(Pocket-lint) - If you're looking to drop several hundred smackeroonies on a pair of over-ear headphones then you'd rightly expect something pretty special. Fortunately Bang & Olufsen, the prestige Danish audio brand, has long been delivering products at such levels.
The Beoplay HX is B&O's 2021 top-tier over-ear headphones, effectively succeeding the H9 of previous years, delivering familiar design language with premium materials and - if you tinker with settings within the app anyway - a strong soundstage to boot.
But will the Beoplay HX suit everyone? The significant price tag, a list of competitors as long as your arm, plus some limitations to its active noise-cancelling (ANC) system, are all lingering contemplations in otherwise supremely good headphones.
Design & Features
- Aluminium structure, leather cushions, fabric headband, polymer earcups
- Headphones dimensions: 195 x 200 x 52mm / Weight: 285g
- Case dimensions: 200 x 180 x 63mm / Weight: 360g
- Bang & Olufsen app
The thing that really shouts Bang & Olufsen about these over-ears is the use of materials. The frame is aluminium and looks mighty fine - there's no clicks or clangs when you smoothly slide the headband to accommodate your head size. The earcups are polymer, but the cushions that shroud the 40mm drivers are leather coated and plush against the ears.
The colourways are distinctive as ever too: if anything the HX's near-orange hues are more unusually standout than their predecessors' softer choice of creme tones. But they sit nicely against that grey/silver frame and the look isn't only visually appealing, we think it smells rather nice too - well, if you like leather anyway.
Wearing the HX for hours on end is no drama, as these over-ears are mighty comfortable for extended listening sessions. Indoors is better than outdoors, however, given the wind tear that you can experience from the external microphones. And we wouldn't go running while wearing headphones such as these, the fabric headband and leather material choices are a pretty big clue that's not what they're designed for.
In addition to the headphones, there's a fabric carry case that comes in the box, complete with an interior flap to hide away the 3.5mm cable and USB charger - a handy place to keep such extras when they're not in use.
Sound Quality & ANC
- 40mm electro-dynamic driver with Neodymium magnets
- Frequency response: 20Hz - 22kHz
- 1200mAh battery capacity
- 35 hours listening time
- Bluetooth 5.1 wireless
- SBC, AAC, aptX Adaptive
- Active Noise Cancelling (ANC)
- 3.5mm wired port
The real reason to buy any headphones is, of course, the sound quality. This is always going to be subjective, but we'll say this up front: the Beoplay HX aren't nearly as bass forward as many headphones on the market, which may lead some to be disappointed upon first listen.
However, the Bang & Olufsen app connects to the headphones and gives you a lot of control to adjust this to your preferences. There's the Beosonic equaliser within this, which allows you to drag a circle between four pillars - bright, energetic, relaxed, warm - in order to enhance or lower the bass or treble with precision. With the bass boosted to our liking, the sound profile is really super.
By default the HX is set to 'Optimal', which really projects vocals forward, plus there's a lot of treble for an energised - almost a 'sparkly' - listening profile. It's a vibrant sound that will suit a lot of music.
Connectivity via Bluetooth 5.1 is strong, with support for various codecs, including aptX Adaptive to cater for high bit-rate music if you have access to such sources.
One area of contention with the Beoplay HX is the active noise-cancellation's effectiveness. These headphones treat ANC with a light touch, that's for sure, helping to delicately muffle some exterior frequencies - but delicate is the operative word. Many comprtitors, such as the Bose QC45, have much more powerful ANC to more significantly mute external sounds.
Furthermore, the Beoplay HX has a transparency mode to help with hearing some external sounds more clearly, but with this activated it's too resonant - almost like a mid-pass filter has been activated, which condenses whatever you're listening to in a very enveloped manner that's not at all enjoyable. ANC outdoors has some issues with wind tear more than many competitors, too, as wind hitting the microphones can cause distortion - and B&O hasn't changed the design of these headphones for a long time, meaning the mics remain too exposed.
What you're really paying for in the Beoplay HX - in addition to Bang & Olufsen's brand name - is the quality of materials and finish. These are plush over-ear headphones, no doubting that, but they do also cost a small fortune.
Initially you might find the sound profile to be a little limited, too, but the well-appointed Bang & Olufsen app is pretty magic when it comes to customised EQ adjustment, so you'll be able to get an idea sound to your exacting preference. A little tinkering and these over-ears don't only look good, they sound great too.
All that said, however, the active noise-cancelling (ANC) here is very subtle, so if you want a stronger and more versatile feature set in this regard then there's plenty of competition out there. Competition that, quite often, costs much less without you needing to compromise at all - which is the Beoplay HX's greatest enemy of all.
Bose NC Headphones 700
Much better active noise-cancelling, a smaller price tag, and a preferable overall design for us too. Bose is hard to beat.
Philips Fidelio L3
Of all the over-ear headphones to arrive in 2021 - and there haven't been that many, really - Philips' return to the market with the staggeringly good L3 is a very savvy alternative choice. The sound profile is more pleasing from the off, while the asking price isn't a rich as B&O's by quite a margin either.
Writing by Mike Lowe. Originally published on 23 October 2021.