I’ve never been a big headphones guy.
For the majority of my adult life I have used the same reliable Sony earbuds, ordering new ones only when I lost a pair. I always thought they sounded great, and for years I was satisfied with the quality of my listening experience.
That changed on Cyber Monday 2015, when I decided to purchase a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-M50x over-ear headphones for just under $130. Suddenly, I was hearing new things in songs I’d listened to for years that I had never heard before.
Still, I knew that there was a better audio experience out there, so I recently decided to seek it out.
Enter the BeoPlay H4. Released in early February, the H4 are the latest headphones by the Danish consumer electronics maker Bang & Olufsen (B&O). At $300, these Bluetooth cans are priced to compete with Bose and Beats, and might be good enough to create some converts. Take a look.
The adage goes that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. You also probably shouldn’t judge a product by its packaging, but B&O makes it hard to resist. The box is clean and simple, and there’s no bragging about the features or what’s under the hood — just B&O’s promise of “Pure Design. Pure Sound. Pure Materials.”
A look inside the box reveals the the beautiful Beoplay H4 headphones. My pair was grey with gold accents, and I was taken aback by just how simple the design was. As I took them out of the box and held them for the first time, the high-quality craftsmanship was evident. The earpads have a lambskin covering and are very soft to the touch, while the metal headband felt sturdy, but with a good amount of give.
Missing from the box, however, was any sort of carrying case. It was disappointing, considering the $300 price tag, that B&O didn’t at least include a pouch of some sort. As someone who likes to use over-ear headphones while out and about, it’s always handy to have somewhere safe to put them to protect them from scuffs and scratches when they’re back in my bag.
As these were my first pair of Bluetooth headphones, I was concerned that the initial setup process might be tricky. But the easy-to-follow instruction booklet, along with a handy YouTube video, made it so that the process only took me two or three minutes.
Plain and simple, these headphones sound great. No matter what genre I threw at them, the sound was exceptionally clear and full of rich detail. The BeoPlay H4s are definitely bass-heavy, but it’s not an overwhelming thump the way you get with some other similarly-priced cans — I’m looking at you, Beats.
When you first set up the headphones, B&O asks you to download the companion app onto your phone, which allows you to create personalized sound profiles that you can switch between depending on what you’re listening to. I never used the app, but if you enjoy complete control over your listening experience, you will find plenty of options.
Though these headphones are not of the noise-cancelling variety, the 40mm electro-dynamic drivers coupled with the snug fit of the earcups to shut out virtually all ambient sound. I was able to put them on on a busy New York City street and easily drown out the sounds of cabs and pedestrians.
These headphones are extremely easy to use. The right earcup has three buttons: volume up, volume down, and a multipurpose button that controls your music and phone calls. Once they have been paired with your phone for the first time, you need only reach up and press the middle button to connect and start playback.
One of my favorite features on the BeoPlay H4s is the fact that have 3.5mm jack. That means that when I get to work every day, I don’t need to fuss with connecting them to my computer via another Bluetooth connection. Instead, I simply plug them in using the provided audio cable and immediately transition from my phone to computer. When it’s time to leave, I only need to unplug the jack and press the center button to reconnect.
B&O advertises a 19-hour battery life for the H4, with a 2.5-hour charging time using the included microUSB cable. The battery life impressed me, and for the three weeks I tested them with moderate use at moderate volume I never had to charge them. Keep in mind, however, that I used the audio cable while at work, which took a lot of strain off of the battery.
The right earcup also has a built-in omnidirectional microphone, similar to the one found on your smartphone. I made a few calls using the H4 headphones, and was told by the people on the other end that my voice came through loud and clear. I had been concerned about ambient sound getting through because of the distance between my mouth and the microphone, but it was never an issue.