Danish consumer electronics company Bang & Olufsen, better known as B&O, unveiled the upgraded versions of its premium wireless headphones, the H8i and the H9i, at this year’s CES.
Today, we’re going to review what’s good and what’s not about these two active noise cancelling headphones to help you in your choice between the $399 on-ear H8i and the over-ear H9i with a $499 price tag; or should you consider some other option altogether, like, for example, a Bose or a Sony.
So, let’s go right ahead and help you make that decision.
Starting with the design elements, both headphones are up there with the best of the best in so far as their contemporary minimalist styles are concerned, with the B&O leather and aluminum legacy carried forward on both the headphones.
The cowhide leather up top; the smoothly retractable brushed aluminum arms; the plastic and aluminum ear cups; and the attention to detail and craftsmanship have all combined gloriously well in these classy specimens of a headphone that are as strong as they are elegant.
When it comes to comfort, the H8i is one of the lightest phones on the market and have a great feel to it; however, if you are one of those who like the isolated from the environment, fully-enclosed over-ear style, the H9i is the one which promises that.
It may not be the world’s lightest headphone, but the excellent weight distribution, the subtle clasped feeling around the ears and the head bend design do not leave any room for wearing fatigue even when worn for hours together.
In fact, both the versions score highly in the comfort department.
While ear pads on most headphones out there have to be stretched and pulled to remove them, the ones on the H8i and H9i can be easily twisted off for cleaning or replacing, not to mention the lambskin they are made of – so soft and smooth and plush against the skin.
Moving on to the controls, let’s first check out the H8i, which does not have touch control, to begin with; so, it’s all physical as far as this one goes.
On the right ear cup, you have three keys, two for volume and the one between them for play and pause, Bluetooth pairing and virtual assistant.
The left side ear cup switch works as the power control as well as for enabling either noise-cancellation or Transparency Mode.
Activating the Transparency Mode stops the music to allow you to take in the environmental noises around you without having to remove the headphone, which is all very good, but what’s not good here is that the feature doesn’t have any provision for listening to music with the environmental noise on.
What’s even more of an irritant is the fact that turning off the transparency mode does not resume the playback; to be able to do that you have to either press play on the right ear cup or use the B&P app on your smartphone.
There’s a 3.5mm port on the left ear cup for your physical connections, as well as a USB Type C charging port.
On the H9i, the only physical controls are on/off and pairing, plus you have the USB C and the 3.5mm port.
Like most high-end headphone, the controls on the H9i are touch-sensitive and respond to swiping actions.
A forward swipe skips music while a back swipe takes it back; a down swipe turns the headphone off or on; circling your finger around the touch-sensitive area controls volume; and swiping up and down toggles the transparency mode and, thankfully, the music does resume on this one, unlike the H8i.
But, unfortunately, you still can’t have music together with environmental noise.
Compared to some of the other headphones on the market, there are no voice prompts for battery level or for ANC off/on, with just a beep to indicate pairing.
While the H8i claims a battery life of up to 30 hours, tests have shown that it can last as long as 33 hours with still enough juice left for further usage.
Again, tests have shown that H9i’s battery life is good for about 21 hours when the claim is for 18 hours.
So, battery-life shouldn’t be a concern.
The phone calls on both the headphones are clear and well-amplified with sufficiently reduced environmental noise.
The sound quality on both phones is crisp, crystal clear, high resolution, and offers high fidelity although a bit wanting in the bass department, which, by the way, can be improved using the app equalizer.
The app experience is mediocre, though, allowing some presets and tuning, which is called tone touch here.
You can choose from four sound profiles – ‘warm,’ ‘excited’,’ relaxed ‘and ‘bright’ – and the sound changes to match the mood selected.