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Philips SBC-HC520, £80 ****


Why’s it here? Philips are on a roll. They’ve been quietly flogging headphones for years but just recently they’ve moved into infra-red cordless models, in a big way. We’ve been very impressed with what we’ve seen so far; the modestly-priced HC120’s and 380’s, reviewed in the August issue, received glowing reports, but now they’re filling the gap between those cheaper models and the top-end SBC 3995’s (£100). The SBC-HC520s  will be selling for £80; Philips say performance and styling are designed to appeal to more demanding audio and home cinema enthusiasts.


Any unique features? Nope. We’ve seen it all before, though Philips have clearly put a lot of effort into the cosmetics, and the trackball volume control is rather natty. Unlike most other IR phones on the market, this one uses high-frequency carriers of 2.3 and 2.8 MHz, giving the system a wide bandwidth of 12Hz to 24kHz. The spring-loaded headband and soft ear cushions are very comfortable. They’re light too, tipping the HE kitchen scales at just 250 grams, (with batteries). The transmitter module can be stood upright on its base plate, at a variety of angles, or laid horizontally, though in that case the phones will have nowhere to perch, when they’re not being used, or on charge.


How does it perform? Philips are the first to say the HC520’s are not in competition with proper corded headphones; the priorities here are portability, convenience and fun. The system generates moderate amounts of background hiss and they can become quite noisy at the extremes of the range, though the auto-mute system kicks in quite smartly, when the signal is lost. In spite of all that they sound quite good, with unexpectedly solid bass, coherent mid-range and bags of treble. Volume is adequate, a little more wouldn’t have gone amiss though. The phones are largely immune to interference from other light sources, including fluorescent tubes and TV screens.


Our Verdict. They’re okay, and amongst the most comfortable cordless phones we’ve tried, but the springy headband bumps and grinds if you bop around too energetically, and the background noise levels are a little higher than we’d have liked. On balance our vote still goes to the cheaper HC120s, currently selling for £50.


Philips  SBC-HC520, £80

Features            automatic level control, auto mute, rechargeable batteries that last up to 15 hours, 8-metre range, 4-position transmitter module

Sockets            line-audio in (phono), charging lead (minijack)

Weight             250 grams


Sound Quality            ***

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ***



Philips SBC 3995    £100            HE38

Sennheiser IS-360 £70            HE38

Vivanco IR650  £90            HE38


Philips Consumer Electronics, telephone 0181-689 4444




Ó R. Maybury 1996 1110



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