Philips O'Neill Tread SHO2200 Earphones
(4.0 star rating)
Dutch electronics giant Philips has been designing and manufacturing headphones for 50 years – longer than many of the company’s current competitors have been in business. Several years ago Philips noticed a gap in the headphone market – a dearth of durability-oriented products suitable for Action Sports. In 2010, the O’Neill line consisting of several headphones and earphones promising a combination of style, sound quality, and – most crucially – durability was released. The original O’Neill earphones were simply ruggedized version of existing designs. The new Tread in-ears, however, are purpose-built to survive the roughest treatment. Is this the indestructible earphone nearly every iPod user has undoubtedly dreamed of? Read on to find out.
Packaging & Accessories
The Tread is packaged in a lightweight plastic-and-cardboard box with an inner tray shaped to represent the sole of a shoe. The copy makes only two promises – deep bass and a tough construction. Aside from the earphones, the package contains only 3 pairs of eartips in the standard S/M/L sizes. Once the tray is removed, some more info can be found on the inside of the box, including a very generous promise of free replacement eartips should the included ones be lost.
|Tread Box||Tread Box Opened|
- Driver Type: Dynamic
- Frequency Response: 6Hz - 23.5 kHz
- Impedance: 16 Ohms
- Sensitivity: 105 dB/1 mw
- Cable length: 3.9 ft (1.2 meters)
- Input connection: 3.5 mm L-plug
Design & Build Quality
With only a long, thin wire holding together a pair of earpieces and plug, it seems that the very nature of a pair of earphones makes them prone to breaking. Or does it? The Tread bucks all precedent with an impossible beefy L-shaped plug, a rock-solid Y-split, and Kevlar-reinforced cables sheathed in cloth below the split. The thickness of the cables is above average and they are surprisingly tangle-resistant. The earpieces boast aluminum inner shells protected by a rubber sheath with long, flexible strain reliefs. The nozzles are protected by metal filters.
It is genuinely difficult to imagine how the Tread could go wrong short of the cable being cut – indeed, Philips promises that the housings will survive up to 300 lbs worth of impact or, put more simply, being stepped on by just about anyone. With a design this tough, the Tread seems like a dream come true not only for aficionados of extreme sports, but for anyone else who has gone through multiple pairs of earbuds due to cable failure as well. It’s difficult to judge long-term reliability after a one-month trial, but I would hedge a bet that the Tread will survive daily wear and tear like nothing else out there.
Fit, Comfort, Microphonics & Isolation
The housings of the Tread are heavier than those of the average earphone and the stock eartips are a little on the stiff side. The fit is average – Philips’ own SHE3580 is lighter and more ergonomic on all counts, resulting in better long-term comfort. The Tread can be worn over-the-ear quite easily due to the flexible strain reliefs and soft cable but isn’t as secure in the ear as a true sports-fit earphone such as the MEElectronics M6.
Microphonics, or cord contact noise, are lower than average – tapping on or rubbing the cord will still cause sound to travel up into the earpieces, but with a lower intensity compared to the average entry-level set. Isolation is good for a dynamic-driver earphone – not as impressive as with an Etymotic MC5 or other deep-fit monitors but more than reasonable for the typical daily commute. If the Tread were to be used while jogging or biking, staying away from traffic would be advisable as the isolation can make them downright dangerous when music is playing.
|Nozzle closeup||Y-split and 3.5mm plug|
Testing note: All on-the-go listening was done using a Cowon J3 portable player with a wide range of tracks in mp3 (bitrates ranging from 128 to 320kbps) format. Critical listening was done via an optical-fed iBasso D10 using only WMA and FLAC lossless files.
While Philips has focused on style and durability with the O’Neill line, the company’s rich and lengthy history in audio means that sound is never completely forgotten. For the asking price, the Tread performs respectably – there are definitely poorer-sounding options that don’t offer the extreme durability of the Tread, either.
The bass of the Tread is strong and punchy. Though the marketing materials promise deep bass, there’s actually more mid-bass and a touch of low-end roll-off with the Philips. Bass body is average – the Tread is slightly thin and hollow-sounding, presumably to preserve the clarity. Bass impact is decent – about on-par with the similarly-priced Klipsch Image S3 – but lags behind that of Philips’ own SHE3580 model. The SHE3580 also has better sub-bass presence and sounds fuller and warmer. The MEElectronics M9, on the other hand, also has greater bass quantity but lags behind the Tread in quality, sounding boomy and muddy in comparison.
The midrange of the Tread is clear and prominent. There is more emphasis on the bass but vocals don’t sound significantly recessed and there is no bass bleeding into and crowding out the mids. The tone is on the cool side compared to most entry-level sets, which typically tend to be warm and bassy. Timbre isn’t great, with the Tread sometimes lacking proper emphasis on the lower midrange and sounding a bit tinny, but this far from inexcusable considering the price.
Moving up into the treble, the Tread is a touch uneven but nothing out of the ordinary for a budget set – the Klipsch Image S3, for example, is even harsher and can be downright offensive on some tracks. The Tread also derives some extra intelligibility with vocals from its prominent treble and has good extension at the top - better, for example, than with the MEElectronics M9. The presentation is respectable as well – soundstage size is average but the instrument separation is good and the earphones don’t sound congested. The Philips still don’t sound anywhere near as large and spacious as the Soundmagic E10 but easily keep up with the popular mainstream sets in its price bracket.
Philips O'Neill Tread SHO2200 Earphones
Set to retail below $50, the Philips O’Neill Tread may once and for all put and end to the perception of entry-level earbuds being disposable items. When it comes to build quality, the Tread delivers exactly what it promises – a bulletproof construction that puts most earphones – no matter the price – to shame. Passive noise isolation is also good for an in-ear of its type and cable noise is respectably low. There are more comfortable in-ears out there and certainly better-sounding ones - the clean, slightly cold sound of the Tread may not appeal to mainstream listeners and won’t win over many audiophiles – but on the whole the Tread is a product with a well-defined purpose that’s sure to be a success and maybe, just maybe, cause other manufacturers to pay a little more attention to the construction of their entry-level products as well.
Pros: Extremely solid construction; good noise isolation.
Cons: Not much in the way of accessories; not the best-sounding earphone for the price.
Rating: 4.0 out of 5