Bang & Olufsen just launched its first pair of true wireless earbuds with active noise cancellation (ANC) technology.
The Beoplay EQ are the latest entry in the high-end audio brand’s fast-growing range of wireless headphones. They’re a swish looking pair of quality-sounding earbuds capable of blocking out unwanted noise and plunging listeners into blissful silence.
Like other ANC earphones, such as Apple’s AirPods Pro, the Beoplay EQ uses microphones located around the earbuds to continuously monitor environmental sound, then uses that audio information to automatically tune out external noise.
This isn’t the first time B&O has dabbled in active noise cancelling. The Danish audio firm has already implemented ANC in its Beoplay H95 wireless headphones, but its existing Beoplay E8 and Beoplay E8 Sport earbuds didn’t feature the technology.
B&O is a luxury brand with a historic reputation for meticulous sound quality, so we’re interested to see if the manufacturer has managed to integrate ANC without compromising on overall audio fidelity.
How we tested
We’ve been testing the Beoplay EQ in a range of environments to see how they compare to the best noise-cancelling headphones and wireless earbuds around. We paid close attention the the earbuds’ ability to isolate us from environmental and traffic noise while working from home, as well as how they performed when walking, running and riding on clattering Tube trains. We also took the Beoplay EQ into the skies to test their transparency mode, and to hear how well they could tune out aeroplane engine noise.
We paired the Beoplay EQ with a Samsung Galaxy S21 ultra (£1,199, Samsung.com), an Android phone running the Google Assistant, and listened to podcasts and a broad range of music genres to see how the earbuds could handle bass, mid-range, vocals and treble. Here’s what we found.
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay EQ: £349, Bang-olufsen.com
- Driver: 6.8mm
- Materials: Aluminium, polymer, silicone
- Waterproofing: IP54 (dust and splash/sweat resistant)
- Dimensions: 24mm x 22mm x 27mm
- Charging case dimensions: 77mm x 40mm x 26mm
- Weight: 8g
- Charging case weight: 50g
- Battery life: 6.5 - 7.5 hours, 20 hours with charging case
The first thing you notice when sliding the Beoplay EQs out of their packaging is just how compact B&O has managed to make the aluminium charging case. It’s a sleek, pillbox-shaped object, small enough to slip into a pocket or a purse, and can recharge the earbuds twice over.
The case shuts with a satisfying snap and uses a single LED to alert you to battery levels. Printed on the lid in a subtle spot-varnish is the Bang & Olufsen name. On the back of the case is a USB-C port for charging. The case can also be charged on any standard wireless charging pad.
The buds themselves are shaped like fat commas, with the silicone (or foam) tip tapering out to a thumbnail-sized metal touchplate branded with the B&O logo. The shape of the contour along the rim of the plate helps to orient the buds in your ears through touch alone.
The Beoplay E8 buds are pretty big, larger than the AirPods Pro and similar in size to the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2. They’re not too heavy, but more than most other wireless earbuds we found it was important to try out the four pairs of differently sized tips that come with the device to find a fit that was comfortable to wear for long periods.
Once jammed into our ears in a way we were happy with, we could strut about with confidence. Even without any hooks or grips, the Beoplay E8 buds sit securely inside the ear while you move around and don’t feel like they might pop out and skitter across the tube platform at any moment. With the optional foam tips you can get earplug-style stability and passive noise isolation with none of the discomfort of a too-tight pair of earphones.
You’ve got touch controls split across both ears, which can be used to cycle through ANC modes, answer and hang up calls and skip tracks. On-ear controls take some getting used to, as every earbud works differently, and double taps and triple taps aren’t an intuitive way of controlling things. Support for a voice assistant could have alleviated some of this fiddliness, but the Beoplay EQ doesn’t include that.
As you might expect from B&O, the Beoplay EQ earbuds shine when it comes to exceptional sound quality. Living in London, we tend to crank up the ANC on our headphones everywhere we go, which has the unwanted side-effect of boosting bass and strangling higher frequencies. With earbuds especially, powerful noise-cancellation can feel like being trapped inside a coffin. Inside your little coffin, music sounds a smidge more claustrophobic, less wide.
That’s still true with ANC on the Beoplay EQ, but we were impressed by how well the earbuds held on to treble and vocal detail while effectively tuning out the roar of a tube carriage and the engine noise from a busy street. Without ANC you open up even more of that high-end, and get all of that rich and balanced audio tuning B&O built its reputation on.
There’s a setting between ANC on and ANC off, called transparency mode. This is found in a bunch of noise-cancelling headphones and earphones and allows you to tune into outside vocal frequencies, so you can hold a conversation without taking out your earbuds (we’ve always found it most useful on planes, if you can remember those). On the Beoplay EQ, this mode is accessed through a convoluted sequence of ear taps, which takes longer than simply taking out an earbud to hear what somebody’s saying.
The Beoplay EQ earbuds also use “adaptive ANC”, which uses the microphones to adjust the degree and style of noise-cancellation as you move between different environments: such as walking from indoors to outdoors. When using ANC the mics can also tune into the sound of your own voice during phone calls, so you can hear yourself speak.
Battery life is healthy for a pair of ANC earbuds, lasting around six or seven hours when listening at two-thirds volume and with noise-cancellation doing its business.
The verdict: Beoplay EQ
Bang & Olufsen has arrived late to the noise-cancelling wireless earbuds party, but the stylish Beoplay EQ (£359, Bang-olufsen.com) makes a big entrance.
They’re more expensive than noise-cancelling earphones of roughly similar quality – the Beoplay EQ struggles to justify the £150 gap between itself and the Momentum True Wireless 2 (£189.99, Amazon.co.uk) – but audio quality doesn’t disappoint and the noise-cancelling performance is on par with the best ANC earphones we’ve tested.
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