When deciding on a pair of headphones, people either go for an over-ear model such as the Sony WH1000XM2 which surrounds your ears and almost completely blocks noises from the outside world, or an in-ear model such as the Beoplay E8 that snugly fits in your ear canal.
On-ear headphones that sit on your ear could be a tough sell because they rest on your ears with their weight becoming uncomfortable with extended usage, and, they don't necessarily cancel all background noises. However, put on a pair of Bang & Olufsen's new BeoPlay H8i and you'd be tempted to think otherwise.
They're pricey at US$ 399/AED 1,699 but the level of craftsmanship and the quality of audio make them well worth it.
The B&O Beoplay H8i are a set of premium headphones that look and feel the part. It starts from the packaging of the product that includes a USB Type-C cable for charging, a 3.5mm cable for a wired connection, an airline adaptor, and, a carrying case that is nice and soft.
Bang & Olufsen nails the look and feel of the H8i with its mix of leather, canvas and metal. The headphones feel substantial and special. Those sick of the plastic build of most headphones will appreciate the materials and attention to detail.
The Beoplay H8i wireless headphones are designed to sit on top of your ears so it's essential for them to be lightweight, which they are at 215 grams. The very soft cushioning on the ear-cups that is made from genuine leather also makes them comfortable for extended use.
They're also not as tight as some of the other headphones when resting on your neck. Unfortunately that looseness of the band also makes them easier to slip off your head when you look down.
And even though the band is flexible, it doesn't fold in which means that you'll need some space in your bags to store it when you're traveling with it.
A lot of high-end headphones, including the Beoplay H9i have moved to touch based controls but we're happy that B&O decided to keep real buttons on the H8i. Almost all headphones we've tried with touch controls are still finicky.
On the left cup, you have a USB Type-C port to charge the headphones (thank you B&O) and a 3.5mm connector for a wired connection which is helpful when on an airplane. There's also a switch that lets you turn on/off Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) as well as Transparency which allows you to pause audio and listen to outside noises using the microphones on the headset.
On the right cup, there are three buttons- two for controlling volume levels while the third does a lot of things such as play/pause, skip audio tracks, and, take and reject audio calls. You can also keep this button press to talk to bring up Google Assistant and ask questions. That's a lot of things for the middle button to do and we think B&O could have moved track skipping to volume buttons.
A proximity sensor on the BeoPlay H8i allows it to detect when you remove the headphones from your ears and automatically pauses audio. Placing it back on your ears resumes music.
If you’re dropping this much money on a pair of headphones, they had better sound good. And, the B&O Beoplay H8i did well in the sound department. Unlike some of the bass heavy headphones, the BeoPlay H8i sound more neutral and balanced than the likes of the Beats Solo 3 headphones.
We listened to a variety of songs from the likes of Chainsmokers, Cold Play and Imagine Dragons and they all sounded reasonably balanced. The treble levels could be a tad bit higher though and the B&O app does allows you to adjust the sound settings, though its more mood based than a proper equalizer.
In terms of battery life, the H8i comes with an astonishing 30-hour rating with noise cancelling activated, which is incredible and the best we've seen for any on-ear headphones. If you switch ANC off, that number can go as high as 45 hours.
Charging times are a little over three hours and we're glad that B&O has chosen a Type-C connector that is becoming a standard on most new phones as well as laptops.
Speaking of, noise cancellation is great, helping to drown out a majority of noises from a busy city street. However, over-ear headphones always have an advantage when it comes to blocking outside noise.
There is a slight pressure on the ears with noise cancellation turned on, which is something to be aware of. While we think the Sony and Bose offer slightly better noise cancellation, the B&O aren’t far off.
Transparency mode also works quite well and allows you to quickly pause the audio to listen to someone and switching the mode off resumes audio as intended.
Last but not the least, the Beoplay H8i are equipped with Bluetooth 4.2 and can connect to two devices at the same time- such as your phone and your laptop. Sadly there is not aptX support which won't matter to iPhone users that don't have this technology but for Android users, this could have helped with a better connection to your phone.
We tested the BeoPlay H8i with Google Pixel 2 XL, Samsung Galaxy S9 and Apple's aging iPhone 6S. Other than the Pixel 2 XL which is known for it's issues with Bluetooth, the H8i performed flawlessly on both the other phones with decent range and no audio drops.
The B&O Beoplay are an almost perfect pair of on-ear headphones. They're premium in design, light on your head and offer all the features you'd expect out of a high-end headphone of today, along with a killer battery life.
Sound quality is subjective but we enjoyed the mostly neutral sounds produced by the H8i- through treble levels could have been a tad bit higher. Noise cancellation also worked well and drowned surrounding sounds.
Being a B&O product, we were expecting the BeoPlay H8i to be expensive and that it is at AED 1,699. That's more than the Sony WH-1000XM2 which we think are currently the best noise cancelling headphones out there but they're over-ear. If you specifically want an on-ear pair, you can't go wrong with the H8i.