Microsoft Surface headphones 2 are the second generation of what were pretty good Generation 1 headphones. The key difference is Bluetooth 5.0 and the welcome addition of the Qualcomm aptX codec.
Of course, there are other differences under the bonnet, but it is just the 180° fold-flat hinge that is slightly different outside. It is like the rest of the iconic Surface range – incremental updates.
Big, very Microsoft Surface-like – corporate, clean, and minimalist. At 204 x 195 x 48mm x 290g, they are at the weightier end of the scale – Bose QC 35/45 at 240g, Sony WH-1000Xm4 at 255g, and Sennheiser PCX 550 II at 227g are appreciably lighter.
They are over-the-ear, closed-back, so the fit is snug to help noise isolation. The pads are deep and comfortable – and replaceable.
Download the app for Microsoft Windows, Google Play, or Apple App store – you need this to update the firmware, access the EQ, and change noise cancellation levels from High, Medium, Low or Ambient sound amplified.
Best of all is that BT 5.0 supports multi-point connections between a PC and a smartphone – no unpairing.
In the box is the hard-sided flat carry case, 1.5m USB-A to USB-C charge cable and 1.2m 3.5mm cable.
Microsoft claims a full charge in two hours, up to 18.5 hours listening or up to 15 hours voice calling on MS Teams. Of course, there is the fine print – SBC codec, 46% volume with maximum noise cancellation.
In fact, the claim is quite accurate as you don’t need excessive volume levels. We found that 60-66% volume suited our Blues Brothers tastes, and battery life shrunk to about 13 hours. Still, that is pretty good.
We did not test the aptX codec, but Microsoft advises that while it can give you higher quality audio, it shortens battery life. We estimate a 20% hit.
Recharge is via any 5V/1A charger or USB-C PD charger, but it does not reduce charge time.
Note you can listen to music via BT while charging, but there is no USB DAC for listening over USB (like Sennheiser).
The app – one of the better for Windows and Android
We will let the images tell thr story.
Sound (all tests on flat EQ)
The maximum volume is 85dB – excellent. Where Gen 1 had good bass, this has it in spades! It starts at around 43Hz (mid-bass) and build solidly to 100Hz (high-bass) and is relatively flat to 5kHz where it dips (to avoid harshness) and then from 8kHZ descends gracefully 20kHz.
The top-end treble is a little uncontrolled, but it makes little overall difference. The EQ does work within the confines of the speaker. It cannot give you more than the graph below, but it can back off bass and help control treble.
There are three noise-cancelling levels – you can control this via the app or 13-levels via the Left rotating ring. When you turn NC off, the outside ambient sound is amplified.
The high setting is excellent, cutting sounds over 70dB to a dull murmur – like a plane (Microsoft claims up to 30dB). Medium lets about 10dB more through – perfect for an office. Low does not stop voices and nearby sounds. Ambient amplifies sounds as well as your voice (side-tone) in this mode – perhaps a little too much.
It is not quite the standard of industry leaders Bose and Sennheiser, but unless you came from those brands and had benchmarks, this will cancel noise very well.
The device lacks sidetone – where you can hear yourself during a call. Otherwise, calls are clear. The dual mics give a good voice pickup. They meet Microsoft voice dictation standards. You can use this feature over BT or 3.5mm cable
While we can not measure latency, the SBC codec on Windows was noticeable (over 200ms). The aptX codec on Android was far more responsive (around 100ms). There is little latency over 3.5mm cable so it is perfect for Xbox.
Considering the Microsoft Surface headphones 2 are $399.95 – $100 less than the launch price of the V1 Surface Headphones, they offer good value.
I like the rotating ring and the touchpad controls – very easy. The sound signature has improved with loads more bass.
If you like Surface and its design cues, you can’t go wrong. They are a definite improvement over V1 (8.4/10) with a better price. In essence, these are BT/ANC/Over-the ear cans, and that is a huge market starting from about $100 with heaps of good ones at $299. So, if money is an issue, look at JBL, Jabra and Sennheiser because they are all pretty good.
In the $399 bracket is Sony WH-100XM4 (9.8/10), Bose 700 (9.6/10) and JBL Club One (not reviewed but has excellent music credentials).
Sony (no aptX but LDAC, longer battery and a better ANC) and Bose (if you like its music style, no aptX, no 3.5mm) are better known. But Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 competes well – you should consider it if you want aptX codec compatibility.
But spend a little more, and you are in Sennheiser territory with its Momentum 3 ($599 on special at $499) and PXC550 II ($549) are the ultimate ANC, BT cans supporting SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX Low Latency and LDAC.
PS – If you see a version 2+, it is for business and has an MS Team button.
Since September 2021 we have changed our pass mark from 8/10 to 6/10 to allow us more headroom to recognise class-leading features. If comparing any prior headphone review please take two points off them.
We start at the pass mark, add points for the intuitive control system, improved bass response, charge and listen at the same time, replaceable earpads, and the BT 5.0 aptX codec. That is over 9/10 in the old rating system.
Microsoft Surface headphones 2
Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 has improvements that bring them up to the Sony WH-1000xM4 and Bose 700. In some ways - particularly the Qualcomm aptX codec - they are class-leading.
Value for money
Ease of use
Minimalist yet recognisable Surface design cues
Comfortable over-the-ear but can be a little hot
Reasonable, but not class leading, battery life
Decent App for Window, iOS and Android with an EQ that works
Multi-point Widows and Android BT 5.0 and aptX (no AAC)
Solid but large hard-shell case and lie flat desig
Charge and listen at the same time
I like the increased native mid-high-bass
NC is on or Ambient – no NC off
No sidetone on handfree calls
No AAC for Apple users