Bang & Olufsen shows off first new headphones in 25 years

The over-the-ear BeoPlay H6 headphones go for US$400

BeoPlay H3 buds and the BeoPlay H6 headphones

BeoPlay H3 buds and the BeoPlay H6 headphones

Bang & Olufsen (B&O), long known for its luxury consumer audio products, yesterday unveiled the company's first over-the-ear headphones that, while pricey, are at least within the grasp of the average consumer who is willing to pay more for higher-end style and audio quality.

The Danish company announced two sets of headphones: the BeoPlay H3 in-ear headphones ($250) and the BeoPlay H6 over-ear headphones ($400). Both models have passive noise-reduction qualities (i.e. insulation).

The BeoPlay H6 over-the-ear headphones, a first for B&O

Known for the avant-garde designs of its audio equipment (like the banana phone or the BeoSound 9000 CD player), B&O chose a more minimalist, yet elegant design for its new headphones.

So what's the big deal? Well, for one, when B&O puts out a new product, it's because it doesn't expect to put out another model for years - perhaps even decades. For example, B&O's last headphones, the on-ear Form 2s, were released 25 years ago. The Form 2 model is still sold today, and only recently did it get a color scheme update from just black to models in white, yellow, red and orange. That's the only change that was made.

At a press event at a Boston B&O store yesterday, the company demonstrated its latest headphone audio technology, saying it's aimed at "young, urban tech types -- maybe the guy in the software business," said Oliver Pennington, a co-owner of the B&O retail outlet on Boston's tony Newbury Street.

A closer look at the BeoPlay H6s -- in black

Pennington compared the H6 headphones, at least in price, to Beats by Dr. Dre. "Of course, we're targeting a different market than Dr. Dre Beats," he said.

Indeed. Beats headphones come in prices ranging from $280 to $400; only the studio-version of the Beats headphones are at the top end of that price range.

Looking to go more mainstream

B&O is working to gain name recognition in the U.S. and has been selling more of its audio products "down market," Pennington said. For example, once only available in the highest end cars, B&O speakers can today be found in smaller luxury models such as the Audi A3, where they were once only available in the A6, Pennington said.

The BeoPlay H3 ear buds are due out in July and the BeoPlay H6 over-the-ear headphones are expected out in August.

B&O's Form 2 headphones just received a color upgrade

While B&O's new H6 headphones may be aimed toward the higher-end buyer, they're not out of reach of more mainstream audiophiles who appreciate the finer things.

The H6s come with 40mm drivers and an acoustical range of 20Hz to 22kHz and can be daisy-chained to other headphones with built-in jacks on each side of the ear cups.

The main body of both the H3 ear buds and over-the-ear H6 headphones is made of milled aluminum. The BeoPlay H6s are covered in luxurious calf-skin leather and are available in tan and black.

The BeoPlay H3 ear buds have 23 air vents in order to allow for more even air flow, helping to level out the bass

The B&O H3 ear buds are available in red, silver, and black. They come with 10.8mm drivers, a mini bass port and offer a 20Hz to 16kHz range. Designed by Jakob Wagner, the H3s have 23 air holes on each side to allow for ventilation. Pennington said the holes allow air to flow out more evenly, improving bass sound. Both headphones come with volume and channel controls on the connector wire, allowing a user to scan through a digital music player's list of songs.

How the H6s sound

I tried the H6s, but declined to stick the H3 ear buds in my ears as they were displayed on an open retail floor. I found the H6's sound to be better than the compared Beats, but overall, they were a bit underwhelming for the $400 price tag. When I shell out that kind of money, I expect to be wowed. I felt the audio was balanced, but not crisp and the technology did not offer enough instrument separation. The highs (or treble) were perhaps the best sounding, which lends these earphones to listening to jazz. But when I played some Led Zeppelin (When the Levee Breaks) I felt they short-changed John Bonham and his drums.

What I did like about them is that they are light, weighing just 8 ounces. They are beyond comfortable; you barely know you have them on.

The passive noise reduction design also works well, keeping outside sounds out. I like that the bass on these headphones is understated, offering the listener a more true-to-life listening experience. These days, too many headphone manufacturers employ the tactic of upping the bass artificially in order to fool consumers into believing they're getting superior sound quality. It doesn't. However, I felt the bass in the H6s was a bit too understated. I think there's a happy medium where you can still feel the beat, and frankly, I didn't.

Overall, B&O H6's provided a good quality sound reproduction. I can't say that I'd recommend them in terms of sound quality over Bose QuietComfort ($300) headphones, but the B&Os are definitely more stylish and comfortable.

This article, Bang & Olufsen shows off first new headphones in 25 years, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

See more by Lucas Mearian on Computerworld.com.

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