Bang & Olufsen are one of the bigger companies in the audio world and they have a tradition of positioning themselves towards the premium end of the market space. It's no surprise then that B&O have taken aim at the portable market and really came out swinging with their latest headphone and earphone models. Today we are going to be reviewing the Bang & Olufsen B&O Play Beoplay H9 headphones.
The Tech Features
The Beoplay H9 headphones are Bang & Olufsen's most advanced and as such the company has tried to jam pack them with up to date features and technology.
You get Bluetooth 4.2 connectivity with aptx support for higher resolution streaming. Connectivity during the review was found to be excellent with absolutely no drop outs during our week with the H9 headphones. They pop up instantly and connect in seconds and the range was also found to be longer than we normally see on wireless headphones.
ANC Noise Cancelling
The B&O H9 also offer ANC (Active Noice Cancelling technology) but this is where some issues start to arise. Tested side by side with the Bose QC35, the kings of the Noise Canceling headphone world, the H9 really seem to leave you wanting more isolation from the external environment.
Of course the Bose QC35 are the gold standard so I wanted to throw it against more moderate competition but again and again I was left somewhat disappointed in direct comparison with the FIIL Diva Pro and the Sennheiser PXC 450 positively wiped the floor with them.
It wasn't just about the level of noise that the headphones managed to block out either. There was that sensation of the sucked out sound when the ANC was activated. Something that was common in older headphones such as the Bose QC25 etc and has been remedied in recent iterations. In this regard the B&O Beoplay H9 just always felt a step behind the competition despite its $500 asking price.
Touch/gesture controls have been around on headphones for some time now and allow users to perform a series of gestures to control the music playback. Some companies do this reasonably well, most notably Parrot with their Zik headphone range and more lately the Fiil Diva Pro which implemented the technology beautifully.
The Beoplay H9 yet again falls short, this time in an attempt to seem smarter than the actually are they have created one of the most rotten interfaces I have ever seen on a touch...anything. Want to skip a track? swipe forward. Volume Up? Swipe up. Pause a track? Give the earcup a tap...... that's what you would think right?
No, in their infinite wisdom, B&O have bucked the intuitive design that most other manufacturers adopted and implemented their own proprietary gestures that just plain sucks.
Instead of swiping up controlling the volume it toggles the ANC so control the volume you draw circles with your finger. Not only does this make you look stupid in public and make people think you are giving them the international sign for crazy but it lags, misses commands and is just outright terrible in its implementation.
Oh dear. With ANC turned on, in wireless mode and with listening volumes at moderate levels the H9 were only able to muster a massively disappointing 13hrs 23 mins during our review.
To be quite honest that is pretty terrible, we had tested the Bose QC35 at 20hrs 07mins in the same test. Now 13 hours should be fine for most people, it will certainly get you through a whole day but for such a comparatively large headphone I was shocked to see it lose out by almost 7 hours of playback time.
Build Quality & Design
Beoplay H9 are a very good looking set of headphones. It's a classy affair where unlike beats and other brands the focus is on simplicity and classic clean lines. They feel incredibly premium in the hand as well. All the swivel points on the earcups and headbands were buttery smooth and there wasn't a hint of creaking or groaning from the headphones chassis.
The earcups are incredibly luxurious and made out of a wonderfully supple lambskin that is under-bedded with a memory foam to ensure hours and hours of comfortable listening.
Honestly other than the B&O H9 headphones looking a bit doughnutty when on the head there is very little I would change about the design and they can certainly compete with other similarly priced headphones.
The Sound - An underwhelming experience from such a highly regarded, audio-focussed brand!
Now before I come across as overly negative, lets just say, there is nothing overly offensive about the way that the Beoplay H9 sound. However, there is also nothing spectacular about them either. They are, for all intents and purposes a consumer sounding headphone that would not sound out of place in the $100-$200 price range. That might be the most shocking thing to me given just how good some of the other headphones from Bang & Olufsen have been in recent years.
Highs - The highs are washed over with no real sparkle to them. I actually don't mind that and like my highs to have a laid back feel to them but this was done in a way that there didn't seem to be any detail either. I kept waiting for those tingles you get from high hat snaps and cymbal crashes but they just never came. Instead what I got was a sort of anemic tshhh. Highly disappointing. That said if you like a very inoffensive top end r struggle when listening to high notes these would provide relief.
Mids - A bit bland a bit boring. Again with the ANC turned on these just felt very plain and uninteresting. There was not snap or punch just no real energy about them across the midrange at all. At this price point, you are into some very good competition from the Audeze Sine, Audio Technica ATH-MSR7 and Oppo PM-3 and those models wipe the floor with the B&O's Midrange. Everything felt just a little bit more mushy than I had been expecting vocals were neither intimate or engaging and I had a hard time distinguishing details and nuances that far less costly headphone are able to reproduce from our test tracks.
Lows- Again the lows are disappointing and not befitting a $500 headphone in the current market space. The seem enhanced with some extra emphasis pointed to them but I don't know why you would want to go and do that as they seem bloated. They aren't sloppy, it's not terrible, its just that this sort of performance cannot be justified when you are charging buyers half a grand for the displeasure.
Ok Pull the Cord, Enough is Enough
So I'm going to stop here with the sound portion of the review. There's no point in me diving any deeper. In my opinion, the H9 are dud's when it comes to sound. Especially with the noise canceling activated. No, they don't sound broken or defective. They just don't sound befitting of the price tag that adorns them.
Its not that they are terrible, perhaps I have come across overly harsh and if you said these are set to compete sonically with $100-$200 headphones I could live with it.
However, there is nothing that the B&O Beoplay H9 can do with their sound that other headphones can't do better.... and usually at a fraction of the price.
Perhaps the most shocking thing to me is that given how nice a headphone the Bang & Olufsen H6 was and how far the mark has been missed with the H9.
The controls are sloppy, the noise canceling & sound are just average, the battery life is not great and the competition is too strong. The only redeeming feature is the build and style of which we are still big fans.
If you are looking for an excellent set of over the ear noise canceling headphones you need not look further than the Bose QC35. Forgo the Noise canceling altogether and the world is your oyster.