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This year at CES 2018 Bang and Olufsen announced their H9i and H8i headphones. And they’re slightly redesigned versions of their previous H9 and H8 headphones. Bang and Olufsen claims their padding, active noise cancelation, sound quality, and battery life have all been improved. But to be frank, the H9i headphones aren’t cheap… so lets find out if they’re worth the premium.
The B&O play H9i come in two color ways, you can either get them in all black like I have them here or you can get them in a natural two tone color way as well. I usually try to stay away from all black products cause they usually look boring to me, but I have to say the H9i look incredibly cool and sleek in their stealthy all black color way. Now when it comes to price the B&O Play H9i retails for $499, $100 more than the Bowers and Wilkins PX which are another pair of incredible headphones and $150 more than the Sony 1000XM2 which are the gold standard right now when it comes to active noise cancellation. If you want to pick these headphones up I’ll have links in the description below, and if you use the links it really helps out the channel.
Concerning whats in the box the H9i’s are pretty standard issue, you got a USB C to USB A cable for charging, a pretty cheap 3.5 millimeter audio cable for wired listening with no inline controller, an airplane adaptor, and a carrying pouch. Now the quality of the carrying pouch is pretty nice and I’m not worried about it falling apart too quickly cause its a pretty thick fleece, but when I’m paying $500 for a pair of headphones I’m kind of expecting a hard shell carrying case. The Sony 1000XM2, Bose QC35 Series 2, and Beats Studio3 all come with hard shell carrying cases, and even though the bowers and Wilkins PX also come with a carrying pouch… it a Dimond weave pouch thats look much better than this one. If you plan on traveling a lot with the H9i’s I suggest you invest in a hard shell carrying case.
Ok now lets talk about the headphones themselves. First off these are not vegan friendly, the headband is covered in cow hide leather which has a beautiful textured look, and the ear cups are covered in lambskin leather which just feel incredibly luxurious on your head and just to the touch. Under the headband we have fabric with minimal padding, and the rest of the frame is made out of brushed aluminum. The ear cups swivel and pivot very gracefully but unfortunately these headphones do not fold up. Now when it comes to comfort, these headphones feel amazing right out of the box, theres no need for a break in period… and this is coming from someone with a big head. They have very little clamping force but just enough to keep them in place if you’re walking around. The H9i’s weigh in at 285 grams but for some reason they feel much lighter than that. And over heating is not an issue with the pads on these headphones. There are times where I actually forget I’m wearing these headphones. But Without a doubt the Bose QC35 Series 2 are the most comfortable headphones on the market right now. And the B&O H9i’s are a very close second and thats because of the round ear cups. When you put these headphones on your ears are not cramped what so ever, but since these ear cups are round instead of oval they might rest on your earlobes a bit if you have larger ear lobes. These ear cups rest on my earlobes just a little bit but I don’t notice it after awhile.
Now lets talk about tech specs, the right ear cup is where all of the action is. Theres your 3.5 millimeter audio jack for wired listening and these head phones DO WORK PASSIVELY. Theres your USB C port for charging and an on/off switch. And thats it when it comes to physical buttons, everything else is controlled with the touch pad on the right ear cup. You swipe down to turn your active noise cancelation on or off, you swipe up to turn transparency mode on or off (which is similar to Sony’s ambient sound mode), you tap once to play or pause your music, you swipe forward to skip a track and you swipe backwards to go back a track. These touch controls work well and they are accurate for the most part but there are hiccups here and there. Adjusting the volume with the touch controls is a pain in the neck though. In order to adjust the volume you have to do circles on the touch pad, but you have to place your finger just right on the touch pad, and it takes for ever to raise or lower the volume. And sometimes it just doesn’t work, so I usually just end up whipping my phone out and adjusting the volume from there.
These headphones also have proximity sensors built in just like the Bowers and Wilkins PX. But unlike the PX these headphones don’t randomly start playing and pausing your music if you move too much, which is a good thing. And when you take them off they will automatically pause your music, and when you put them back on they’ll start playing again. Although this feature is nice and all I just wish you could turn it off.
These headphones are also using bluetooth 4.2 and they have a very respectable range of about 40 feet. The connection is very stable and they have very little latency when watching videos. Theres a little bit of lag but you really wont notice. And these headphones can be connected to two devices at a time. But these headphones don’t support the APTX HD audio codec, if you’re an iPhone user it wont matter to you but I know that for some other people it does matter.
Now when it comes to battery life the H9i are a little below average. In my testing with ANC and bluetooth turned on I averaged 20 hours of playback time with the volume at 50 percent… and with ANC turned off I averaged 24 hours of playback time. These numbers are a little higher than what B&O advertises but the average battery life for ANC headphones these days with bluetooth and ANC turned on is 25 hours of playback time.
Bang And Olufsen also doesn’t have official quick charging numbers for these head phones, but I’ve found that charging these head phones for 15 minutes from a dead battery will get you about 2 and a half hours of playback time. Thats pretty good and it does help make the shorter battery life not that big of a deal.
Now when it comes to sound quality, the H9i are all about balance and clarity. Their sound stage is nice and wide and their instrument separation is very good as well. Something that you’re obviously going to expect when you’re paying $500 for a pair of head phones. The low ends are nice and deep and they do a good job of not muddling the rest of the sound if the bass really gets going. But don’t expect any head thumping bass. The highs are also very clear and theres almost never any tinning. For the most part these headphones have a flat sound signature, but you can go into the BEOPlay app and adjust their EQ a bit. You can choose from their presets or you can make your own. Personally I like to have mine on the excited side cause it gives the headphones a good amount of bass but vocalists are still front and center.
Regarding their noise cancelation, its pretty good, they do a very good job at blocking out both constant sounds like road noise and they also do a good job of blocking out chatter. But the noise cancelation on the H9i does cause a little bit of pressure on your ear drum. Not a whole lot like the Bose QC35 where its unbearable for some people like myself, but you will notice it if you’re not playing music. But if you’re playing music with the noise cancelation turned on then you wont notice it what so ever.
These headphones also has what Bang and Olufsen calls “transparency mode” and the headphones will pump in the ambient sound around you so you can still hear whats going on when you have these headphones on. This feature is useful if you’re walking around in a city.
Now lets talk about what I don’t like… Even though the H9i are beautifully designed I think Bang and Olufsen could have done better when it comes to these headphone’s UI and phone application. For starters all of the chimes on these headphones are the same. So when you turn noise cancellation or transparency mode on or off you hear the same tone. And there have been multiple times where I’m just swiping up and down on these headphones trying to turn noise cancelation on. If the head phones used a different tone for each setting or if they out right told you “Noise Cancelation ON” or “Noise Cancelation Off” then there wouldn’t be as much confusion. I also think Bang And Olufsen should bring more functionality to their app. You should be able to toggle your noise cancelation and transparency mode settings straight from your phone. I also want to be able to adjust how much noise cancellation and how much ambient sound I want on these headphones. And like I said earlier, I wish these headphones came included with a hard shell carrying case. But I do feel that Bang and Olufsen can and should bring the extra app functionality and verbal read outs through a software update.
So to wraps thing up, if you’re somebody that likes the finer things in life I think you’ll be happy with the Bang and Olufsen H9i headphones. They’re very comfortable to wear, they look great, they sound very good and their noise cancellation is very solid. They do have a little bit of cabin pressure but its nowhere as harsh as the Bose QC35. Their battery life is a little below average but their unofficial quick charging does help compensate a bit. I just hope Bang and Olufsen pushes out a software update that improves the UI on these headphones and brings some extra functionally to their app. But for sure the H9i’s have earned a slot in my top 5 favorite headphones.