In a world where it’s not unusual to spend a couple hundred dollars on premium headphones comes news that ultra premium headphones may be the next big thing.
Bang & Olufsen have brought out a pair of luxe wireless headphones that costs about three times what premium phones do. Do they sound three times as good or feel three times as comfortable? I received a pair of B&O Beoplay H9 headphones for testing and review for a few days to find out.
What makes B&O Beoplay H9 ultra-premium?
When you get a premium product you expect it to look and feel special. The Beoplay H9 headphones arrived in a heavy box with plenty of lush padding inside. Right out of the box the luxe feel of the B&O Beoplay H9 is noticeable. The covering material feels super soft and supple, and it should since the ear cups are wrapped with ultra-soft lambskin. The test headphones I received are a camel-coloured leather with grey canvas accents that looks nicer than basic black (though black is also available) and the metal parts are a sleek brushed aluminum. The ear cups are plush and nicely squishy, thanks to memory foam cushioning. Leather wraps the outer head band too (while canvas lines the inside) and B&O says the skin will patina over time, as a fine leather bag would.
These headphones are fully wireless, and run off a Bluetooth connection that’s strong and seamless, though there is a wired option if your battery dies and you’re not able to recharge them. More on that below.
Set up of Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 headphones
I wrote recently about B&O’s A2 portable Wi-Fi speaker and praised the ultra simple set up. These headphones are exactly the same. With the push of one button, the headphones are put into Bluetooth pairing mode, and can be connected to your phone or device and even a computer or laptop with a click into the Bluetooth settings menu. No extra apps are needed, no fussing with settings, no need for multiple attempts. (While there is a Beoplay app that can be used with these devices, I found it wasn’t needed, as it doesn’t really have any features or controls to speak of. It’s more of a support portal.)
In the box – Beoplay H9
· Audio cable with 3.5 mm jack
· Micro USB cable for charging
· Flight adapter
· Carrying pouch
· Quick Guide
While it was nice to have a carrying case, I found the thin microflannel-style fabric to be out of step with the ultra-premium feel of the headphones. For the price, a leather or suede pouch with some padding would seem to be more in keeping with the luxe feel Bang and Olufsen are going for.
Controlling the B&O Beoplay H9
Since the headphones are wireless, controlling these headphones relies on gesture controls built into the outer ear cup. The advanced touch interface allows you to turn noise cancellation on or off (swipe up/down), play/pause or answer a call (single tap), or adjust volume (circular motion). The controls work even with gloves on, and they don’t need to be special tech gloves. In my tests the controls worked very easily while using gloves.
What’s active noise cancellation?
Active noise cancellation is a feature that we’re seeing more and more of in headphones. The technology drowns out background noise by emitting a sound wave inside the earcups that you can’t hear, but that matches and cancels out external sound. (I’ve vastly oversimplified the technology here, but you get the basic idea) It means you don’t need to crank up the music to hear in a busy or loud environment.
Active noise cancellation on Beoplay H9
In my tests I don’t feel like it worked well. I’ve tested ANC in a variety of headphones and there’s almost a magic feeling about clapping your hands or knocking on a desk, seeing it happen, but being totally unable to hear it. Same story when someone is standing in front of you; with ANC, you can see their lips move and not hear a peep.
I first tested the H9’s ANC properties with no audio playing to be certain of what I was hearing, or not hearing. A small beep in your ear confirms whether the setting is off or on.
I was very disappointed.
With the H9, I feel like there was only a marginal decrease in external noise using ANC. Knocking, clapping and snapping or other similar noise was largely the same whether using the ANC feature or not.
I gave the H9s to my husband to see if he noticed any difference. He said he could tell when the ANC was on or off but that he wasn’t wowed by it either.
With the music playing this discrepancy is far less noticeable, and that’s probably for two reasons. One, the padding on ear cups seal off your ears really well so you’re really getting noise isolation thanks to the cup size, shape, and heavy padding; there’s not much chance for a lot of audio to bleed in — not that you’d notice with the music on. Second, the sound quality of the headphones is very good. With all your focus on the music, the bass, and the subtleties of your music, you’re not going to notice other noise as much.
You’re supposed to be able to just use the ANC feature on its own, so if you like to work without noisy distractions, but you don’t want to listen to music or be distracted by other audio, you can work in a cone of silence. (Using just the ANC feature will actually give you more battery life; up to 21 hours, according to Bang and Olufsen.) But in my tests this feature was sorely lacking.
Overall, I though the ANC should be absolutely dazzling for an ultra premium headphone as expensive as this one is. In my opinion, it’s not.
Beoplay H9 headphones battery life
The B&O H9 has a rechargeable (and replaceable!) battery that the company says should give you from 14-21 hours of wireless music depending on the features you use. Get up to 14 hours with Bluetooth and ANC, up to 16 hours with Bluetooth, and up to 21 hours with only ANC.
I listened as much as I could over the few days I had the H9s and I didn’t need to recharge the battery once.
If you do happen to run out of juice, the H9 comes with a backup plan; plug the included mini audio cable into your headphones and your device and keep on listening. That’s a nice extra feature that I could see being really handy.
Sound quality – Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9
The sound quality is quite impressive in these headphones, as it should be. The bass is thumping and noticeable and reverberated around my head in a good way. The high end was crystal clear with no signs of tinny-ness, no hiss and no buzz. Overall the sound quality is outstanding and allows you to focus on subtleties and intricacies in the music. Long listening sessions were a pleasure thanks to the comfortable ear cups too.
Often wireless connectivity can be an issue in wireless headphones, but with the H9s the signal was strong and clear and there was absolutely no breakup, crackle or problems with the signal between my phone and the headphones.
I tested a variety of music from classical (Beethoven) to rap (Eminem – Without Me) to mellower sounds like Fink (Pills in my Pocket) and even heavier staccato rock from the likes of the Foo Fighters (The Pretender, Bridge Burning). The bassline reverberated, while the sound from the high hat and cymbals was true and not buzzy or fuzzy. Even the screechy reverb on Imagine Dragons’ Radioactive was haunting, not annoying.
Overall thoughts on B&O Beoplay H9 headphones
These headphones are lovely; they’re soft, supple and feel and look truly luxe — and they sound absolutely amazing. The weak ANC was disappointing; at this price point, every single feature in this headphone should be ‘knock me out of my socks’ great. The ANC missed the boat.
I have to address the issue of price, because these headphones are several hundred dollars more expensive than most other premium consumer headphones. These headphones are the genuine Louis Vuitton bag of the audio world; they’re not for the average consumer, they’re for a person who has a lot more to spend and wants to spend it on a rarer brand that they’re not going to see on everyone else.
Yes, Shure and Sennheiser make headphones for over $3000 and $55,000 respectively, so these are nowhere near the world’s most expensive headphones, but make no mistake, they’re not for everyone.
If you have bundles of money to spend, go ahead and get the Beoplay H9. You’re probably going to like these and you’ll be one of very few people wearing them.