Not many audio brands have emerged out of India that push the needle in terms of true innovation. Even less so in the realm of headphones. But there has been an outlier that goes by the name of Sonic Lamb, a start-up that gained momentum through a Kickstarter project. Having secured the requisite funding and raising the right eyebrows, Sonic Lamb got the propulsion it needed to transition from a novel idea into an audiophile reality!
Sonic Lamb headphones review
Headphones with built-in subwoofers?
Wrapped up in an unassuming garb of typically black over-ear, closed-back headphones, the Sonic Lamb could easily pass off as any Beyerdynamic, JBL or Audio Technica. There are more colour options to further distinguish them from the crowd, but our black samples looked pretty generic, barring the subtle branding in copper along the side of the headband and text printed in between the ear cup and ear pad. Material and finish quality is ostensibly plasticky but it is well put together without any unusual creaking or concerns. The control buttons for the power and volume controls could do with a more reassuring feel, but it’s nothing you can’t live with. The multimode dial that lets you select different levels of subwoofer activation also could do with proper “clicks” for every indent. It would add a sense of precise and definite action to the dial that is used quite often to switch between modes.
A USB-C charging port with a digital audio interface lets you use it as a wired headset to unlock 96kHz/24-bit music from a capable device and streaming source. A boom-mic input is provided to plug in the included mic to take phone calls with enhanced clarity and reduced background noise. Devoid of any active noise-cancellation, the Sonic Lambs rely solely on passive methods of keeping squealing babies out of your hair. The clamping force thus, is a bit on the firmer side, to keep the seal as airtight as possible. But this is also required to create the desired subwoofer effect, more on that later. The earpads are supple, made of vegan leather and user-replaceable. Sonic Lamb calls them “Wooferpads” and are designed to be an integral part of the overall sonic architecture.
This is where the real magic sauce of the Sonic Lamb lies. Inspired by hearing implants and audio communication interfaces for safety helmets, the team behind Sonic Lamb stumbled upon the genius idea of creating a hybrid driver technology. Using 40mm dynamic drivers to handle frequencies above 120Hz and the piece-de-resistance, 27mm impulse drivers to handle low frequencies between 20 -120Hz. The combination of air conduction via the regular dynamic driver and bone/skin conduction via the impulse driver is what sets the Sonic Lamb apart. The Wooferpads act as a “virtual” diaphragm that converts the mechanical impulses (from the impulse driver) into something you can actually feel through the ear cushions.
Kindly enough, Sonic Lamb provides four different modes or sub-bass levels to choose from - Hear, Feel, Immerse and Beast. Each one expectedly amps up the level of bass that you can feel and more often than not, you will have to keep toggling between them depending on your taste, musical choice or mood.
For all its novelty and cutting-edge tech, it’s worth mentioning that the Sonic Lamb first and foremost is a great-sounding pair of headphones, even sans the subwoofer. There is a naturalness to the voice, timbre of instruments and genuine depth to the soundstage that lend them a very non-fatiguing quality. Chris Stapleton’s ‘Think I’m in Love with You’ is reproduced with the sharp guitar, sweeping strings and a prominent bass guitar perfectly in cohesion while balancing his vocals without making it forward sounding or in your face. Turn up the subwoofer to ‘Feel’ level and the bass guitar instantly gets more body and sounds fuller, but the overall presentation lacks the cohesion of ‘Hear’ mode. But change tracks to ‘Vienna’ by Ultravox and the ‘Feel’ mode suddenly seems indispensable. As a 90’s recording, this electro-pop classic has a very lean-sounding synth sound throughout the intro and without turning up the subwoofer level, you’re just not invested in the song. But with the multimode dial in ‘Feel’ mode, it adds just the right amount of heft and body to the bass to get your feet tapping and head nodding. You feel like going through your entire catalogue of classics to hear what they sound like, all over again!
The more time I spent with the Sonic Lamb, the more I craved continuous (variable) control of the subwoofer level because sometimes, an in-between position was just what was required. In most cases, the two most aggressive modes, Immerse and Beast were all but unusable for music, especially if your playlist is not exclusively house or hip-hop. These modes prioritize the impulse driver’s output over the dynamic driver and it can quickly get in the way of long listening sessions, causing fatigue. On these more aggressive modes, there is a bit of resonance that can be heard which is a result of the ringing occurring within the earcups and also the differences in timing between the dynamic and impulse drivers. A clever v2.0 firmware update should be able to fix the latter and I hope the earcup acoustic structure gets a bit more attention on their next model.
On the other hand, watching Extraction on Netflix with the Immerse mode was exactly as the name suggested - immersive! The close combat sequences and gunshots gained a heavy-handed, visceral impact that action movies benefit from. Until the accompanying smartphone app is ready for consumer use and until they (hopefully) have an intelligent adaptive mode, toggling between different modes to find your sweet spot is your best bet.
Probably the biggest advantage of having a hybrid design is the ability to listen to at extremely low volume levels without missing out on the soul of the music. I found myself tuning in to Immerse mode and listening to classic rock at whisper-quiet levels, yet bobbing my head along to CCR, the impulse driver filling out the bottom end nicely without the need to bump up the overall volume. Sonic Lamb has got the clarity, dynamic range, channel separation and overall frequency response just right and this provides the perfect bed for the impulse driver to show off its antics on.
In terms of wearability, the ear cushions do make it warm after a while and you will feel relieved when you take them off after an extended listening session, but it won’t leave your ears sore. It’s just the price you pay for controlling the acoustic aspects of this headphone. Call quality via its boom mic was actually quite good and these would make for entertaining gaming headsets as well, especially if you are brave enough to try the Beast mode and take the subwoofer effect up to 11.
Not having ANC or a control app at launch might suggest that the Sonic Lamb has limited appeal, but treat them as no-nonsense, audiophile-grade headphones and all is well. For
Rs. 16,000, they are one of the best-sounding over-ear headphones in the segment, regardless of the subwoofer effect. Throw in the Hybrid driver design and you get a versatile personal audio solution that gives you control over how much freak you want to get on!
There is scope for improvement but a truly innovative pair of headphones with a built-in subwoofer delivers on the promise.
|Drivers:||2 x 40mm Dynamic + 2 x 27mm Impulse|
|Audio codec:||Bluetooth 5.1 Apt-X Adaptive|
|Frequency Response:||5Hz - 24kHz|
|Battery life:||24hrs (Hear mode) 6hrs (Beast mode) 140hrs (standby)|