. While not conducive for maximum engagement or detail presentation, it does mean the headphones can be listened to for long stretches of time or at high volumes without fatigue. Similarly, though bass rolls off quite substantially, it remains quite rich due to a hump in the upper-bass/lower midrange. The downside is that separation is lacking as is general definition, and this isn’t aided by the burden of ANC on top. Treble has a small 5kHz peak to imbue additional crispness without too much sharpness but it isn’t a large emphasis by any means. The saving grace is the headphones midrange tuning which is progressive and sound. Although bass and treble leave much to be desired and it remains a heavily coloured sound overall, it does have a decent midrange voicing and good balance between bass and mids with treble sitting just behind.
To elucidate my breakdown above is with ANC on as I see this as the mode users will be using most on a noise-cancelling headphone. As aforementioned, when listening over a Bluetooth connection, the headphones do sound slightly different when turning ANC off. Specifically, note definition is improved, noticeable with percussion which has a more defined leading edge. Additionally, bass extension is improved with a bit more impact in the mid-bass, producing the impression of an altogether bassier sound. Arguably, the headphones sound more balanced with ANC on, but at the cost of depth and resolving power. The following comments will be with ANC on over an aptX connection.
The low-end on this headphone is full, warm and somewhat stuffy. This is due to its inverted emphasis with a rolled-off and poorly defined sub-bass, neutral mid-bass and moderate emphasis peaking around the upper-bass and sustaining through the lower-midrange. This gives it a tubby sound; though full it is lacking a lot of slam and impact due to the sizable roll-off. Conversely, some may enjoy the warmth on display as they do sound quite rich with an enlarged note size. The lack of pressure and slam also means they don’t fatigue when listening to bassy content.
However, notes also sound rounded and lack attack. Driver quality is altogether unremarkable being sufficient but never a standout in any regard. While they decay naturally and are quite nicely textured, bass is altogether lacking dynamics. Driver control is mediocre and note definition is just sufficient to avoid smear. This can also be attributed to the modest levels of bass enhancement as this isn’t exactly a bass-forward headphone, rather a full-bodied and warmly voiced one. As a result, separation in the bass itself remains ample and their full note structure means they work well for multimedia use in addition to music.
Again, we observe a rather inverted tuning relative to the norm with emphasis lying predominately through the transition from bass to lower-mids. This instigates a full and roomy sound with some veil on certain tracks. Despite this, the WHP01K is once again just able to avoid congestion and overt smear. The midrange above is tuned nicely with a dip following the lower-mid emphasis for separation and a progressive climb to a natural 3kHz hump. They then fall off slightly at 4kHz to reduce intensity and strain. The result is a mostly natural voicing with good coherence and structure, relatively poor separation but sufficient vocal clarity and a balanced presence. While they won’t win any awards for clarity or definition, vocals sound full and natural on the majority of tracks.
The slightly higher midrange peak also means female vocals come across a little clearer and cleaner, being less contentious and prone to veil than male vocals. It does help that there’s a small 5k bump in the treble that slightly lifts articulation. This aids openness though, in the context of their full-bodied and denser voicing, never presents as over-articulation. Fine details are smoothed over almost entirely so don’t expect the most resolving presentation, but vocals are presented nicely. If you enjoy a balanced vocal presentation and can live with some veil on male vocals, then I would say these outperform many ANC headphones in terms of midrange timbre.
Treble is smooth and laid-back in positioning, instigating a darker overall sound. They do have a small 5k peak that reintroduces some crispness and clarity but even this emphasis sits just behind the midrange. With ANC off, the headphone has more of an L-shaped character as bass sits further forward. I did personally prefer the tonal balance with ANC on as a result. Above, the headphones break up quickly even over aptX meaning there isn’t a huge amount of air or background detail. These headphones are more concerned with creating a dark background with zero glare or fatigue in any manifestation.
At the same time, the lower-treble tuning permits just enough crispness and presence for treble instrumentation. Note body is ample but note presentation is fairly uninspiring as decay is truncated and attack isn’t especially defined either. Note definition, therefore, leaves much to be desired and fine details are glossed over entirely. The headphones perform a bit better over a wired connection but is nothing to write home about for $150. On a superficial level, they are again well-voiced, neither sounding overly laid-back nor overly blunted and I prefer the tonal balance to the older Bose QC headphones that sounded much more treble deficient.
There isn’t much soundstage to speak of due to the limited treble extension and overall resolution. They are an intimate, in the head listening experience. Imaging is similarly ill-defined, meaning this is a purely superficial listening experience. Separation is my biggest complaint, the lower-mid emphasis especially might give them a good sense of gusto but also saps definition and separation. They do sound a bit congested and it doesn’t help that they simultaneously have a fuller note structure and smaller stage dimensions.
Bose QC35 ($200-300): Commonly available on sale for just $50 more in Australia, the QC35 is a close competitor with a similar feature set. Immediately, both fold down and sport an over-ear design. The QC35 has a more comfortable headband design and deeper earcups making it more comfortable. Its construction feels substantially more premium.
Sonically, the QC35 is a slightly warmer, bassier headphone but also has a more blunted treble. It has similarly poor bass extension and greater emphasis in the mid-bass meaning it is slightly less tubby but also more bloated. It has less lower-mid presence giving it a cleaner midrange. Its midrange is slightly more laid-back relative to its bigger mid-bass but is also has a slightly clearer, more separated voicing. The WHP01K is more balanced between bass and mids, it has less separation but is slightly more naturally voiced. The WHP01K has the better treble response with more detail presence and better balance once again. The QC35 sounds very blunted here and similarly has poor extension with minimal air or soundstage.
Sony WH-1000XM3 ($200-300): Another consumer-orientated wireless ANC headphone that has now been superseded and can be found for a substantial discount. The XM3 has better ANC covering a wider range of frequencies and more features such as eQ/app support, aware mode and a generally more refined usability experience.
The two sound surprisingly similar in terms of tonal balance. The Sony’s are bassier and extend slightly better. They are full and thick, also lacking separation and sounding a bit stuffy, but have better depth and impact and bit more contrast. The midrange is slightly clearer on the ag. The Sony sounds just as veiled and slightly more laid-back, it has a slightly warmer voicing which is even worse for separation. Treble sounds similarly tuned on both too but the Sony has more bite and better detail retrieval despite not being much brighter. The Sony also has a bit more cleanliness to its background and slightly greater air but neither have much so to speak. Similarly, extension and soundstage leave to be desired on both but neither was arguably designed to excel in these metrics.
The WHP01K is an intriguing proposition and doesn’t provide the experience you may have expected from a Final Audio-tuned headphone either. Looking at it relative to other budget ANC headphones I’ve tried in the past, the experience here cannot be widely faulted but at the same time cannot be praised. At its outset, the clean design doesn’t scream for attention and the folding design is very convenient. While I wasn’t impressed by the overall feel and materials, they are light and comfy, and the main structure does employ metal which should hold up well during daily use. Mic quality, ANC performance and battery life will perform more than well enough for the vast majority of users albeit, app integration and aware mode would have been handy additions. The addition of low latency aptX is a great asset on top of a generally well-performing wireless experience.
The sound is more hit and miss, unfortunately. On the upside, they have better tri-frequency balanced than many competitors, especially with regards to midrange tuning. However, their odd bass tuning and boxy midrange mean separation issues and veil is noticeable on many tracks. If you enjoy a warm and full-bodied sound, then the WHP01K has a fairly nice vocal presentation that many will enjoy. It is one of the better choices if you want an affordable headphone with active noise-cancellation that doesn’t sound too wonky, and value purchasing your gear from an authorised dealer with a full local warranty. If you are willing to look around for a bargain and don’t mind a less comprehensive warranty, you may benefit from exploring other options that may offer better bass performance and ANC.
The TWS04K can be purchased from Addicted to Audio for $149 AUD at the time of review. I am not affiliated with ag, Busisoft or Addicted to Audio and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.
Track List –
AKMU – SAILING
Billy Joel – The Stranger
Bob Seger – Night Moves
Cream – Wheels of Fire
Crush – OHIO
Daryl Hall & John Oates – Voices
Dire Straits – Communique
Dirty Loops – Next To You
Eagles – Hotel California
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
H.E.R – I Used To Know Her
Joji – Sanctuary
Kanye West – Ye
Radiohead – OK Computer
TALA – ain’t leavin` without you
The Beatles – Abbey Road
The weeknd – After Hours
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