A few years ago, I got my first taste of what premium wireless audio from Bang & Olufsen sounds like with the Beoplay H9 and I’ve been thoroughly ruined ever since. No wireless headset I’ve tested in the ensuing years has come anywhere close to the incredible combination of audio precision, premium build and stunning design. So imagine my excitement when B&O announced that they were entering the gaming space with the Beoplay Portal exclusive for Xbox. The company has since expanded the lineup to include the Beoplay Portal PC/ PlayStation so that everyone else can get the love. I was over the moon.
The gamified version of B&O’s award-winning Bluetooth headphone features 2.4Ghz latency-free wireless, Active Noise Cancellation, Dolby Atmos, and is compatible with PC and consoles. Perfect right? Uhm, not quite. I’d be more excited except for one problem: the Beoplay Portal PC costs an astronomical $849 AUD. For context, both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 cost less than that – assuming you can find one. But if your pockets are deep enough, there is a hell of a lot to love about the Beoplay Portal and it’s undoubtedly one of the best gaming headsets money can buy.
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay Portal PC Review
One reason for the high price of the Portal becomes apparent the minute you see it and feel it in your hand. Designed by Jakob Wagner and the B&O design team, the Portal is absolutely stunning. No other gaming headset comes close. It’s crafted with premium materials like bamboo fibre headband, polished aluminium frame and sheepskin leather. It comes in three colour choices – Black Anthracite, Navy and Grey Mist which is what I got. Whichever option you pick, trust that you will stand out from any crowd be it a bus stop or a LAN party.
Besides looking gorgeous, the Portal’s premium materials and design make it fantastically comfortable. Weighing only 279g, the over-ear cups swallow your ears in luxury with just enough pressure to provide excellent passive noise cancelling without hurting. The headband also has a nook in the middle which reduces pressure on the head. These are headsets you won’t want to take off all day.
The headband uses standard sliding arms for adjustment but the overall movement is very smooth and yet stiff so it won’t slide out of place. The ear cups can swivel 90-degrees to lie flat which helps for packing them in a bag. The supplied bag isn’t the greatest thing in the world and really doesn’t offer anything beyond dust protection. Such a premium device deserves better protection from a hard case.
As a wireless headset, the Portal has all its controls cleverly integrated into both the earcups. The outer metallic discs are touch-enabled and allow for various swipe and tap gestures. A unique touch bar on the back of each ear cup lets you slide your finger upwards or downwards to adjust either volume or the ANC. Additionally, once you’re connected to two devices, the controls change to allow you to control each device separately. Nice.
The Beoplay Portal PC supports dual wireless connection over low-latency 2.4Ghz and Bluetooth 5.1 — and it can do this simultaneously. This, for example, allows you to play games on a PC via USB-C while remaining connected to your smartphone to take and receive calls or listen to a podcast. The connection is excellent though I noted the 2.4Ghz has a much shorter range than Bluetooth.
Additionally, you can use the bundled 3.5mm headphone jack to connect to Xbox controllers and legacy devices or even when the Portal has run out of battery. However, at this price, I really don’t see why B&O couldn’t have had one of those dual-mode dongles like the Steelseries Arctis 7X which allows it to switch between Xbox and PC/ PlayStation.
Now, when you talk about dual-mode wireless and active noise cancellation, battery life becomes a very real concern. Thankfully, the Portal has decent battery life, averaging about 19 hours when all three features are active at the same time, which isn’t too bad. You can squeeze more out of it by turning off the ANC. Also, if you run the headset with just Bluetooth connection and ANC, you’ll get an impressive 40 hours. This is more than any long haul flight you might find yourself on.
The headset charges via USB Type-C which means your phone charger will work fine and as a plus, the headset will still work while charging which is actually really handy. It means you don’t have to stop playing just to wait for the headset to recharge. And when you do need to recharge, set aside about 2 hours for the Portal to go from flat to full. Yet again, at this price point, I expected some form of quick charge that would give me say 5 hours of play after only 10min of charging.
Sounds like a dream
I loved the tuning B&O did with the Beoplay H9 and the Portal carries over the same crisp, detailed and punchy sound. By default, the Portal is very flat, neither straying into the highs nor the lows. I was initially surprised but my previous experience led me straight to the companion app where I could adjust the EQ to my liking. B&O forgoes the traditional EQ sliders for a unique circular quadrant based system. Just drag the cursor around till you find the right balance of sound for your tastes and then save the profile. Or you could just pick from one of the many presets.
What makes the Portal sound so good are the custom-tuned 40mm, Electro-dynamic drivers, with Neodymium magnets. It has a fantastic frequency response and some of the cleanest, tightest bass you’ll find on any gaming headset. These cans can hit hard if you want them to and you feel the bass more than hear it.
In games, expect explosions and gunshots to sound meaty and present. The Portal also captures a wealth of detail with excellent positional accuracy that you’ll be able to track enemy footsteps with precision. Even better are open-world games like Dying Light 2 or The Witcher 3 where the worlds sound so rich and alive with details like rustling in the wind, zombie shuffles and NPC dialogue. If you enjoy story-driven games, you’ll love playing them with the Portal. What makes the Portal even better is its support for Dolby Atmos which you get for free once the headset is connected to your device.
Listening to music on the Portals is just a joy. From Snoop Dogg to Johann Bach, music sounds beautiful with rich tonality, powerful bass and crystal clear detailing. If I was commuting to work, I’d be grateful to listen to music while the Portal’s ANC drowns out the world around me. Comparatively speaking though, the Portal doesn’t offer the greatest ANC in the world. That crown still belongs to Sony WH-1000XM4 which I reviewed last year.
However, the Portal did a pretty good job of drowning out the noise from my PC fans or clothes dryer. Traffic noise wasn’t really dampened as I could still clearly hear cars passing by as I walked along a busy road, something the Sony’s would have drowned out easily. I was also disappointed that the Portals did nothing to dampen the raucous my primary school going kids made just a few feet away from me. And I can’t really speak to the performance on a plane which is where people mostly want ANC. The Portals will at least guarantee you a quiet gaming session, which, I suppose, is the point.
Swipe up on the left touch bar and you can activate transparency mode which allows you to hear your surroundings through the headset. It’s an interesting feature that I honestly find redundant since it’s a lot quicker(and easier) to just slide one of the earcups out of the way to hear what’s going on. For some people, there’s possibly a use case for this but not for me.
Unlike other gaming headsets, the Portal doesn’t have a detachable or retractable microphone. Instead, it uses an array of microphones in the earcups to create a Beam forming microphone which is essentially a virtual equivalent. It sounds okay, with a pretty accurate capture of my voice albeit somewhat distant-sounding as you’d expect from microphones that aren’t close to your mouth. It works great for phone calls, game chat and Zoom but don’t expect to do live streaming with these and get great quality.
The B&O Beoplay Portal PC is a dream headset for me and I suspect, many of you too. It’s stunning to look at and to wear all day and it reeks of elitism. From the bus stop to the esports arena, these cans will turn heads. And then there’s the excellent sound performance that’s enhanced by Dolby Atmos and ANC. I love the touch controls which is something I usually avoid altogether due to their finickiness. The only challenge is the astronomical price tag that put these considerably out of reach for me and many of you too.
And to be honest, even with everything the Portals do right, you can easily get comparative features and performance from a number of much cheaper gaming headsets. The Master & Dynamic MG20, JBL Quantum 800 or the Steelseries Arctis 9 are a few that spring to mind; all of which cost several hundred dollars less. The other thing to consider is that for most of us, it’s really not a problem to have two pairs of headphones — one for gaming and the other for on the go. Sure, it would be handy to have a single headset to rule them all but only if the price is right and sadly, the price of the Portal isn’t.