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B&O Beoplay HX headphones review: Are these cans the new champions of noise cancellation?

From design to sound, we put the luxury pair through its paces

David RS Taylor@davidrstaylor
Thursday 13 May 2021 11:11
<p>Has B&O successfully managed to balance sound quality with accurate noise-cancellation?</p>

Has B&O successfully managed to balance sound quality with accurate noise-cancellation?

Life is all about balance. We like methodically and obsessively testing products to make sure you get the best performance – and deal – for your money, but we also like finishing work half an hour early on a Friday to nip to the pub.

Balance is key when it comes to active noise cancellation technology, too (and yes, we’re happy with that frictionless link). If you want to block out the world, active noise cancellation (ANC) can help. Little microphones in your headphones pick up ambient noise, measure its pitch and then instruct the speakers to match it with a corresponding “anti-pitch”, negating the sound and giving you some sweet silence.

However, the music you’re listening to will undoubtedly have some similarities to the ambient noise – too much ANC, and your music can be negatively affected, dampened by the headphones’ own tech.

It’s a tricky balance to find for audio companies, even the very best. Up there among these sound titans is Bang & Olufsen, a producer of consistently stellar products. Its new set of headphones, the Beoplay HX, promise to improve on the company’s adaptive active noise cancellation – technology that continuously adapts to the sounds around you to automatically give you the best cancellation possible. The trick is to provide this while still producing B&O’s signature sound, something that the brand thinks it’s managed here.

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The HX’s price puts them above rivals from Sony and Bose, but below Apple’s AirPod Max, firmly at the luxury end of the market. Do the tech, look and sound specs of B&O’s latest audio treat tally with the cost? We find out.

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B&O Beoplay HX

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Design

There’s no doubt that the HX look and feel the part. There’s a luxuriousness to the headphones that feels miles ahead of competitors: a slimline sophistication, amazingly lightweight feel and smooth, aluminium finish that make the HX a premium product for any wearer. B&O is also continuing to commit to a more sustainable way of working, with anodised, pearl-blasted recycled aluminium forming part of the cans.

You can tell that the materials used have been deliberated over for an almost unhealthy amount of time. The memory foam ear cushions really do make a difference to comfort: we had no issues wearing these for prolonged periods and would be confident of keeping them on for a long haul flight without any uncomfortable readjustment.

They have enough weight to them to feel sturdy, without becoming an issue for your neck after a few hours of listening. Battery life comes in at 35 hours with ANC switched on and 40 without, comfortably outstripping rivals such as the 30-hour Sony WH-1000XM4 and 20-hour Bose noise cancelling headphones 700 and Apple AirPods Max.

It’s almost become a bit of a cliché to like B&O’s Scandinavian design aesthetic, but it’s a cliché that will persist as long as the brand continues to make some of the most attractive audio products in the world. Bang & Olufsen simply makes beautiful headphones.

Sound

It’s a safe bet that anything Bang & Olufsen will ooze audio quality, and the HX are no exception. There’s a real feeling of consideration when it comes to audio here, delicate handling of treble, mids and bass that manages to keep their elements distinct but merged enough to create a sound impressively faithful to original recordings. Even without ANC, the cans seem to completely envelop you in your music, and the Bluetooth 5.1 keeps the audio consistent, with no instances of breaking up or distortion.

The adaptive ANC works a treat, analysing your surroundings impressively quickly and tweaking itself accordingly. However, there’s still a slight change in audio quality when you switch to ANC mode. This is understandable: no brand has yet managed to retain complete sound quality when paired with high-tech ANC. The HX have improved the difference, however, with a much less discernible change when listening to both music and podcasts. Passive noise cancellation (PNC) is also here in abundance, thanks to the design of the HX’s cups serving to form a comfortable barrier around your ears, and calls are easy and clear, thanks to both the PNC and the four microphones on offer. Those cold callers will thank you.

As we’ve mentioned previously, the corresponding B&O app is the best around, with a clean, simple layout and plenty of options for sound EQ and connectivity. You can also choose between noise cancellation modes, including a transparency mode, giving you the option of both hearing more of your surroundings and being able to sing along to your music while not treating your neighbours to an overly-loud amateur rendition of Circle of Life.

The verdict: B&O Beoplay HX headphones

If you’re on the lookout for a pair of sophisticated headphones that would work in any high-end cologne advert, then the B&O Beoplay HX should be top of your list. Alongside the elegant looks and high-spec design, the HX pack some serious sound credentials into the cans, with a classic B&O sound and incredibly responsive adaptive ANC.

They’re priced at the high end of the market, with designers obviously confident that the combination of durable materials and class-leading audio know-how justifies this. They have a point: everything about the HX is geared towards quality and luxury. They’re a pair of headphones that should last you years, become even more comfortable with age, and look at home in any setting.

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Still deciding? check out our head to head review between the AirPods Max and the AirPods Pro

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