(Pocket-lint) - It was only a year ago that we were writing about the top-end B&O Play headphones, the H9i, with glowing approval. But perhaps those interim 'i' cans never needed to exist, as for 2019 the third-generation Beoplay H9 has arrived, bringing Google Assistant voice and improved battery life.
Add those features to the unquestionably sublime build quality, the light-handed noise-cancelling technology, and does it all add up to make for the best luxury over-ear headphones you could buy?
Design & Controls
- Aluminium frame, fabric covered; leather-lined earcups
- Bluetooth 4.2 wireless; 3.5mm wired connection
- Touch control interface on right earcup
- Google Assistant voice control
- Play/Pause when removed
- Included soft carry pouch
- 195 x 200 x 52mm; 285g
The H9 3rd Gen design isn't hugely different to the H9i: the size and weight is one and the same, with only minor tweaks to the ear cushions, freeing up more space inside them for your lobes. There's also some extra headband padding on the newer model.
As such, much of this H9 review will mirror what we said about the H9i, given their similarities. Which is no bad thing, because as over-ears go the H9 is impeccible.
To wear we find the Beoplay H9 supremely comfortable: there's no excess pinch to the ears during wear, while there's plenty of room to breathe around your lugholes. If anything the wide fit might be a little loose on many people's heads, probably because we've got so used to the excellent Bose 700 headphones, and, um, also have a massive head (literally, not egotistically).
B&O Beoplay headphones are all luxe finish and material choices. The 2019 H9 follows the same pattern here, with the chestnut model on review being subtle yet sumptious. The aluminium and real leather combination looks great, as does the stitching to the headband. We prefer the other more standout colour options, though, but each to their own.
The earlier H9 had a battery flap which didn't look too great, the third-gen H9 hides the battery entirely – it's no longer removable like it was in the H9i, which solves an issue with the earcup exterior panel sometimes falling off with the earlier H9i model. It also means the battery capacity is larger, for longer battery life.
As the H9 is Bluetooth compatible, it can be used wire-free, which is great for avoiding getting in a tangle with the included 3.5mm cable. However, just as we said of the H9i, the sound is a bit too quiet from a smartphone (due to EU regulations). From other sources, such as our laptop, things have sounded plenty loud though. 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). And, of course, there's the addition of Google Assistant voice control activation, which has its own dedicated button on the right earcup.
Sound Quality, Battery, ANC
- Enhanced active noise-cancellation (ANC)
- 40mm electro-dynamic drivers
- 20Hz - 22kHz response
- 1110mAh batter
- 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 the standard here once again: just like the H9i there's 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 H9 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.
That price is certainly significant though, which is a bit of a hurdle. With great headphones such as the Bose 700 available for less, the big asking price of the Beoplay is likely to hold them back from some buyers.
However, for that cash you now get longer-lasting use given the expanded battery capacity. It's about 25 per cent better than before, meaning around 22 hours of ongoing use per charge (the quoted time is longer, which will be accurate if you don't listen loud). That's good going, while recharging via USB-C is nice and easy.
Sadly, however, B&O Play still hasn't addressed the battery draining when idle issue: it's very easy to forget to switch the ANC switch off again, thus the battery continues to drain. 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.
When it comes to active-noise cancellation, some complained that the original H9 never had an especially strong delivery in this department. We, however, having used them on dozens of plane journeys, appreciated the way that engine 'hiss' is cut-out without 'damaging' the overall sound. In the 3rd Gen H9 the ANC is on par with the H9i, meaning it's been enhanced to cut out a greater frequency range, which makes it better for blotting out voices too. We'd still call it subtle, though.
How you like your noise-cancellation will be a big part of what you'll think about the Beoplay H9. If you want the outside world to disappear then these aren't likely to be the cans for you – go look at the Bose instead. If you want more control, with multiple levels of noise-cancellation to cater for pass-through, voice and any other scenario then you'll be wanting the Sony MDR-1000X MkIII.
As we said of the previous two iterations of the H9 before, it's all too easy to criticise these over-ears for their high price tag. But that would be to ignore the great sound, supreme comfort, lovely build quality, and the notable battery improvement compared to the originals.
Whether listening at home, on the go, when travelling, or wherever you happen to be, the third-gen B&O Play H9 represents among the best in Bluetooth over-ear headphones. If you can accept paying so much for that pleasure, because there are obvious better value competitors out there now – and it's the presence of these, such as the Bose 700, that will ultimately cost the Beoplay.
Bose NC 700
These over-ears are £100 less than the H9, offer far more adept noise-cancelling and, for our money, offer the best-of-best in over-ear headphones right now.