With the IO-6, DALI aims to ruffle a few feathers in the premium wireless noise-cancellation arena – but falls short of the best. Despite this, these are a well-judged pair of headphones with an appealing sound and effective noise-cancellation. They're worth considering if you don't want the bells and whistles of other pairs.
- Energetic, appealing sound
- Good battery life
- Comfortable fit
- High-quality materials
- Binary noise-cancelling
- No touch controls
- Review Price: £349
- aptX HD Bluetooth
- Apple AAC
- 30 hours' battery life
What are the DALI IO-6?
The DALI IO-6 are closed-back headphones from the Danish brand, which come with wireless connectivity, noise-cancellation and 30 hours of battery life.
Is there a sector of the consumer electronics market that’s more fiercely contested than “premium wireless noise-cancelling headphones”? The number of big-hitting companies ready to part you from somewhere between £250 and £350 for a pair of smart, effective over-ear cans is as long as your arm: Bose, Microsoft, Sennheiser and Sony (to name just a few) all have excellent examples ready to delight.
So you can’t really blame Danish loudspeaker specialist DALI for wanting a piece of the action. After all, if a company with the history of Bowers & Wilkins can get a piece of the global headphones sales pie, why not DALI?
However, this is an unforgiving arena, especially for a company that’s never turned out a pair of headphones before now. So can the DALI IO-6 wireless, noise-cancelling over-ear headphones crash the party? Or has the stable door already slammed while the horse – presumably wearing a dozen pairs of premium wireless, noise-cancelling over-ear headphones – gallops off into the distance?
DALI IO-6 design – A clean and tidy pair of headphones
Even before getting into the nitty-gritty of specification and performance, there are certain design elements that a pair of premium wireless, noise-cancelling headphones must adhere to if they’re to be competitive. Sensibly, DALI has stuck closely to the rule-book. The IO-6 look exactly like we’d expect such a pair of headphones to look.
The overall lines are clean and tidy. The materials look, feel and – in the case of the synthetic leather covering the earpads and headband – smell great. The underside of the headband is nicely padded, and the inside of the earpads are filled with memory foam.
Both earcups swivel through 180 degrees, which makes them easy to a) hang around your neck, or b) pack in their travel case when they’re not in use. There’s plenty of adjustment on offer in the headband, too, as well as decent articulation in the hinge that connects earpad to earcup. Getting a comfortable fit, then, is easy.
Build quality is just as reassuring. Everything that’s meant to move does so silently and smoothly; there are no creaks from the plastics. Plus, the 325g weight is superbly judged to suggest substantial quality without making the IO-6s a burden to wear.
In terms of finish, you currently have a choice of Iron Black or Caramel White.
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DALI IO-6 features – A fairly robust feature set for a headphone at this price
As far as getting music into the IO-6s is concerned, you have a few options. Wireless operation is obviously most folks’ preferred method, and the DALIs feature aptX HD Bluetooth and Apple AAC. So wireless connectivity, in terms of sound quality, battery life and low latency, is as good as it’s currently possible to be.
Pushing the music out again is the responsibility of a couple of 50mm free-edge, paper-fibre drivers; there’s one behind each comfy, heat-resistant earcup. Frequency response, at least according to DALI, runs from 10Hz (a bass frequency not so much aural as physical) to 20kHz (which will drive your dog nuts).
The lithium-ion battery is good for the thick end of 30 hours’ use from a single charge, even with noise-cancellation engaged the entire time. But should you be heedless enough to let the battery run flat, there’s a 3.5mm analogue input on the left earcup in order to use the IO-6s the old-fashioned way.
All the other action centres around the right earcup. As well as power on/off, Bluetooth pairing and noise-cancelling on/off buttons arranged at the bottom of the enclosure, there’s a USB-C socket. This can be used for charging – from flat to full in two hours, says DALI – and, less commonly, as an audio connection from Windows or Mac.
In the centre of the right earcup sit a few push-controls. Play/pause, volume up/down, skip forwards/backwards and answer/reject call control are accessible here, which is more than adequate. It just feels a little less premium than the touch equivalent.
So far so good, then. However, there are a few features that some rivals incorporate – not essentials, of course, but niceties – that the DALIs do without. Accelerometers, for instance: take the IO-6s off your head and the music keeps coming until you instruct it otherwise. Some alternatives will auto-pause in these circumstances.
There’s no control app either, so consequently no fiddling with EQ settings or degrees of noise-cancellation. In fact, the IO-6s only have two positions for active noise-cancellation: on or off.
Related: What is aptX HD Bluetooth?
DALI IO-6 sound quality – An energetic and appealing sound
Since DALI has had the good taste to trick out the IO-6s with aptX HD capability, it seems only reasonable to start with the best-sounding portable experience around: Tidal Masters.
A full-fat MQA file of Nirvana’s In Bloom absolutely vaults from the DALIs, loaded with detail, momentum and excitement. For the first few bars the IO-6s sound slightly on the lean side of neutral, but listening just a little longer confirms this is a false alarm.
The overall sonic signature is judicious – the IO-6s are a tonally convincing listen, three-dimensional and with just enough dynamism to keep things interesting.
The prodigious bottom-end action during The Flaming Lips’ Waitin’ for a Superman is solidly deep (although not 10Hz deep), but controlled and straight-edged at the same time. Bass sounds are well integrated into the rest of the frequency range and don’t drag at tempos or put rhythms off-kilter.
There plenty of detail in the mid-range, and sufficient room for a singer to stretch out and occupy their own part of the soundstage. Wayne Coyne’s vocal during the same song is delivered with every quaver and approximate pitch of his voice in tact, making him sound completely vulnerable. This is exactly how he’s meant to sound.
Up at the top-end, treble sounds are crisp and loaded with attack. However, they’re never coarse or overly hard, even during the high-end attack of Blawan’s Many Many Pings. Integration throughout the frequency range is convincing; there’s a unity to the IO-6 presentation that’s by no means a given from their rivals, not even at this price.
Noise-cancelling, despite its blunt-instrument “on” or “off’” positions, is effective when set to “on”. There isn’t quite the utter lack of outside sound delivered by Microsoft’s Surface Headphones, but then neither is there Microsoft’s vague-but-definite sensation of blocked ears.
With the DALIs it’s possible to isolate yourself from the majority of what’s happening outside but without putting yourself in danger of being run over. There’s also a “transparency” setting, which pauses music and gives a gentle boost to exterior sounds.
Call quality is equally decent. The mics prove effective, and that helps with instructions given to the voice assistant too.
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Should I buy the DALI IO-6?
This review began by highlighting that you have a stack of options when choosing a product such as this, and that hasn’t changed just because you’re approaching the end of it.
It’s almost too obvious to bring them up, but Sony’s superb WH-1000XM3 are pretty much universally admired – and for good reason. Fit, comfort, sound quality, ergonomics and noise-cancellation are all top-notch, and because they’ve been out a while, they can be yours for well under £300.
Or you could consider the svelte new Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 by Bose. A swoopy and attractive design, especially by Bose standards, is backed up by high-quality, grown-up sound, efficient noise-cancelling and some very nice touch controls.
And if you don’t mind having quite a lot of your head covered by earcups then consider Sennheiser’s latest Momentum Wireless. The sound really is excellent –forceful, rapid and very detailed – and the fit is great too. Others may offer a soupçon more noise-cancellation, but none are a more engaging listen.