Wireless earbud headphones aren’t new, but there have been noticeably more models on the market since the arrival of the Apple AirPods.
Now it’s the turn of B&O Play, offshoot of luxury Danish audio brand Bang & Olufsen. It has revealed the Beoplay E8, which are distinctive for being the most attractive and feature-packed wireless buds out there right now.
I got to have a play with them ahead of their launch at IFA 2017, and they’ve left a very good first impression.
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay E8 – Design
B&O always puts out nicely designed products, so aesthetics were never going to be an issue here. The design of the Beoplay E8 is lush.
I’ll start with the buds. They’re subtle, which might be an odd thing to say about ear buds, but nevertheless worth pointing out in comparison to the showy ‘dangling toothbrush’ design of the Apple AirPods.
The E8 are designed to sit in the gap just outside your ear canal (known as the concha). Five pairs of ear tips are included to ensure a proper fit. They’re a little nondescript at first glance, but look closer and you’ll notice aluminium accents mixed with the plastic. This may appear insignificant, but it makes a difference in handling.
Place the buds into the charging case, and the magnets within ensure they fit with a satisfying snap. This triggers a sensor and the buds automatically power down.
The case is where B&O has really been able to display its design skills. It’s a leather-bound pebble, attached to a braided fabric strap. I’m not a naturally fidgety person, but I couldn’t resist fondling the case, turning it over and over in my hands. The materials add a warm, tactile element generally not found in electronics. There’s an element of ceremony whenever you decide it’s time to take it out of your bag or pocket.
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay E8 – Features
The Beoplay E8 aren’t just the most eye-catching wireless earbuds around; they’re also the most advanced.
You might not suspect it from the pretty exterior, but the buds are splash- and dust-resistant. B&O tells me they’re not designed for sports, but it’s good to know that a bit of sweat from a particularly horrible afternoon in a sweaty train isn’t going to bring their life to an end.
Then there are the controls. The buds use touch-sensitive pads to control music and take calls. There’s also a Transparency feature, which enables audio passthrough so you don’t entirely shut the world out. That’s useful for maintaining awareness of your surroundings – when you’re crossing the road, for example. There are three levels of audio passthrough, which you can adjust in the Beoplay app. Once you’ve chosen your setting in the app, the buds will remember it until you change it again.
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You can also adjust tonal balance and soundstaging to suit your mood and music types. If you’re not too confident, there are EQ presets too.
Battery life is quoted as four hours from a single charge. A fully charged case holds enough juice for a further two full charges. The case itself is charged via a micro-USB cable, which is included in the box.
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay E8 – Performance
Unfortunately, my hands-on demo was just that – hands on. The E8s I played with didn’t have any power, so it’s impossible to say here how they perform. Nor can I comment on the stability of the wireless connection, which is the one great strength of the Apple AirPods.
That being said, the ear-canal design of the earbuds means that silicone ear tips will provide a proper seal. That will provide better passive sound isolation, and potentially better bass. Having a bunch of size options also means these buds have a greater chance of fitting a range of ear shapes. That’s a clear advantage over the Apple AirPods, which are known to have issues with fitting.
I’ll report back with an in-depth review after I receive my fully functioning review sample.
The Beoplay E8 wireless earbuds leave a great first impression. It’s hard not to be impressed by the gorgeous design, and it’s even harder not to be wowed by that extensive features list.
That being said, the E8 aren’t cheap. At £259, they cost £100 more than the Apple AirPods. In order to justify that, they must have a flawless wireless connection and a clear advantage in audio performance.
If they can do that, Beoplay is onto something truly special.