(Pocket-lint) - Bang and Olufsen's Beoplay brand is renowned for its more consumer friendly approach (read that as just about affordable), and the E8 premium bring truly wireless earphones into the fold.
By focusing on design and sound quality rather than a spec sheet full of superfluous features, the E8 seeks to stand against the already established wire-free "hearables" of the modern tech world.
But these in-ears do retail for a rather eye-watering £269. Is it an asking price worth paying for audio lovers, or are you better off going for a more feature-rich and affordable competitor?
- 23 x 20 x 25mm per ear
- XS, S, M and L silicone tips
- Comply memory foam tips
- Leather-covered charging case
As with most of B&O Play's Beoplay lineup, the E8 wireless is all about minimal but classy design choices and materials. There's leather, aluminium and a soft-touch coating, combined with sensible styling that makes an attractive and durable pair of earphones.
The focus on minimalism, clean lines and uninterrupted surfaces means there are no buttons anywhere, which means relying on the touch-sensitive panels on both of the earphones for controls. They're not complicated to use, mostly relying on single touches to activate specific features, but they are easy to touch accidentally, as we've said of most earphones with this design feature.
That E8's fit is great in the ear, especially if you use the included Comply memory foam tips. These help create a fit that's secure, but without being too snug and therefore uncomfortable. The soft-touch coating also ensures there's a little grip on the inner plastic housing resting against your ear, ensuring there's no slippery glossy feeling.
We weren't quite brave enough to test them on a run (they don't seem quite sporty enough, really), but the earphones stayed in securely during a head-shake test (oh yes!), and when walking around day to day, so are ideal for the daily commute.
If it's possible to have a favourite carrying case supplied with wire-free earphones, the E8's is up there with the best of them. It's a fairly small and light oblong case coated in genuine leather. It's easy to carry and feels good for those short interactions when you need to pack the earphones away. Or, you know, maybe you just want to pet the case to get the most out of that £269 spend. And why not.
The use of magnets within the case is pretty much perfect too. The magnet keeping the lid shut is strong enough that it never accidentally comes open, yet it's not so strong that you struggle to open it like a fridge door that's been repeat closed. Similarly, the magnets that keep the earphones in their cradles are so strong that the earphones don't fall out even if you hold the case open, upside down and shake it.
There's only one real gripe we have with the case design: the Micro-USB charging connector. It's an old connector now, and with virtually every non-Apple smartphone from the past two years (and then some) using USB Type-C charging ports, it means carrying around an extra cable for charging. You can't just use the charger you already have.
Features and performance
- Adjustable transparency level
- 4 hours playback out of case
- Further 8 hours charge from case
Battery life is another area where the E8 wireless perform well. B&O Play's claims that they can last four hours outside of the charging case are fairly accurate. We tested them for most of a three hour train journey, totalling close to two hours 45 mins in one stretch, and the iPhone indicator still showed around 30 per cent battery remaining.
For a pair of wire-free earphones, that's pretty decent. It's only slightly less than the battery offered by the Samsung Gear Icon X or latest Jabra Elite Sport, but still not quite as impressive as the Bose SoundSport Free.
Once the battery has depleted, you can get a further two full charges from the carrying case, meaning a total of up to 12 hours away from the wall charger. As this can happen from within your carry bag, it's easy to recharge between journeys for an always-topped-up set of in-ears.
The E8's wireless connectivity is generally solid too. In the many days and hours we listened, we only experienced a split second drop out of audio two or three times, and since we mostly stream audio through Spotify, it's often the case that it's the data connection that causes such drop outs. For downloaded music the performance was flawless.
One area that does need some improvement is the so-called "transparency" mode that uses microphones on the outside of the earphones to let you hear what's happening around you. Tapping the left earbud activates the feature, but it's not as impressive as the equivalent mode on the Samsung Gear Icon X. With the Beoplay it's still difficult to hear conversation/announcements, so we often resorted to just removing one of the earphones to hear when needed.
You can set how transparent you want this feature to be via the app, but it seems from our testing that rather than increasing the amplification of the ambient noise, it just lowers the volume of the music so you can hear more.
- 20 - 20,000 Hz frequency response
- 5.7mm drivers
What we like about how the E8 wireless earphones sound, is that the app gives you a lot of versatility. There's a very intuitive and simple way to adjust the equaliser (EQ), without needing to be knowledgeable about frequency bands, to get the kind of sound you want. Whether that's more bass, more treble, more voice, and so forth.
To adjust there's a part of the app called Tone Touch, which lets you choose the type of sound you want by touching an area on the screen. For instance, going full in on the "Excited" quadrant gives you a sound that's really dynamic, well punctuated, but without losing any of the immersive feel you get from the bass or middle tones. Go towards the "Warm" area and the detail starts to drop a little, making it less defined, but more cosy, a bit bassy, slightly wooly in places. "Bright" enhances the treble and the clarity and drops the bass, while "Relaxed" is somewhere between bright and warm.
It's an interesting approach to EQ balance; one that perhaps experienced audiophiles won't enjoy, especially if they like to have fine-tuned control over their sound profile per specific band break-downs, but we found it really simple to use and achieve a sound we enjoyed.
The overall tone we settled on we think is one of the best to come from any pair of wire-free earphones that we've heard. It's so easy to just get lost in music with the E8, which is the highest compliment to any audio product – especially a pair of in-ears.
Bass response is great too, with the low-end coming through in a well controlled manner, with ample punch. Whether it's the acoustic resonance of a bass drum skin being struck, the droning synth bass, or twanging slap bass, the E8 handles it all well.
The Beoplay E8 wireless from B&O Play is one of the best sounding and best designed pairs of wire-free earphones we've tested. The sound quality and EQ profile versatility is what shines, plus the included carry/charging case is great.
However, there is a lack of features and the audio transparency isn't as good as some competitors. Battery life isn't quite the best in class either, although it's certainly good enough for even the longest daily commutes.
In the end, the Beoplay E8 represents a pricey pair of wireless in-ears, but ones that sounds great and therefore won't leave you regretting spending the money.
Alternatives to consider
If you're an iPhone user and all you want is the most convenient pair of earphones imagineable, it's hard not to recommend the AirPods. They're lightweight, easy to wear, simple to set up and super convenient. They might not look the best, but they connect and perform well.
Bose Soundsport Free
If you want unmatched battery life from a pair of wire-frees, plus great sound and performance, the Soundsport Free is among the most impressive we've tested. The one downside is that Bose wants you to get used to its idea of what perfect sound is, so you can't adjust the EQ easily, but these in-ears are considerably cheaper than the E8.
Samsung Gear Icon X
Samsung's wire-free earphones feature a similar seamless and button-less design to the Beoplay set, but offer the advantage of a much better audio transparency for those who want it, as well as some basic fitness tracking capabilities. What's more, they retail slightly cheaper.