Every once in a blue moon, a product crosses the review desk that I really, really love and hate sending back. This time it’s the third generation Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 active noise cancelling(ANC) Bluetooth headphones. There is so much to love here. A gorgeous hipster design made with premium materials that are super comfy. Throw in ANC, wireless connectivity and a week-long battery. On top of all that, they sound phenomenal in almost every listening scenario.
“Why is PowerUp reviewing elitist Bang & Olufsen headphones that cost a bajillion dollars and aren’t for gamers?” you may be asking.
Well, hold my drink fam, because these are a serious piece of kit that shouldn’t be taken lightly; gamer or not. I’ve had them for over a month and I’ve used them every day for Spotify, YouTube, phone calls and yes gaming too.
So, stay a while and listen.
Beoplay H9 Review
The Beoplay H9’s have been around for a while now — along with its Beoplay family of wireless headphones and speakers. With the third generation, B&O has taken everything good about the original and refined it. From the moment you take the $550 H9’s out of their plush packaging, you know that you’re dealing with a premium product.
I got mine in the black Anthracite Limited Edition colour but there are several other colours like the very pink Peony AW19. The headband is topped with a film of stitched cowhide leather and a foam bit to sit on your head. Two hangers hold the large polished anodised aluminium ear cups.
Those ear cups each house a single button keeping the overall aesthetic very clean. A USB-C port for charging is the only other intrusion. These metal hangers slide magically in and out of the headband so you can adjust the fit. The clamping force is just great, giving you a good sound seal that is necessary for the noise cancellation without bruising your ears.
The ear cups have large cushions wrapped in soft lambskin that make love to your ears. The material feels wonderful and I doubt I’ll be ok with other fake leather headphones going forward. Memory foam ensures a good contour to your ears well. I wear glasses and finding headphones that don’t get painful after an hour is a rarity.
Even with the premium materials, the H9’s are surprisingly light, weighing only 285gms. However, I was always aware of a slight pressure on the top of my head which required slight adjustment every so often to continue listening in comfort. I blame the headband cushion more than the weight.
Sounds like a THX Cinema on your head
For the last four years, my benchmark for sound quality and capability has been the excellent Sennheiser Momentum 2.0.
The Beoplay H9’s are exceptionally good sounding headphones. This is even more impressive considering that they use an older Bluetooth 4.2.
The H9’s power comes from 40mm Electro-dynamic drivers with a 20–22,000 Hz frequency response range. What this means is that you will get some very crisp highs, meaty mids and very, very powerful bass. You also get a very wide sound stage and great separation.
My gosh, these headphones can rumble your head. But it’s not a gangsta-rapper-low-rider-rattle-the-neighbours-windows type bass. Rather, it’s more like the refined grunt from high-end Dolby THX cinema speakers. I’ve used the H9’s for over a month and I’m pretty sure they’ve gotten even punchier with time.
The track ‘Los Muertos Vivos Estan from the opening scene of James Bond S.P.E.C.T.R.E and will quickly show you what I mean. The classic Bond theme played with violins and trumpets shines in the midst of the deep bass drum beats. There’s no distortion in the low end even at high volumes.
“Tour Bus” by Homebody is a mix of synthwave and eardrum shaking trap beats that the H9’s makes you bob your head uncontrollably. How about classical, like the London Philharmonic performing John Williams greatest hits. The H9’s capture even the tiniest cymbal clang in the midst of swelling trumpets and violins.
And it’s not just with music that the H9’s shine. I’ve watched hundreds of YouTube videos, BluRays and played a ton of games with these cans. In every situation, the H9’s deliver impeccable sound. Even though they aren’t surround sound headphones, the audio separation is shocking. I often had to take off one ear cup just to be sure no one was creeping up on me in the real world. They’re that good.
And if you want to tune the H9’s sound profile, the B&O companion app makes it super easy. It has a few presets and a unique four zone EQ slider split into Warm, Excited, Relaxed and Bright quadrants. You can slide across the quadrants to adjust the sound profile and then save it to the profiles list
The Beoplay H9’s exceeded my expectations and are hands-down, the best sounding and most pleasurable headphones I’ve ever used.
Active Noise Cancellation — okay I guess
Noise cancellation isn’t a new thing. Simply having a good seal from your ear cushions will cut out a lot of ambient sounds. And the H9’s have a great seal. But for Active Noise Cancellation or ANC, you need a little bit more tech-wizardry. The H9’s use microphones to pick up any ambient sound and then invert it, thereby cancelling it out.
When it works, ANC is magical. The feeling of shutting out the world around you to near total silence can be exhilarating. In my testing across many environments, I’d say the H9’s are average in silencing the world around you.
The H9’s cancel out most of the humdrum from vehicle engines, air conditioning units or computers. Anything that produces a consistent frequency of noise is shut out. But inconsistent sounds like people talking or a car whizzing by will still come through; though much quieter. I used the H9’s every day; commuting to work on train and bus, in an open office with lots of conversations.
In saying that, one area that the H9’s failed to cancel was wind-noise — so much to the point of irritation. It sounds exactly like wind blowing into a live microphone. I’m not sure if other noise cancelling headphones have the same issue but be warned if you plan to run or hike with these.
Additionally, there is no way to choose different noise cancelling profiles like with Bose QuietSound headphones. It would be nice to be able to change between airplanes and office type noise.
Phone calls are terrible
So the same issue with wind noise carries over to phone calls. Once you get a phone call, the H9s immediately switch to pass-through mode. I presume this is so you can hear yourself speaking and not make an ass of yourself by shouting. The problem is that the headphones fail to isolate your voice from the ambient sounds making for a very noisy affair for your caller.
I got tired of having to repeat myself to callers that it was just easier to switch to my handset for calls. However, if you are in a quiet room, then calls are much better which further suggests that the H9’s voice isolation algorithms requires some more work.
The Beoplay H9 connects wirelessly over Bluetooth 4.2 with a quoted range of 10 meters. I was able to go even beyond that with significant dropouts happening only when I crossed into another room.
Setting up the Bluetooth connection is really easy. Push up and hold off the power slider located on the right ear cup and the H9’s enter pairing mode. Connect your device and you’re good to go. I was able to have the headphones paired with my laptop and Google Pixel 4 XL phone at the same time.
However, I’m not sure if it’s just my Pixel 4 or Android but there were several annoying connection niggles. For instance, if I’m listening to Spotify and then receive a phone call and then go back to my music after the call, the audio would just come through. Even though the Bluetooth connection is still paired.
I would then have to go through an annoying process of turning on and off both the H9’s and the phone to get it working again. I never had these issues when connected to my MacBook so clearly it’s something to do with the phone. A firmware upgrade didn’t fix these issues but merely reduced their occurence.
The H9’s can also connect via the bundled 3.5mm headphone jack. This works flawlessly and isn’t a proprietary cable like Sennheisers. What’s impressive is that not only can you use the H9’s in wired mode with ANC, you can also use them with no power with no loss of audio quality. But full disclosure, other than trying the cable out for this review, I never used it again because it offers no sound improvement over wireless mode. Wirefree is always better.
Touch controls and Google assistant
The H9 literally has two buttons, for power and for Voice Assistant. The rest of the controls are touch based on the outside of the right earcup. You can swipe horizontally to skips or repeat tracks, swipe up to enable passthrough and swipe down for ANC. A tap in the middle will pause, play or end a phone call while a circular swiping motion adjusts the volume.
I’m not a fan of these. To say they are finicky is an understatement. It takes several tries to get what should be a basic gesture to register that it’s actually faster to take out your phone and do it there anyway. I did find that using two fingers gives a higher response rate but only just. Perhaps it’s the metal surface that’s not great at picking up touch but this is definitely an area for improvement.
Bang & Olufsen has also added Google Assistant functionality to the H9’s. Once you connect the headphones to your Android phone, they will be recognised as a Google Assistant compatible headset and ask you to enable them. Once you do, a simple press of the button on the left ear cup will activate the Google Assistant.
Press and hold the button to speak your commands to the Assistant or just tap the button once to get it to read your notifications to you. It works really well with my Pixel 4 XL that has Google Assistant so baked into the whole experience.
Battery life is excellent, USB-C is even better
Bang & Olufsen says the H9’s 1110mAh lithium-ion battery will last 25 hours with ANC active and 30 without it. My experience confirms this – if not even better. I use the headphones for 5-8 hours every day with ANC and they would last the whole week before requiring a charge. The red power light and a gentle knocking sound would remind me that I’m out of charge.
The great thing about the H9’s is that they use USB-C to charge so I can use the same charger for my MacBook or Phone to charge them when they are getting low on juice. Thankfully, the will still work while charging so plugging them into my laptop and continuing with my music uninterrupted was a breeze.
You can, of course, charge them while they’re off and they will go from zero to full in about three hours. But if you really can’t wait, you can use them in wired mode but without active noise cancelling.
Should you buy it?
They will cost you a pretty penny – retailing at a hefty $550-580 but you get top notch value for your money. The build quality and design are exceptional, with great feeling materials and flourishes that make it stand out from the crowd. The lambskin ear cushions are extremely comfortable and I had no problem wearing them for several hours a day from my commute all through the workday and back.
But the biggest reason for my recommendation is the phenomenal sound. Whether you are streaming music, watching movies or gaming, the H9’s deliver a deliciously satisfying sound across genres and media. Add in a generous battery combined with USB-C charging make lastability a non-issue even with active noise-cancelling running full time.
The H9’s aren’t perfect though. Poor call quality, average noise-cancelling and finicky touch controls put a dent in an otherwise stellar package. At this price, the Beoplay H9 has stiff competition from cheaper, award winning Sony 1000XM3’s and Bose 700’s. Its closest competitor in price is actually the Sennheiser Momentum 3.0 Wireless which I’d be keen to compare since I love Senny’s.
Thrifty buyers can find the Beoplay H9’s on the usual Amazon or eBay discounts or sales to soften that price pain. They’re certainly worth the hunt.
And as for me…dear B&O, can I please keep this pair?
The Beoplay H9 3rd Gen headphone was loaned to PowerUp! By Bang & Olufsen Australia for the purpose of this review.
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 3rd Gen Headphones - Your private amphitheater
Product Name: Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 3rd Gen Headphones
Product Description: Wireless Bluetooth Noise cancelling headphones
Offer price: 550