Everyone has a pair of headphones, and some of us have several, but few spend more than $500 on walk around cans. Bang & Olufsen thinks it might be able to tempt you with something that doesn’t just look premium, it sounds it too.
Features and performance
Bose and Beats may do some pretty strong headphones sales, but it’s not the only player in the game, and it’s not the only player with a name beginning with “B”.
Almost like a Sesame Street character, we’re going “B is for…” Bang & Olufsen, and this month, the pair to look out for is the H7, a pair of wireless cans made from leather, plastic, and metal, with a style of its own that looks like it was designed by someone with a love for textiles and proper materials, not just more and more plastic, as is typically the case in headphones these days.
Inside the cans, which have been designed by B&O designer Jakob Wagner — something Bang mentions on the website — you’ll find a 40mm driver connecting to a set of electronics allowing wireless communication to a smartphone or tablet over the Bluetooth 4/4.1, with support for aptX.
A rechargeable and replaceable battery is brought to the table, and thanks to the universal standard that is microUSB, it’s pretty easy to supply charge to the battery, too.
Most importantly, there’s the sound, and as usual we do the run through of our tests with the GadgetGuy Sound Test, which you can follow with thanks to Spotify, Apple Music, or Google Play, which our 2016 playlist is listenable to.
Starting with a dash of electronic and electro-pop, it’s quite clear from the first few songs, the H7 are friends of mids and highs, because while the bass has a nice snap to it, mids and highs are what dominate this pair of cans in the first few songs.
That’s the feeling we had from Imogen Heap’s “Headlock”, though Demi Lovato’s “Cool For The Summer” offered more punch, still led by the brighter vocals and synth. Still, it’s not bad, and for the modern music, the balance is pretty close with a good snap.
The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face” offers a little more warmth, as the lower tones permeate the headphones comfortable, providing an almost glowing tonality to the bottom end and covering the vocals in a snuggly blanket, and in this track, we’re hearing the warmest effort from the bass yet.
This strength continues with Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” and Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” each of which offer strength in the balance, though the bass can feel a little pulled back to some degree.
It’s much the same in “Brave” (Sara Bareilles), with a less pronounced bass that is quite obviously still there, though not as full-on as it was in tracks engineered to be bass heavy.
At this point, you get the feeling that the H7 are quite balanced, except for the fact that the bass has been pulled back a touch intentionally, almost so the headphones are always going to be bright, unless lower sounds are meant to be over-emphasised, and then they really kick in against the rest of the cans.
Spatially, there’s also a good soundspace here, with a point that lets you hear the detail in the music and doesn’t push the track out of the speaker all at once, as if each instrument has its own orifice on the cans.
Into the rock, and the wispy tones of Thom Yorke in Radiohead’s “Exit Music” is clear and distinct from the basic guitar and ocean sounds to be heard in the back ground, as the mids and lows pull you into his lonely and almost desolate voice.
“Precise” is the word we’d use to describe that one, and it’s the same word we have for Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” and Muse’s “Psycho”, each of which offer forceful mids above all and deep and angry low sounds that are hard to escape from.
Turned up, rock sounds amazing through the Bang & Olufsen H7 headphones, with a real sense of strength ushered in mids first, while the bass and highs fight it out for dominance.
Finally, there’s the music without a lot of engineering, and in Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”, we go back to a world where the bass is less pronounced and bare visible, just there enough to be there, while the rest of the instruments take point, and it’s the same in “So What” (Miles Davis), which joins in with Brubeck to offer a soft bass that doesn’t really take you over but still is clear and comfortable to listen to.
Mostly, what we’re seeing is that the BeoPlay H7 offer pretty stellar sound, though the balance leans more to the bright side, and not the one referenced in The Killers track.
That said, there’s a lovely round tone to the headphones, and one we’d be happy using for quite a while, and that’s much the same with regards to how the H7 feel on your head.
There’s no doubting this, but the leather circumaural pads provide easy and comfortable listening without any problems, though we did notice if you crane your head forward and backward enough, the lack of hugging the H7 offer can mean they almost fall off (though we did say “almost”).
Battery life is also pretty solid on this pair of headphones, and while Bang quotes a life of up to 20 hours, we found we didn’t need to charge them much at all over the course of a week, and even if it did ran out of life, we always had the 3.5mm cable that we could rely on.
Yes, just like other wireless headphones (most, anyway), you can plug in a 3.5mm stereo cable and get the headphones working without wireless.
In a surprise, however, Bang has even mastered line level and stereo balance on the 3.5mm cable, something few companies ever figure out, with both Beats and Bose still struggling to nail in our experience.
From our previous reviews, Bang & Olufsen is now sitting alongside Plantronics in regards to this knowledge, because if you do run out of battery power, your audio quality shouldn’t suffer. In essence, you shouldn’t be forced to just use the wireless option, and running out of power sure can force your hand.
Fortunately, the H7 can work without wireless switched on, using a 3.5mm stereo cable to grab audio from your phone or media player and send it to your headphones. It even switches off the power in the process, meaning if you did have battery power, you couldn’t actually force the headphones to stay on, so if a device you’re using doesn’t support Bluetooth, you can still use the B&O H7 headphones.
Unfortunately, Bang & Olufsen has only brought over a standard 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable, which means no microphone if you’re keen to chat without power.
You can always bring your own, which we sure did, allowing you to bring over your own remote and microphone, but B&O doesn’t include one in the box.
It does include a plush bag which is very lush, and B&O even includes a slip of paper telling you that there’s a free gift when you visit a local store valued at 26 USD, but mostly it’s the 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable and a microUSB charge cable, with no actual voice remote, and we’re not sure why.
The H7 headphones also miss out on something expensive headphones sometimes receive, and that’s a motion switch or head/neck sensor to pick up on when the cans have been taken off the head.
Why would you want this?
Well, in some competitor models, this little piece of electronics allows the wearer to automatically pause the music when they take the headphones off or drag them to around their neck, useful if you take a phone call and prefer to hold the phone to your ear or stop to talk to people in real life.
Unfortunately, B&O doesn’t include one in this pair of headphones, which is a shame given the high price tag.
At least the audio is bang on (get it?), but Bang probably needs to spend some time refining the controls which border on usable to downright fussy.
On the B&O H7, those controls are touch elements built into the right earphone, with what amounts to a touchpad on this side.
That’s not totally new, mind you, and we’ve seen controls like this in high-end headphones before, specifically in a pair from France’s Parrot.
What Bang needs to work on, however, is the sensitivity which from our tests appears to be just a touch too sensitive.
Design-wise, B&O has made things very easy on you, with only a handful of functions to remember on this touchpad: you touch it to pause and play, you swipe forward and backward to change tracks, and you run your finger along the circle along the inside to change the volume making circles in one direction to go up and in the other to go down.
There’s nothing wrong with this at all, and we appreciate simple controls.
What gets finicky, however, is the outside circle for volume, which is more or less going to make you skip tracks at least once a day.
That’s the thing about the controls: they can be very touchy.
Parrot’s Zik 2.0 headphones had a similar problem upon release, but solved it with a subsequent patch via the Zik app.
In theory, Bang could do the same with its headphones, but not having an app, we suspect you’ll just be teaching yourself how to use the touchpad so it doesn’t happen regularly.
Our other quibble with the H7 headphones is the price, and as expected, you’re basically paying for the brand.
Yes, Bang & Olufsen has a pretty successful name, and one that isn’t laden with gimmicks, but that doesn’t stop us from feeling like the $749 price connected to the H7 headphones is a little overkill for what you’re getting.
That’s more expensive than pretty much any wireless headphones we’ve checked out all year, and while the balance is strong in these cans, we’re not quite sure if they are $749 strong, especially since the noise cancellation has taken a walkabout on this variant.
They’re good, but close to a grand? That we’re not so sure we agree with.
There’s no doubting the quality offered by the B&O H7 headphones, with looks that put so many other cans to shame and a strong enough balance that spreads not just across the spectrum, but also whether you’re using the wireless feature or wired cables.
The price, however, puts these headphones out of reach for most people, which is, we have to say, very typical Bang & Olufsen.
If that doesn’t bother you, though, and you’re prepared to spend big for quality, B&O’s H7 are an excellent pair of cans.