The result of a team-up between electronics manufacturer Philips and surfing brand O’Neill, The Stretch headphones are up for a bit of rough and tumble. Aimed at a younger crowd that like jumping off and into things, often at high speeds, these phones are part of a wider range designed to take a licking a keep on ticking, while looking good.
The most extreme thing I did whilst wearing the headset was walk to the bus stop but the robust build is plain to see right out of the box. The outer headband is made from rather dystopian-sounding ‘TR55LX’ material, which is supposed to be six times harder than your garden-variety polycarbonate, while remaining extremely flexible. This means you can bend and flex that headband as vigorously as you want and it won’t snap.
The material is also supposed to be temperature resistant from 25 to -25ºC, not becoming brittle in the cold or weak in the heat. I can only attest to the Stretch’s durability over a series of punishing mild afternoons but as they are specifically designed for surf and snow I don’t doubt the claim, they’ve got the reliably functional feel of ski goggles.
Below the outer headband is a secondary, cushioned inner band from which the model derives its name. The inner band stretches as you pull the headphones on, holding the cushioned area firmly but comfortably across the top of your head. This gives it a very stable foundation and evenly distributes the weight to make the cups feel less obtrusive.
The ear cushions are not especially plush but the ‘super soft’ design does not treat your ears with respect. A lot less bulky than some models, the cushions are still prone to getting sweaty with prolonged use (doubly so if you’re actually out doing adventurous things, I imagine) but for the most part it’s a comfortable fit. They also provide an impressive level of noise cancellation for cups of their size.
The durability imperative extends to the model’s cable, wrapped in tangle-free fabric that does a good impersonation of a thin length of rope. The fabric-insulated cord itself does not stretch in any meaningful way but you needn’t worry about the cable snapping due to anything short of prodigious force. It also sports convenient dual connections – one to the source, the other to the phones – so with enough stress the cable will simply unplug itself rather than break. It’s also handy for feeing the connection through tricky clothing arrangements without over-stretching.
The effort has clearly been put into making the headphones beach and mountain – appropriate but on the sound quality front these are not the province of audio purists. As a mid-range set with a rugged emphasis the acoustics are fairly predictable but considering its wide frequency response, the Stretch is capable enough.
The high-end is the headphone's weak spot, with trebles lacking clarity. However, the mid-range is surprisingly detailed, with vocals and melodies competently distinct. The 40mm driver lacks impact in the low-end on more bass-dependent tracts for all but the pickiest of ears. If fed lossless audio with minimal compression, the phones will do a fine job.
In terms of rugged stability without sacrificing comfort, The Stretch is on point and if you’re into the extreme sports design aesthetics they make a fine accessory too. Don’t look for audiophile performance and you’ll be more than happy with this tough midrange model.