Considering how ubiquitous Bluetooth is today, it’s surprisingly hard to find a pair of Bluetooth headphones that are actually worth buying. I don’t think I’m asking for too much; I just want a pair that are compact, sound good and don’t look like shit. As a fan of BeoPlay H6 headphones, I was immediately intrigued by the new H8s. I’ve been using them daily for a month now, and I think I’ve finally found the headphones I've been looking for.
The H8s come in a similar box to all other Beoplay products. I like the matte texture and sharp edges but wish it was a bit more subtle, when considering B&O’s premium image.
The unboxing experience is pleasant. The accessories and manuals are housed in compartments that make a clean first impression. In terms of accessories, the headphones come packed with a carrying pouch, audio cable, micro USB cable (for charging) and flight adapter.
Like the H6s, the headphones come with a floppy pouch for transport. I really wish B&O would put more effort into something more substantial and protective.
Being a B&O product, attractive design is a necessity. The H8s are no exception and are probably the best looking bluetooth headphones on the market today. The headphones are available in two color ways: a gaudy beige/gold and a more sophisticated brown/grey. It's worth noting early on that the H8s cost $499, which makes them the most expensive product in the category by a considerable margin.
B&O has made some truly iconic products in the past and set a pretty high bar, which I don’t think the new BeoPlay products have been able to match. The H8 is relatively well-made and aesthetically pleasing but it doesn’t have the purity or sophisticated quality of some of their legacy products. The irrational shapes are what bother me the most, like the shape of the plastic housing that sits under the spun aluminum caps.
The arms of the H8s are made from aluminum and anodized in a dark grey color that looks much better than the silver finish on the H6s. I wish B&O would have finished the parts in finer finishes though, as both the brushed and bead blasted finishes come off as a bit crude.
What I find exceptional is the amount of movement the hinges provide. The design has one of the best ratio of low visual complexity vs freedom of movement I’ve seen on any headphones. The headphone cups rotate completely flat too, which makes them easy to transport. I prefer headphones that fold flat like the B&Os because a flat object makes more sense to me when packing; everything else in my backpack like my laptop and notebook are flat as well.
The H8 has a on-ear design which as you may know, has both positive and negative characteristics. I rarely use headphones at home so travel is my biggest reason for purchasing these. Being on-ear headphones, the H8s are significantly more compact that the BeoPlay H6s and takes up little space in your luggage.
The biggest negative with headphones that sit on the ears is always comfort. They create more compressive force by nature, and the H8s are no exception. I’ve made two trips to Seoul with these now, which involves 11 hour one-way flights from Seattle. From my experience, the H8s are fairly comfortable considering their on-ear design. It’s only after 4-5 hours that you begin to experience any fatigue, which I resolve by slightly adjusting the position of the headphones. Because the comfort of on-ear headphones depends highly on your head size and ear geometry, you should really try these out in person before making such a big purchase. The H6s were comfortable for pretty much everyone, but this one is admittedly a bit more varied.
The ear pads are made of soft lambskin and create a tight seal around the ear. They’re backed with very soft memory foam and do a good job of reducing most of the headband pressure. I’ve had bad experiences with many on-ear headphones and I think the well cushioned ear pads are what make these tolerable. They’re also fairly lightweight considering the heavy use of metal and leather. At 255g, they’re just a bit heavier than something like the Beats Solo 2 Wireless.
The earcups are finished with spin-brushed aluminum cups. And unlike the H6s, the finish is really fine and relatively free of rainbowing. The really cool thing here is that the right cup is actually a touch sensitive panel that enables gesture controls. You can play/pause music, answer calls, switch Active Noise Cancellation on and off, and more. B&O has made the gestures really logical (ie: a circular gesture lowers/raises the volume) so the learning curves is low. The really amazing thing here is that they have embedded touch into an aluminum surface - it’s notoriously difficult to achieve and something I’ve never before seen on a production product.
The primary reason why I purchased the H8s is of course because of Bluetooth. The H8 has Bluetooth 4.0 and AptX, a technology that enhances sound quality (but is not available on all devices, including iPhones). I’ve found Bluetooth performance to be strong and because the H8 uses Bluetooth 4.0, pairing happens automatically - although it can take a moment or two before pairing. I did notice a few Bluetooth hiccups in daily use - mostly while walking around urban environments. I’ve had no issues while sitting at my desk, in a plane or at a cafe though.
Now for the really important part - sound. As soon as I started listening to the H8s, I immediately knew that they have a completely different character from the H6s. While I really liked the way the H6s sounded, I wished it had a punchier sound akin to products from Bowers & Wilkins. With the new on-ear design, the H8s are able to produce a tighter seal and now able to deliver much more powerful bass. It makes the sound profile much more energetic, sculpted and compatible with more bass heavy genres like pop or hip-hop. The deep bass is paired with a warm midrange and clear treble - good for casual/extended listening but still full of detail. The on-ear design does narrow the soundstage in comparison to the H6 but I don't find it overly claustrophobic. In terms of wired vs wireless acoustic performance, the headphones seem to handle both really well. The H8 does sound a bit more dull and warm in bluetooth but it’s a largely trivial difference unless you’re doing side-by-side comparisons.
One of the most important features of the H8 is active noise cancellation. I never fully understood the need for noise cancellation, probably because I had never owned a pair of headphones with the feature before. Noise cancelation is now a must have for focusing at work and transatlantic flights, and the H8 does a splendid job at it. Nearly all unwanted noises are removed with it enabled, which provides complete peace during long flights. I don’t have any experience with Bose products but the H8s don’t leave much more to be desired.
Battery life is pretty good too, with 35 hours of noise cancellation in wired mode and 16 hours in bluetooth mode. The battery is removable too so you can purchase extras if you are a frequent traveller, or buy a replacement when in need of one.
The BeoPlay H8s are truly as good as they get in this segment. Yes, they do cost a bit more than their competitors but they’re built using quality materials, and look far better than anything else in the market. They also sound spectacular with a great balance of clarity and deep bass, making them super versatile. I was expecting the H8s to be good but I didn’t think they’d be this great. Sometimes you simply get what you pay for.