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How do the Porsche Design X KEF Space One headphones sound?

Superior active noise cancelling, fits like a glove, and packs seriously refined sound quality - but not without bugbears.

Take the engineering ingenuity of revered British speaker manufacturers KEF, and the design chops of Porsche Design, and you’re bound to get a statement piece with an aural bark to match its visual bite.

The Space One headphones landed on our tables over a month ago, and we’re sad to see them go.  From the moment the box is cracked, you’ll catch a whiff of the treated leather cups that’ll cosset your ears comfortably. These generously-sized cans muffle office chatter, even without the active noise cancelling (ANC) enabled.

The light sandblasted aluminum frame is cool to the touch. Hold it up and you’ll realise it’s a good deal slicker than the pictures let on. Well-machined hinges work with off-angle placements to accommodate the natural curvature of a human head (some headphones are made for cube-shaped heads, apparently). The result is a relaxed fit that takes pressure off the ears while distributing the heft evenly across the wearer’s head.

Slipping them on feels sliding into a new luxury car and closing the door. From here on it’s tempting to just luxuriate in that comfy, padded seat, with the engine off. Did we mention the smell of leather?

But of course you’ve got to hear what you forked out a small fortune for. Fumble with a flat aux cable (a standard 3.5mm affair) as you wonder why these cans aren’t Bluetooth-enabled – after all, you had to fiddle with a AAA battery earlier, didn’t you? And a non-rechargeable one at that. At least a pair came included.

But as the music comes on you’ll begin to appreciate the merits of the good old audio jack: unadulterated sound with all its layers intact, each tier given a crystal voice by the 40mm, neodymium-powered drivers. Sure, the quality is a tad shy of studio-grade headphones, but those don’t quite deliver the bassy punch the Space One manages, either.

See that LED, right next to the audio jack? Make sure it's not lighted when you're not using it.

See that LED, right next to the audio jack? Make sure it’s not lighted when you’re not using it.

If you’re new to ANC headphones, this is the pair to wet your toes with. The cancellation is on point, screening out low-pitched hums in your environment that you never even noticed before. In their absence, the listening experience improves drastically as faint undertones step into sharp relief. Imagine what it can do for the engine whine on your next business flight. A word of caution: a single battery quits after a week and half of heavy usage, and you’re likely to forget to turn ANC off despite the white LED indicator.

(RELATED: Why not a Porsche Design notebook to go with? They’ve just released the Book One- and it’s light but not a lightweight.)

Would we part with S$679 for a pair? Yes, but not without hesitation. What if the duo decide a fourth collaboration (they’ve done speakers and wireless earbuds, too) is in order, and release a Bluetooth-based, rechargeable version that sounds and feels as good? Sans that, the merits of the Space One will win out over any stirrings of buyer’s remorse.