We see a lot of headphones here at Pocket-lint, so for a pair of cans to really bed-in as the day-to-day workhorse means they have to be special. Which is exactly what happened with the B&O Beoplay H9, which have been our go-to over-ears for almost a year now.
The B&O Play H9i is the update model, bringing smaller earcups, better battery life, enhanced noise-cancelling (ANC), USB-C charging and a extra bass from a newly designed port. In other words, the H9i looks to put right any qualms we ever had with the earlier H9.
Spoiler alert: these over-ears succeed exceptionally in every regard, delivering near perfection. The only real problem is likely to be wallet related. At £450, is the H9i worth its asking price?
Design and controls
- Aluminium frame, fabric covered; leather-lined earcups
- Bluetooth 4.2 wireless; 3.5mm wired connection
- Touch control interface on right earcup
- Play/Pause function when removed
- Included soft carry pouch
- 195 x 200 x 52mm; 285g
Although the H9i's earcups couldn't be called small, they are smaller than the original H9, which makes for a neater look and lighter weight than the earlier model. That's not to the detriment of comfort though: there's no excess pinch to the ears during wear, while there's plenty of room to breathe around your lugholes.
B&O Beoplay headphones are all about being comfortable, offering a luxe finish and considered style. The H9i certainly achieves this, with its mix of aluminium, material and real leather, although the leather does have a bit of an excess yellow hue, while the outer earcup panels – where the battery is hidden and the touch controls are positioned – are rather plasticky.
The padding of these earcups makes the H9i supremely comfortable to wear for long periods of time. We've already tested these cans at the desk, while travelling on planes, trains and automobiles, successfully clocking up dozens of hours per week.
As the H9i is Bluetooth compatible, it can be used wire-free, which is great for avoiding getting in a tangle with the included 3.5mm socket and cable. However, just as we said of the H9, the H9i's sound is too quiet from a smartphone (due to EU regulations) irrelevant of any volume booster apps we've used. From other sources, such as our laptop, things have sounded plenty loud enough. The wired connection can take volume to ear-splitting levels, should you so wish.
There's a gesture control panel on the right earcup, with controls handled by tapping and swiping. One tap pauses or plays, a 'wheel' action controls the volume, while a swipe up activates active noise-cancellation (a swipe down deactivates it). Which all sounds well and good, but it's a bit of a fiddle to get it right.
Sound quality, noise-cancelling and battery
- Enhanced active noise-cancellation (ANC)
- 40mm electro-dynamic drivers
- 20Hz - 22kHz response
- 770mAh battery lasts 18-24hrs
- USB-C charging
The thing that's always drawn us back to the H9 time and again is the overall sound quality and subtle noise-cancelling. That's back and even better in the H9i thanks to a new bass port and more considered ANC than before.
Of course, at the £450 asking price you should expect nothing less than brilliant. We find the H9i sound quality exceptional, with great bass delivery, crisp highs and well-balanced sound stage. However, there's no aptX or aptX HD designation for Hi-Res via Bluetooth, which high-end listeners may find disappointing at this level. We find the treble a little more permeating than from the H9, too, in a good way.
Now we're not saying you won't find other headphones that are £150 less that sound just as good. Such cans might not be as comfortable or well designed, though, which is part of where the B&O Play's asking price comes from (well, that and paying for the brand name, frankly). The Bose QC35 II come to mind, as one example.
As the H9i earcups are so large there's ample space for ears to 'float' around inside, which helps to give a really wide and immersive delivery. That spatial quality is tricky to deliver while ensuring booming bass, but the B&O Play more than delivers.
When it comes to active-noise cancellation, some complained that the H9 never had an especially strong delivery in this department. We, however, having used them on dozens of plane journeys, appreciate the way that engine 'hiss' is cut-out without 'damaging' the overall sound. In the H9i the ANC has been enhanced to cut out a greater frequency range, which makes it better for blotting out voices too. We'd still call it subtle, but find it an ideal balance when travelling.
How you like your noise-cancellation will be a big part of what you'll think about the B&O Play way. If you want the outside world to disappear then these aren't likely to be the cans for you – go look at the Bose QC35 II instead (although we find these make us feel like we're stuck in a vacuum). If you want more control, with multiple levels of noise-cancellation to cater for pass-through, voice and any other scenario then the H9i's one-band-fits-all approach won't suit either – then you'll be wanting the Sony MDR-1000X MkII or MkIII (which are superb, it has to be said, but can't challenge the B&O Play on build quality).
For ANC and Bluetooth wireless to function you'll need juice in the embedded battery, of course, although passive listening is possible (but doesn't sound as well rounded). The battery lasts for over 18 hours per charge, which we've found to be true.
Sadly, however, B&O Play still hasn't addressedthe battery draining when idle: it's very easy to forget to switch the ANC switch off again, thus the battery continues to drain and you'll find dead headphones the next day, which is most annoying. Seeing as these cans are clever enough to know when they've been removed from the wearer's head and auto-pause the music, this idle issue should really be fixable.
As we said of the H9 before, it's all too easy to criticise the H9i for the high price tag. But that would be to ignore the epic sound quality, supreme comfort, lovely build quality, and the sound/ANC/battery improvements compared to the older model.
The H9 became our go-to over-ear cans for a reason and now the H9i comes and blows us away once again. Whether listening at home, on the go, when travelling, or wherever you happen to be, the B&O Play H9i represents the best in Bluetooth over-ear headphones. If you can accept paying so much for that pleasure.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II
If you're looking for the ultimate in noise-cancellation then nothing can beat the Bose for its considerable cut-out. These over-ears aren't nearly as well made as the B&O Play, but they are more affordable and fold, making them ideal for travel.