- Gorgeous looks
- Excellent build quality
- Sounds great
- Proximity sensors work
- Removable battery
- Touch controls can be fiddly
- Optional app is buggy
- Review Price: £450
- Bluetooth 4.2
- 18-24 hours' battery
- Proximity sensors
- Active noise cancellation
- Transparency mode
What are the B&O Beoplay H9i?
The Beoplay H9i are luxury wireless and noise-cancelling headphones. They’re the latest flagship model in B&O’s range, replacing and improving on the existing H9.
As with all of B&O’s products, gorgeous design and extraordinary build quality go a long way towards justifying the above-average price tag. Factor in the excellent sound quality and long list of features and this is a seriously tempting proposition. These are some of the best wireless headphones you can buy.
Of course, there are cheaper alternatives. The Sony WH-1000XM2 are smarter, the B&W PX sound a little more detailed, and the Bose QuietComfort 35 II offer better noise-cancellation. All of them hover around the £300 mark – but none offer such a lush user experience.
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B&O Beoplay H9i – Design
If there is one constant in the tech world, it is this: B&O makes some of the loveliest, most luxurious gadgets. Whatever you think of the £450 price tag, let me assure you the Beoplay H9i look and feel every penny of it. Heck, I’ve been fortunate enough to play with plenty of headphones costing over £1000; the craftsmanship B&O offers here is not far off. These are truly gorgeous headphones, a pleasure to use or even just drape around your neck.
The construction is primarily aluminium and leather, which instantly sets the Beoplay H9i apart from most of their competition. It’s tough cowhide and padded fabric on the headband, with super-soft lambskin at the ears. Squishy memory foam in the earpads mean these headphones hug the sides of your head like pillows. I could wear them for hours.
Considering how pretty and comfortable these headphones are, they are reassuringly tough. I’ve had them bounce about in my bag for a couple of weeks and they still look pristine. Twist and stretch them and they won’t even give up a creak.
I’m not surprised – a few years ago I was fortunate enough to witness firsthand why B&O’s quality assurance lab in Struer, Denmark is nicknamed ‘the torture chamber’. Let’s just say anything surviving that lab can handle everyday abuse. Still, if you’re the type to keep loose change and keys knocking about in your bag, I’d recommend using the bundled cloth bag to prevent scratches.
The Beoplay H9i subscribe to the lie-flat school of stowage, where the ear cups can swivel 90 degrees. It’s a mechanism also favoured by the likes of the B&W PX. Some might prefer the hinged/folding alternative offered by the Sony WH-1000XM2. Ever the commuter’s friend, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II can swivel flat and fold up.
Overall, the Beoplay H9i have one of the loveliest designs in the portable headphone world, matched only by the gorgeous Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless.
B&O Beoplay H9i – Features
The B&O Beoplay H9i aren’t just the existing H9 headphones with a facelift – there are a few notable tweaks. Low frequencies should be more efficient thanks to a new bass port. Battery life is now around 18 hours with Bluetooth and ANC on, or up to 24 hours with the 3.5mm wired connection. Active noise cancellation (ANC) has been improved, and the old micro-USB charging port has been updated with USB-C.
Totally new is the inclusion of proximity sensors, which are responsible for automatically pausing your music when you take the headphones off, or resuming when you put them on. It’s not flawless – sometimes I have to manually press pause or play, but it’s less prone to glitches than the equivalent feature on the B&W PX, which often can’t seem to handle the fact that I wear glasses.
There’s also a new Transparency feature, which mutes your music and passes through external sounds so you can hear the outside world. It’s an all-or-nothing approach unlike the Sony WH-1000XM2, which offers variable degrees of situational awareness.
The touch-sensitive pad makes a return. You control the headphones by tapping and swiping on the right ear cup. Volume is adjusted by drawing circles as though you’re spinning a dial. Swiping up toggles Transparency, swiping down toggles the noise cancellation. A forwards/back swipe to skip and a simple tap to play/pause.
The control scheme is a little unusual (and fiddly) but it wasn’t long before I got used to it, and now I’m able to operate the headphones with total precision, not accidentally skipping tracks when trying to pause. It might have been better for some of the controls to be handled by the left ear cup, but I can see why that didn’t happen – that’s where the removable battery pack sits.
I love designs that let you swap batteries, even if the market seems to be moving away from them in general. Battery life gets shorter with age, so headphones with built-in batteries essentially have an element of built-in obsolescence. If I’m going to spend £450 on a pair of headphones, I want them to last many years – so it’s good to know that I can easily ‘refresh’ them when the time comes. The spare battery packs cost £40 a pop, which isn’t cheap, but it’s still cheaper than buying new headphones.
Finally, the headphones work with the Beoplay app, free on iPhone and Android. This lets you adjust the EQ a little, but crucially this is where you can download new firmware. The EQ adjustment doesn’t do a huge amount, and the app is quite buggy, so I’d only ever use it for updates.
Make sure to do that, since the headphones may not be up to scratch fresh out of the box. I spent a full day cursing at the headphones’ poor touch responsiveness and random pausing before all of that got fixed by new firmware. Still, for this money I would expect everything to work perfectly all the time.
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B&O Beoplay H9i – Performance
I’ve been listening to these headphones for a couple of weeks now, and I’ve never felt less than impressed.
Let’s start with the noise cancellation. The Beoplay H9i aren’t quite as effective in this department as the Sony WH-1000XM2 and the Bose QuietComfort 35 II but they aren’t far behind. Office disturbances such as air conditioning, printers and idle chatter is no match for these headphones.
They can easily fend off noisy London Underground trains, which proved too much for the B&W PX. Even on the fastest sections of the Jubilee Line, where the noise is so loud it feels like the train might be at risk of derailment, the ANC kept things quiet enough for me to enjoy my music.
That’s just as well, because the Beoplay H9i sound superb. It’s an eloquent, properly engaging performance. I usually like to listen to a pair of headphones as I write about them, but I found this difficult, since the music would inevitably distract me to the point of spontaneous dancing. It’s rare for a pair of headphones to have that sort of power over me.
The Beoplay H9i do that by excelling in a few key areas. Firstly, it’s a huge, spacious performance with a wide soundstage and excellent stereo separation. Instruments and vocals are given this wonderful freedom of movement, which makes the performance more lively.
Not only do these headphones tell you where the instruments are, they also leave you in no doubt as to exactly what they’re doing. The level of clarity and insight offered is such that it’s easy to pick out not just the leading and trailing edges of notes, but also the textures of the instruments. Listen to something acoustic – take Devendra Banhart’s Mi Negrita – and it’s a real joy to pick up the different ways a guitar is attacked.
Timing is good, too. Everything starts and stops where they should, even with more chaotic tracks – and anything from System of a Down’s Mesmerize is usually enough to confuse lesser performers. Combine that with the precise stereo separation and impressive clarity, as well as a good dose of energy, and it’s a performance that rarely fails to hold your attention.
The treble is sparkly, but there’s a characteristic smoothness to the sound and it never sounds harsh, even with poorer-quality treble-heavy tracks. Voices could be a little more prominent but there’s enough weight there that I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a recessed midrange.
I’m not exactly a bass chaser, but I love what B&O has done here. Extension is remarkable for headphones of this size. It makes a meal of my bass test favourite – Massive Attack’s Angel – offering a wonderfully menacing rumble, nicely taut and impeccably controlled. With my hi-fi hat on, I’d say there’s probably a little too much low-end emphasis to qualify as neutral, but damn this is a fun listen.
Until recently I would have called the B&W PX the best-sounding noise-cancelling headphones around, but now I’m not so sure. They certainly sound fuller in the midrange, and there’s more nuance in the details, which will be more pleasing to audiophiles. But the Beoplay H9i has a more expansive sound and its proximity sensors seem to work better. And they’re more fun.
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Why buy the B&O Beoplay H9i?
At a glance, the B&O Beoplay H9i are a tough sell. The price tag is big and there’s no shortage of more affordable rivals. The Sony WH-1000XM2 has more comprehensive features, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II has better noise cancellation, and the B&W PX sound a little more detailed.
But none of those are as pretty as the B&O Beoplay H9i, nor are they as nicely built. There’s a real pleasure in handling and using these headphones that you just don’t get with the others. They also sound terrific, they cancel noise well, and the proximity feature is a neat touch. The more I play with them, the more I feel they justify that price tag.
The most gorgeous wireless headphones you can buy.