Bang & Olufsen’s first dip into the ANC true wireless market reaps a luxurious looking and sounding effort, but the competition is strong, and they lack a fair amount of value and uniqueness for their asking price.
- Lush, elegant sound
- Lovely appearance
- Strong signal connectivity
- ANC could be stronger
- Beaten for sound and overall value
- UKRRP: £349
- USARRP: $349
- EuropeRRP: €399
- CanadaRRP: CA$529
- Adaptive noise cancellationTailors the strength of the ANC based on what its microphones detect
- Premium materialsMade out of aluminium, polymer and silicone
- aptX AdaptiveLow latency transmission of audio, along with strong connection and HD audio support
Bang & Olufsen’s previous true wireless didn’t include active noise cancellation. And in light of the E8’s cost – £300 – that was a notable omission.
It’s an oversight the Beoplay EQ corrects, with this model coming with adaptive noise cancellation technology to block out intrusions, but it arrives to the tune of an extra £50.
That makes the EQ even more expensive than its rivals. Is the jump in price merited, or could you get better value elsewhere?
- Elegant styling
- Bulkier than you might expect
- A range of ear-tips provided
The Beoplay EQ’s appearance mixes a svelte shape but bulky size. Its size does belie a lightness to the earbuds – just 8g each – and its shape should make them good at stopping outside sounds from invading your headspace.
They aren’t quite as snug as some other earbuds, but that isn’t to describe the fit as too loose either. Comfort appears to be the overriding focus; the earbuds secure enough without causing undue pressure – although, if you ask me, the seal could be better.
If you find they’re too loose, Bang & Olufsen supplies a range of ear-tips from silicone (XS, S, M, L) to medium Comply fit tips. Swapping between them doesn’t have too pronounced an effect on the overall character of the sound.
The EQ look lovely: the anodised aluminium touch surface with the B&O insignia is, visually, a pleasant means of interaction. The use of touch controls may irk some, but presses are responsive, and the various combinations of holds and touches aren’t too complicated to grasp. With an IP54 rating, they are surprisingly durable against water, sweat and dust, too.
Available in three finishes, the Sand colour option of the review sample is my favourite, but black and a Nordic Ice limited edition (£369) is also available. The aluminium charging case is just as nice to look at and pleasant to touch. Its rubber-coated underside provides a base for wireless charging, and is another example of Bang & Olufsen’s use of premium materials bearing rewards in a tactile sense. There’s a LED indicator on the front that changes colour to denote its status, and the case is nicely compact, too, making it easy to fling into a pocket.
- Not the longest stamina
- Adaptive noise cancellation
- aptX Adaptive connectivity
In the charging case is just 20 hours of battery life, issuing out 6.5 hours per earbud with ANC engaged and 7.5 hours without. And those 20 hours of stamina? That’s at moderate volumes with ANC and the AAC codec. With aptX B&O claims 5.5 hours, which seems fair as I charted around that amount, draining the battery with a Spotify playlist before the right earbud conked out.
There’s fast charging (20 minutes for two more hours) and Qi wireless charging, which takes slightly longer than USB-C to refuel the case. Considering the company it keeps, the Beoplay EQ is behind most in the battery stakes, shading the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds’ 18 hours towards the bottom of that list.
Bluetooth 5.2 is the means of connection with a source device, with codec support up to aptX Adaptive. The benefits of this form of aptX are numerous from low latency (good for gaming), adaptive bit-rate (for maintaining signal in busy signal areas, which they do) and HD audio, so the Beoplay EQ is copacetic with Tidal Master and (some) Qobuz tracks.
Google Fast Pair isn’t listed for Android devices, but the Beoplay EQ are certified for Microsoft Swift Pair, plus there’s support for the Apple Watch interface as well as a Made For iPhone (MFi) certification for a more optimal Apple smartphone experience.
The Beoplay EQ offer a choice of two noise cancellation modes: standard and adaptive. Adaptive uses the microphones in the earbud to measure incoming noise to modify the strength of noise cancellation in response. You can achieve a similar effect using the ‘standard’ version by manually tweaking its strength in the app.
And what of the noise cancellation performance? Fair, but with room for improvement. Listening on commutes into work, the ANC is more effective when volume is boosted as sounds can intrude (the Beoplay EQ aren’t the loudest at normal levels).
The bumps of journeys are hushed but not all sounds are exorcised as successfully; the creaks of the train swaying on the tracks and the opening of doors are still picked up. Voices are diminished, while it curbs cars and larger vehicles well enough – but they’re still fairly noticeable at times. With its price tag, more was expected.
Transparency mode is subtle rather than overt in terms of effectiveness. I was more aware of my surroundings on a train and walking down the street, but I wouldn’t describe it as a flood of noise pouring through. You can hear train announcements more distinctly, but even at full transparency the EQ have something of a reserved tone to them.
The six-microphone array and beamforming technology is said to aid ‘crystal clear calls’. In reality, call quality is fine in quiet areas but in busier places – say, a main road – the mics tend to suppress voices when dealing with significant noises, making it harder for the person on the other end to hear you.
Another issue was the odd instance of the voice of the person on the other end sounding as if they’ve been auto tuned like in Cher’s Believe. I had to stop the call and start again, which rectified the issue in that instance. The Beoplay EQ seem to cope fine with wind noise, so park these in the average to fairly decent area for true wireless call quality.
- Elegant performance
- Beaten for dynamism and definition
- Needs the volume punched for better expression
As you’d expect from a brand as notable as Bang & Olufsen, there’s an elegant, attractive styling to the Beoplay EQ’s sound. The character they have is, in some ways, similar to the Sony WF-1000XM4 – a similar level of fidelity, a similar sense of tone – but their performance isn’t enough to reach the levels of the Sony.
The Beoplay EQ are a little too quiet at normal volumes, sporting a reserved tone that’s in keeping with the earbud’s performance in other areas. Upping the volume to higher levels allows for more expression and presence, the width of the soundstage more open, and an improved sense of dynamism coming through.
Definition is rather soft compared to the Sony, and the edges of voices and instruments don’t have the articulation that the WF-1000XM4 can drum up – but I suspect B&O has a lusher and smoother presentation in mind. Vocals are silkily drawn and warmly pronounced, and the trumpet in Christian Scott’s Of a New Cool is characterised with a real sense of musicality.
The Beoplay EQ have great faculty for deriving emotion from voices, reaping all the vocal inflexions from Toni Braxton’s voice in 90s classic Un-Break My Heart, while there’s a pleasing character to the vocals and harmonies in Squeeze’s Tempted. The Beoplay EQ have a very easy-going nature.
Bass isn’t their strongest point, taking a softer, warmer approach that’s lacking depth in a play of Billie Eilish’s bad guy. It’s also here where the Beoplay EQ’s sense of dynamism takes a hit in describing the difference between highs and lows. High frequencies sound a little relaxed, too, not quite having that sparkle and twinkly sharpness in Michael Giacchino’s Bundle of Joy (Tidal Master).
There’s much to like about the Beoplay EQ, but there are finer listens available for a less substantial outlay.
Should you buy it?
For their lush, elegant sound The Beoplay display a sound that is at times rather irresistible, as you’d expect from marque such as Bang & Olufsen.
You want more value The battery life isn’t as enduring as rivals, nor is the noise cancellation as strong – and there’s little here you can’t get anywhere else.
All this is not to say that Beoplay EQ aren’t a good listen; they’re an enjoyable pair of earbuds with a luxuriant sound that’s very evocative. But for £350? The competition is strong and given the £100+ gap between them and pairs such as the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds and Sony WF-1000XM4, there’s no feature that sets them apart like Bowers & Wilkins’ audio transmission feature that suggests that gulf in price is warranted.
Many will enjoy their lush presentation, but at this price there isn’t quite enough performance nor value to give the Beoplay EQ a whole-hearted recommendation.
How we test
We test every headphones we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
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Tested over several weeks
Tested with real world use
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SBC, AAC, aptX Adaptive
They’re rated at IP54 which protects them against ingress of dust and sprays of water.