The B&O Beoplay H9 3rd Gen are enjoyable headphones – but they simply aren’t good enough to justify the cost. Find them on sale, or at significantly under the RRP, though, and you won't go too far wrong
- Smooth and engaging sound
- ANC fairly effective at blocking low frequencies
- Comfy ear cups
- Headband can cause discomfort
- Mid-range quality doesn't match price
- Bass control and contouring could be better
- Review Price: £449.99
- 25hr battery life
- Active noise cancellation
- Transparency mode
- Google Assistant support
- 40mm dynamic drivers
What are the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 3rd Gen?
B&O released the original Beoplay H9 in 2017. We’re now reached the third generation of this family of luxury headphones, offering improvements to battery life while adding support for Google Assistant.
The real appeal remain the same: high-end design, the B&O name, active noise cancellation and high-quality sound.
However, at £449 these headphones are a bit of a tough sell. The Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 3rd Gen are pleasant, but they don’t flatten the £300-ish crowd – and Beats, Sony and Bose all offer significantly more effective noise cancellation.
Only a contrarian would dislike these headphones, but they’re too expensive for an unreserved recommendation.
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Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 3rd Gen design – Great looks, but long-term comfort is an issue
Let’s play the contrarian for a moment, and start with the one Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 3rd Gen feature with which I have real issue. I’ve used these headphones for weeks now, almost every day, sometimes for as long as five hours in a single stretch.
The headband tends to create a pressure point on the top of your head that becomes sore after a couple of hours. This usually happens when a headband doesn’t spread the pressure over a particularly large area, and it’s compounded here by fairly slim foam padding.
It keeps the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 3rd Gen looking good on your head, but doesn’t help long-wear comfort.
The Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 3rd Gen earpads are excellent, however. They use thick memory foam, and while they’re round rather than an ear-matching oval, there were no comfort issues here. Five hours of use might mean that the top of your head is ready for a break, but your ears will be fine.
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The frame is the usual mix of aluminium and high-quality plastic polymers, but the leather is “natural”. Almost all headphones with leather headbands and cups are of the faux variety. Here, it’s genuine, so Vegans beware.
Overall, the Beoplay H9 3rd Gen are good-looking, well-made headphones. They feel durable and aren’t liable to creak when you walk or run wearing them. But do they really look more expensive than the rival Sony and Bose pairs? If they do then it’s more down to the marketing than substance. But how do you make street-ready headphones look £450 anyway?
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 3rd Gen features – They include almost every feature you’d ask of a premium pair of over-ears
The Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 3rd Gen have almost every feature you could ask for. Google Assistant integration is the newest addition: a press of a button on the side nudges Assistant to read out your recent messages and notifications.
I’m not a huge fan of this feature, as the still-stilted delivery of Assistant only seems more robotic through headphones. But this isn’t something I can blame B&O for.
Active noise cancellation earns top billing. It rids noise by piping through more sound waves, not simply blocking it out. It’s effective, but seems to use a lighter approach than Bose, Sony and Beats’s Solo Pro headphones.
In places where you’re surrounded by chatting people, the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 3rd Gen don’t offer true isolation. I find this next-level ANC handy when trying to work in noisy environments, or on public transport though. These headphones just don’t get rid of nearby conversations as effectively as the Bose QC35 II or Sony WH-1000XM3.
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However, the B&O Gen 3 do adapt to the environment in other situations. Take them on London’s noisy Northern Line and you can feel the cancellation step up to deal with the roar effectively.
There’s another benefit to this approach, too. Use the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 3rd Gen in a normal room and you don’t feel the increase in sound pressure much. This can seem a disconcerting suction effect if you’re not accustomed to ANC headphones.
Battery life of 25 hours is solid, although five hours less than the Sony WH-1000XM3. And a 3.5mm jack allows you to continue listening when you’ve run out of charge. These headphones also give you a lot of warning when the battery is running low. They start beeping when there’s a couple of hours left, and bleat away insistently when almost dry.
You’ll be pleased to learn that there are zero connectivity issues. The Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 3rd Gen’s touch controls are the one day-to-day complaint. They’re fiddly to use, as touch controls so often are. For a couple of weeks I used these headphones without looking into the gestures, approaching them as most probably will, and ended up turning on the ambient aware mode far too many times.
As ever, learning the controls properly helps – but the mix of taps, swipes and rotary motions may be a bit much for some. I definitely missed the no-nonsense controls of the Beats Solo Pro.
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 3rd Gen sound quality – Good performers, but not good enough to justify the extra cash
The Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 3rd Gen have 40mm dynamic drivers, like almost every pair of headphones in this class. Other units you might consider instead of these include the Sony WH-1000XM3 and Bose QC35 II.
These headphones don’t compare badly with these top performers at all, but the question is whether the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 3rd Gen can possibly justify the extra £100-200 asking price. I don’t think they do, but this doesn’t mean they’re poor-sounding headphones.
The Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 3rd Gen are smooth and rich. Their sound is large, and has good stereo width for a closed-back pair. And open-back models are no use at all for outdoor use anyway.
Dynamics are sound, there’s zero harshness and plenty of energy to their delivery. I’ve used these headphones solidly, almost every day, for well over a month now. They’re consistently enjoyable, but I find them hard to recommend at their price – which is now significantly higher than the previous Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9i.
Tuning style is the issue. The high price suggests they should offer a level of fidelity above the best at £200-300, but this isn’t the case. You don’t need this audiophile approach to make headphones fun and engaging, but you do need it for the kind of ultra-realistic rendering of vocals I start to expect at £400-plus.
Bass is the most obvious area where B&O aims for shiny enjoyment rather than careful control. It’s clearly emphasised, and not just in the very low bass and sub-bass areas, which can result in headphones adding bass power without it blooming up to cast shadows on the mid-range.
The Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 3rd Gen are capable headphones. Many will like their bass style, but it isn’t strictly accurate and its make-up is less controlled than I’d expect.
Mid-range composition is also a tad uneven, most likely to make up for this deep dish bass.
The upper-mids have greater presence than the rest of the mids. This is a reliable way to make vocals stand out against “enhanced” bass, but it doesn’t help their body and texture.
The final result: the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 3rd Gen sound glossy, smooth and fun. You can listen to these headphones all day, or at least until they start making the top of your head feel a bit sore. But they aren’t quite the faithful pair I’m after at £450.
Should I buy the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 3rd Gen?
There are only two real problems with the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 3rd Gen. I find the headband gets uncomfortable after two hours, and the price just doesn’t fit the slightly loose approach to tuning.
The Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 3rd Gen sound good, but it’s difficult to see why you wouldn’t opt for a cheaper pair such as the Sony WH-1000XM3. That set offers better active noise cancellation and is more comfortable if you wear headphones for hours at a time.
So while the Beoplay H9 3rd Gen are enjoyable headphones, they simply aren’t good enough to justify the cost. Find them on sale, or at significantly under the RRP, though, and you can’t go too far wrong.