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“Well, I’m just a modern guy. Of course, I’ve had it in my ear before. ‘Cause of a lust for life.” — Iggy Pop
I got really into Iggy Pop in 1996. There was nothing cool about doing this at the time; there was nothing cool about me at the time (though I would have disagreed at the time). Trainspotting came out that July and Danny Boyle’s unflinching film inspired would-be hedonists to choose life—or at least live vicariously through the equally kinetic soundtrack, kicked off by Iggy’s “Lust for Life” from 1977’s album of the same name.
Less than a year later, in April 1997, Columbia Records reissued Iggy and the Stooges’ uncompromising 1973 proto-punk cornerstone Raw Power with a new mix by Iggy—an update on what he’s described as the “peculiarly English” original mix by David Bowie. This unabashedly brutal alternative, this unrelenting flagellation by digital distortion, was a rude, revealing look at what EQ could truly do to revise and personalize existing material.
So, yeah, I’ve had it in the ear before. Many, many, many times. Which I didn’t think was really an issue … until recently. And, as a modern man, I continue to lust for new ways to experience audio. So when I was introduced to the Denon PerL Pro True Wireless Earbuds, which use something called Masimo Adaptive Acoustic Technology to generate a custom EQ based on the user’s inner ear activity, I was intrigued. Would it make what goes in my head more in my face, or literally tone things down? Denon is a well-known name in AV receivers, so would the company’s earbuds (over)emphasize dimensionality? Grabbing an equally audio-obsessed coworker, Brandt Ranj, and two pairs of PerL Pros, I made and exchanged profiles and a playlist to compare and contrast whether this bespoke tuning feature was truly impactful. And what we discovered from our PerL jams versus was revealing both sonically and personally.
So, what are the Denon PerL Pro True Wireless Earbuds?
The PerL Pros are the $349 flagships of the Denon true wireless earbuds lineup and check all the boxes while offering some outside-the-box features. They feature multipoint Bluetooth 5.3—no longer unusual—but include aptX Lossless in their codecs. This rarity delivers 16-bit 44.1kHz quality when paired with a device sporting Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8+ Gen. 1 chipset or newer (such as the ASUS ZenFone 10). Having tried the PerL Pro with both iPhone and Android, I can say that aptX Lossless sounds more crisp and cleanly articulated than AAC or even aptX Adaptive’s theoretical 24/96 transmissions. However, it’s not such an improvement that you should go spend $700 or more on a new source.
Inside each distinctive 8.6g disc-shaped housing is a 10mm triple-layer titanium diaphragm dynamic driver with a 20 Hz-40 kHz frequency response and ultralow distortion reproduction. Multiple sizes of ear tips and “wings” make sure a secure fit is possible. Touch panels on the round outer surfaces allow access to assignable tap commands.
Battery life of the Denon PerL Pro earbuds is up to eight hours, with 24 additional hours of power within the case, which charges via USB-C or wireless Qi pad. They’re IPX4, so they’re mildly resistant to sweat and light rain. In terms of available colors, I hope you like matte black. What the Denon PerL Pros lack in aesthetic variety, however, they more than make up for in vivid sonics thanks to their definitive feature, which we’ll go into in the next section.
So, what do the Denon PerL Pro True Wireless Earbuds sound like?
Straight out of the box, the Denon PerL Pro earbuds have a neutral-ish tuning with a bit more presence in the lows than highs, making the stock tuning particularly suited for modern pop, EDM, and hip-hop. It’s flat, but to keep things from being too flat, a slider in the app, labeled “Immersion Mode,” allows you to boost or cut bass, which is taut, textured, and well-extended.
But the defining factor of these earbuds’ sonic signature is in the name: Personalized Listening, aka PerL. When you first set up the Denon PerL Pros, the app prompts you to sit through a short test. A series of tones trigger your otoacoustic emissions (OAEs), which are vibrations from the inner ear that allow sensors in the PerL Pros to determine sound distribution and frequency sensitivity in the ear canal. (Make sure you do this process with properly sized tips and in a quiet environment; trying it in two locations did result in a perceivable difference.) This information is then analyzed and used to calibrate your profile. And, believe me, once you’ve engaged your profile, you’ll put no more stock in stock. Let’s take a look at how the Masimo Adaptive Acoustic Technology (AAT) technology made us more attuned to what we look for when we listen.
It’s good time travel isn’t a reality yet, because I’d use it to kick my ass.
Again, I’m part Iggy Pop acolyte, so I have to appreciate Young-Me’s joie de vivre, his teens and 20s DJing and attending concerts full of raw, unprotected audio. But if I confronted him about the damage he’d eventually do to our currently 47-year-old ears and he tried to downplay it, Now-Me could be like, I got the receipts, or at least the hearing threshold levels chart.
For reasons completely unrelated to earbuds, I happened to book my first trip to the audiologist in many, many years soon after I got the Denon PerL Pros. And that visit confirmed what the Masimo AAT results already laid bare: Young-Me’s carefree nature cost Now-Me some top end. I could punch you, me. (And the rest of youse, wear earplugs.)
The first time I listened with my custom profile engaged, I wondered if “AAT” just stood for “Add Additional Treble.” Because I got a lot of it, accompanied by a judicious application of upper midrange. The thing was, I wasn’t mad at it.
In Default mode, songs off of the 2002 album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by Oklahoma oddballs turned festival favorites the Flaming Lips sounded like they were performing at dusk, and I wanted dawn. The rubbery bass lines and metronomic backbeat seemed warm and wooly until I toggled on my profile and with it a great leap in contrast, though not without some grain—the equivalent of applying Photoshop’s Sharpen feature. Brandt’s profile, meanwhile, was markedly bassier and more diffuse, vocals stifled by a turtleneck of kick drums and synths. It made the Default a shimmering beacon of lite psychedelia in comparison.
Cycling back to my profile, it added a breeziness to the reedy timbre of John Prine. It wasn’t unpleasant to hear his fingerpickin’ in such stark relief, but a rumination on growing older loses a little something when you don’t feel the full force of time passing. Brandt’s profile definitely held more of the arrangement’s weight, but, again, elements—this time what sounds like a mix of Fender Rhodes and pedal steel—threatened to engulf the vocals.
Conversely, my profile’s lofty nature put extra wind into the sails of “The Ship Song” by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds—a song as stately as it is threatening to capsize under the weight of naked emotion. Chiming tones tacked triumphantly through the swelling ballad, with Cave’s calmly unsettled voice at the helm against a broadened horizon. It’s intensity amplified and resilience rewarded. Brandt’s profile, however, softened the savagery for me. The song’s a devotional about yearning and burning, but it’s not meant to be overly soft and warm. It’s a warning and celebration of relationships that burn too bright.
Overall, my audio profile injected songs with an airiness and energy that bordered on bite but stopped short of aggression. Vocals have added presence thanks to their enhanced acoustic space, while bass remained well-positioned regardless of rumble. Both the fast transients and thick distortion of guitars in Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” Explosions in the Sky’s “Your Hand In Mind,” and several other test tracks (particularly metal), reaped the benefits of this speaker-like presentation. Brandt’s profile, which filled in notches in the subbass/midbass without compensation in the upper reaches, came across as too congested for my tastes. And, to be clear, these aren’t subtle differences or slight preferences. When the PerL Pros promise you personalized listening, it’s truly personalized.
Maybe time travel is a reality, at least for my ears, because they felt rejuvenated.
The experience of using the PerL Pro’s personalization features was instructive as it literally allowed me to hear music through another person’s ears, so to speak, and the differences in sound were profound. Some songs, like “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell” by the Flaming Lips, were entirely unlistenable on my colleague’s profile because the guitars—which are a welcome background element on my profile—were cranked up to 11. In that case, the psychedelic sound effects were drowned out to the point that it felt like I was listening to a demo rather than the completed track. On my profile, the bass was slightly boosted, and the song sounded as it should.
This experience wasn’t universal, though, as “Hello In There” by John Prine actually sounded better to my ears on Tony’s profile. The sparse arrangement benefitted from a big boost of treble. Overall, however, my profile nailed my preferences, whether I was listening to the crunchy guitar sounds prominently featured throughout the 2023 remix of The Beatles’ Revolver or tracks on Olivia Rodrigo’s Guts. Switching from either profile to the PerL Pro’s Default EQ—which is what you get out of the box before running your hearing test—made playback sound flat.
My ears could adjust to the Default after a few hours of listening, but in general, I liked sticking with a personalized profile. If you’re familiar with the music you’re listening to, you’ll definitely run into the occasional track that sounds unnaturally, unpleasantly sculpted, but those experiences were few and far between. And, in general, I’d describe the experience of listening to music on another person’s audio profile to be the aural equivalent of putting on another person’s shoes—you may even share the same size, but how one person wears and wears down the heel can make anyone else feel off-balance.
The PerL Pro’s eponymous feature stands in contrast to the tactic used by other headphone makers, who make all the tuning decisions for you. Switching between the PerL Pros, Apple’s 2nd-generation AirPods Pro, and Jabra’s Elite 10 earbuds was an eye- or rather ear-opening experience. While my custom hearing profile on Denon’s earbuds sounded just right, it didn’t ruin the experience of other earbuds for me. I still enjoyed the tuning choices Apple and Jabra made and found music perfectly listenable. Both earbuds didn’t sound immediately flat like the non-customized PerL Pros, especially the AirPods Pro (2nd gen.), which I still contend offer the best out-of-the-box energy for most people.
The stock sound signatures of both Apple and Jabra are tasteful; neither company went for the cheap trick of V-shaped tuning, artificially boosting a couple of sections of the frequency range and calling it a day. Both sets of earbuds sounded better right out of the package compared to Tony’s profile, but I ultimately preferred the sound of my personalized profile on the PerL Pros. At $349, Denon’s earbuds go for $100 or more above Apple’s and Jabra’s MSRP, but the audio quality shows the difference went into hardware and software that delivers on its promises.
Exchanging profiles might not have let me fully walk in Tony’s sonic shoes for a day, but it did give me a feel for what might get his toes tapping. It gave me empathy and deeper insight into how he evaluates audio gear. And, without a trip to the audiologist of my own, I walked away with a better understanding of my own hearing. The Denon PerL Pros haven’t ruined the experience of listening to music on different earbuds for me, but they have made me think twice about what colors my perception of musicality.
So, who should buy the Denon PerL Pro True Wireless Earbuds?
Sometimes I get really into missing 1996. For all the things I’d do differently (always carry earplugs, and definitely wear more sunscreen), there are a million I wouldn’t. And I’m always going to love listening to Iggy. But, because Young-Me wasn’t bright, my music now needs to be. The Denon PerL Pro Earbuds put more of that raw power back into songs and memories somewhat dulled by time. And, most importantly, they did it effortlessly. This is one of the reasons we count the PerL Pros among the best earbuds currently available.
Maybe you’ve been to the audiologist or know exactly what you’re searching for, so it’s easy for you to pick from the hundreds of personal audio choices out there. Maybe your hearing is still fully intact, and you want gear that can fine-tune that clarity. If you’re still of two minds about what to put in your two ears, the Denon PerL Pro Earbuds offer a great alternative to the one-sound-fits-all approach used by virtually every other headphone company. Youth fades. Frequency sensitivities change. But, thankfully, so does technology. Masimo AAT worked as advertised. So, with earbuds that can customize their sound based on your hear and now, getting excited by music can remain a constant.