BANG & OLUFSEN BEOPLAY H4 WIRELESS OVER-EAR HEADPHONES

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As you may have read on this site before—I have a relatively basic approach for categorizing headphones into one of three groups.  If you missed it, check it out here, or here, or even here.  Those categories are as follows:

  • Basic ear buds with inline mic – for every day use, generally less expensive, comfortable to the point you forget about them, and usable in most places.
  • Studio headphones – for musical or cinematic (or both) adventures; they are your lounging headphones for when you want to zone out in your media.
  • Wireless – for the gym, yard work, house work, etc.

I recently added a fourth category for the audiophile among you, but in general, I weigh any new product based upon my current experience with devices in those three categories.  So, another me, in another universe—with exactly the same categories but a different selection of headphones, might judge these new headphones a bit differently.  That said, on to the good stuff.

B&O - 1

The Beoplay H4’s are perhaps a good contender for my “Studio” category, and for me add in wireless functionality to my current go-to headphone (side note, really wanted to refer to my go-to headphone as a daily driver, but thought the pun may be lost on some).  As I’ve stated (verbatim) before, “a good pair of studio headphones are typically over-the-ear or on-ear; they have a great feel to them and put out some serious sound.  These are the headphones you’ll use when binge-watching Dexter on your laptop or tablet, and while they might have a cord, they’re not an inconvenience.”

The problem with this middle range of headphones is that to be successful in the space, a product has to have so many features to be worth the look.  B&O prices the H4’s at a retail price of $300, which puts it in the neighborhood of Bose’s QC35’s and some higher quality Sennheiser and Audio Technica.  Bang and Olufsen is not marketing as heavily as Bose, though, so naturally I’d expect the price to be a bit lower.  If I’m being 100% honest, the price tag is the first thing to make me think twice about these—they would need to put out some high quality sound to really be worth the cash.

Out of the box, the H4’s came with enough charge to power the first week of periodic wireless use—this included heavier use the first day (approximately 3-4 hours), then varying use of wired and wireless over the next several days (approximately 8-10 hours total).  And, while that’s not a great (or objective) battery test, B&O’s quoted 19 hours of battery life definitely seems plausible; to be honest, 8-10 hours should be plenty for most users, with more obviously being better.

The unboxing experience itself was minimalist, the way it should be: sturdy packaging, limited stuffing (but enough to protect it), and very little time between unboxing and pairing.  The lambskin ear cups are soft and well padded, and the metal headband is protected by a durable mesh on the bottom and (maybe real) lambskin across the top.  The back side of the cups are plastic, with only 3 buttons on the right cup along with the micro-USB and 3.5mm audio ports; there is a small bit of exposed braided cable running from each cup to the band.  The entire headphone is very light in the hands—nearly matching the Bose QC35’s 235g weight.  And, from a quality perspective, I have the same sort of feeling about these as I do the QC35’s—they almost feel to light to be durable; that doesn’t mean they’re not durable, but only time will tell.

Audio performance is a difficult thing to review; it’s hard on video and even harder through text.  The H4’s allegedly deliver what B&O refers to their “Signature Sound,” intended to true-to-life and seemingly, not particularly heavy in lows, mids or highs unless the audio was intended that way; this is similar in many ways to how the QC35’s present audio, but I found the H4’s to present the lows much better than the QC35’s.  Mids and highs are fine, and in general the actual audio experience with the H4’s is a very balanced one with a decent amount of bass representation.

For additional reference, here are a few other products I use regularly and how they compare to the H4’s:

  • Sennheiser HD598SE – if it’s even fair to compare closed-back and open-back headphones, the H4’s have more defined lows and highs than the HD598SE, but the Sennheiser wins in sound stage and overall balance.  They are cheaper, but don’t have bluetooth and again, are open-back headphones.
  • V-Moda Crossfade LP2 – H4’s have a more “real” and balanced sound, but can’t compete with the bass output of the LP2’s.  LP2’s are cheaper, but again, no bluetooth.
  • Master & Dynamic MH30 – while the MH30’s are more “luxury” than the H4’s, the price tag is the same between the two.  MH30’s win in lows, mids and highs, are more balanced, can out perform the bass of the H4’s, and have a more solid build.  Again, though, no wireless for the MH30’s.

So this in some ways puts the H4’s into a bit of a different perspective.  Sure, the sound is overall very good, and the battery life is great, but great sound is possible for less money without wireless; with wireless and another $30, you can pick up Bose’s latest QC35’s (Series 2), or for less money grab the Series 1 and get a still great headphone.

But, I’m not done yet; there are some additional things I noticed about the H4’s that could use an update on the next release.  For starters—the provided 3.5mm cable is not braided.  Yes, I know this doesn’t have any impact WHATSOEVER on performance—but it also doesn’t scream $300 headphones when I see a boring rubber cable.  Braided cables are far more durable and look higher quality too, and while using these with a cable is secondary in most cases to using them wirelessly, it’s an incremental cost upgrade that would play well with a buyer in this price range.

And, speaking of cables—this NEW product charges using Micro-USB, not USB Type C.  Again, not a deal breaker, but as more and more phone and computer manufacturers are releasing product with type-C ports, the accessory producers should be keeping up.  Charing via USB-C, even quick-charge capability—added to something with great battery life would be a win for everyone.

There are 3 dedicated buttons on the headphones, most generally volume up, volume down and play/pause.  As an iOS user, pressing and holding the play/pause triggers Siri, but with a longer hold powers down the headphones—so triggering Siri is a bit of a gamble if you don’t time it correctly.  To put the device in pairing mode, you have to simultaneously hold the volume up and down buttons, which is a typically two-handed operation.  And, the headphones can only be paired to one device at a time, meaning switching from phone to laptop to tablet is a bit of a to-do.  With added bluetooth functionality and a dedicated bluetooth button, many of these things could have been avoided.

And finally, B&O’s app.  It’s a fine thing, but relatively basic and certainly not intended for someone who truly wants to customize their sound experience.  It’s fine for a beginner, but including “advanced” tuning capabilities into the app might make it more attractive to users picky about how they hear their music.

All things considered, I’m not entirely convinced that the H4’s are a real good buy for the money.  They are EXTREMELY comfortable, perhaps more so than any other headphones I own.  And they have phenomenal battery life, along with slightly better bass than the Bose QC35’s.  But, without noise canceling, I would sooner recommend the QC35 Series 1 or a less marketed offering from Sennheiser, V-Moda or Audio Technica—in an effort to get similar performance at a smaller impact to your wallet.

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