The Beoplay H5 are the first set of wireless headphones from Danish audio expert Bang & Olufsen's spin-off brand. The headphones are being marketed as an all-in-one solution for both everyday use and sports as well.
In many ways, they're great headphones: the Beoplay H5 leverage Bang & Olufsen’s strong track record in the audiophile market to offer great sound quality, by wireless standards. But issues with the battery life and fit make them ill-suited to sporting use and therefore hamper their overall appeal.
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Many of the headphones I test that are pitched at active types have fairly utilitarian designs, with an emphasis on function over form. In general, the end result is a set of headphones that incorporate a few ugly, but useful design elements – such as sizable ear clasps or wingtips to keep the buds secured in place while running or cycling.
The Beoplay H5 take the opposite approach, working as hard as possible to retain the top-end, minimalist sheen that Bang & Olufsen’s wired headphones offer.
The company claims this focus has been extended to every part of the H5s, including the water-resistant cable cord, which the firm markets as being made of a fibre “inspired by the materials used for making sneakers”. I’m not sure what being "inspired" by shoes actually means, but the textured finish gives the headphones a robust feel.
The earpieces and three-button remote are similarly minimalist, both housed in a black casing that feels well built and that gives the H5s a premium touch that's often lost on many wireless headphones.
In the box, you’ll find three sizes of memory foam buds and four sizes of silicone buds.
The decent selection of buds on offer made it easy to achieve a good seal during my opening commute, but I ran into problems the moment I tried to wear them while working out.
The H5s aren't at all fit for use as exercise headphones. The black casing may look nice, but it's awkwardly shaped. Even when fit with the correct-sized buds, a minor knock or rapid movement will dislodge the earpieces from your ear.
Luckily, the H5s do deliver when it comes to sound quality. If you’re after top-end audio quality then wireless headphones are usually best avoided for a variety of reasons, ranging from the extra compression of audio files and limitations with the signal quality of Bluetooth connections.
However, Beoplay has attempted to make audio from the H5s as good as it can be on a wireless set. It does this by loading them with the aptX and AAC codecs. The use of the aptX codec reduces the level of compression and means that the H5s can comfortably deliver CD-quality audio.
I’m also seriously impressed by how well tuned the headphones are compared to most of the wireless sets I test. All too often wireless headphones focus on the low end, while ignoring high and mid frequencies. Plus, they're prone to sibilance – a key reason that rivals such as the Audio Technica ATH-ANC40BT don't fully deliver.
The H5s buck this trend and offer a surprisingly balanced sound, straight out of the box. The headphones' 6.4mm dynamic driver never pushes too hard. Mids and highs are balanced and deliver a soundstage that works surprisingly well across a variety of genres.
Listening to classic jazz, piano keys sound authentic and are pleasingly free of the sharp tone heard on other wireless sets. The mid-heavy guitar lines also manage to remain clear and legible, without being drowned out by the double bass – as they are on the Audio Technica ATH-ANC40BT.
High-energy classic punk tracks, which generally focus on the low and high-end, sound balanced. The crunchy guitar lines never once suffered from sibilance.
Some will find the soundstage too muted, especially if accustomed to more bassy headphones, or if fans of music genres where the low-end is more prominent such as in dance or hip hop. In theory, the Beoplay app should solve this problem.
It's available on iOS and Android and should let H5 owners pick from a variety of presets designed for specific music genres, or even create their own setting using an onscreen equaliser.
Sadly, despite trying the feature on three different phones – an iPhone 6S, HTC 10 and Huawei P9 – I couldn’t get the app to recognise my demo H5 sample. I’ve contacted Beoplay to ask for guidance and will update my review the moment I manage to get the app running correctly.
The Beoplay H5's sound quality comes close to making up for the poor fit of the headphones and would make them a great choice for those looking for a solid set of wireless headphones for general use. Sadly, issues with the H5’s battery hamper their general appeal.
The H5s have a quoted five-hour battery life, which even on paper is sub par. On too many occasions the H5s didn’t match this quoted life. Using them as my primary headphones throughout the week, the H5s didn’t once manage to last a full working day from a single charge.
Playing music at high volumes I managed to drain the battery in less than four hours on a regular basis, which is unacceptable for a £200 pair of headphones.
The headphones' use of a proprietary charging cable makes the poor battery even more annoying; they charge using a custom magnetic dock, not a standard micro-USB cable.
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If you’re a big fan of Bang & Olufsen's sound quality, but want a wireless set then the Beoplay H5s are pretty much your only choice at the moment. When it comes to sonics, they're some of the best available, but their overall appeal is hampered by a number of serious flaws.
The H5s offer abysmal battery life and, despite being marketed as sports headphones, they're not supplied with any clips or wing tips to fasten them to your ear. They're seriously expensive, too, at £200.
Unless you’re a die-hard Bang & Olufsen fan, I’d recommend looking elsewhere. The Audio Technica ATH-ANC40BT offer better battery life, only negligibly worse sound quality, and cost £50 less. People looking for a dedicated set of headphones for the gym would also do better to check out more focused sets, such as the Jaybird X2.
The Beoplay H5 offer great wireless audio quality, but are let down by issues with battery life and design.