The BeoPlay H8 by B&O Play headphones are available now from B&O Play for £399.
The H8's are BeoPlay by B&O's first wireless headphones, which makes them pretty late to the game. Rather than this being a disadvantage though, the H8's are a bold attempt to right many of the wrongs that have plagued this traditionally expensive sub-genre of headphones.
So how do they manage the traditional balancing act between sound, battery and design?
And what kind of person do you have to be to wear headphones that look like they emerged out of the recesses of a Cathay Pacific business class cabin?
At first glance you'd be forgiven for thinking the BeoPlay H8's are a case of style over substance. They look as if they were designed for people who custom-build their city bikes out of mink, and wear diamond-cut brogues, no matter the weather.
However as with all the BeoPlay products thus far, if you take a closer look - or rather shut your eyes and just use them - it becomes clear that this isn't a 70/30 relationship in which audio quality takes a back step. This is Bang & Olufsen after all.
In general the H8's follow the same pattern as other wireless headphones, which is that they look less and less 'wireless' by the year. While many still show some hint that they're filled with batteries, the H8's keep it almost entirely hidden.
In fact pick them up and you'll realise that they're just a hair thicker than the BeoPlay H6's, which is very surprising.
On the bottom there's a simple on/off slide and a headphone jack, and on the other side there is a compartment for the battery. It's removable, a feature that may seem like nothing -- but if you're a regular flyer, then having a spare battery is going to make the world of difference.
Happily, the H8's share many of the design characteristics of the H6's. BeoPlay designer Jakob Wagner has been pivotal in shaping the mini brand's art deco theme and while we know it's all subjective, Wagner's designs manage to feel perfectly timeless.
This brings us onto our final point on aesthetics: If you head to the BeoPlay website you'll find that in the specs list, every product has a designer. It's a small thing, but it makes a difference. Think about how much prominence Jony Ive has at Apple's product launches. Bang & Olufsen clearly stands by its work. Whether you're a fan or not, that's telling.
One other note on hardware: on the side you'll find simple circular pattern with four black points. These are the touch sensitive controls. Now touch sensitive controls certainly makes sense for wireless headphones but until now, we've still not found a pair that can do it perfectly. BeoPlay by B&O's approach is to use tiny sensors attached to the aluminium side panel which are supposed to be more sensitive than plastic alternatives.
In this regard they succeed. We didn't have a single problem operating them, although we still feel in general that the idea of drawing gestures on the side of our head feels odd. Then again, so does wearing Microsoft HoloLens but give it five years and we'll probably be eating our words.
So how do they sound? Well extremely good, but then you'd kind of hope so considering the fact they cost an eye-watering £400.
If we had a single niggle it's that they can sound a little overwhelmed by the lower end and middle ranges, with the higher clearer notes being sometimes drowned out. It's not that the sound is muffled, more that the treble just feels quieter than perhaps it could.
It's important to note that this is a common theme with wireless headphones that feature noise-cancelling, the H8s are also on-ear, not over-ear so there's less space for the sound to move around before hitting your ear holes.
The noise cancelling is excellent however, and there are none of the commonly found hisses that can so often ruin a quieter track. Battery life is also good, perhaps not the full 14 hours but easily over 12.
We did find them a little 'clampy' as well, something that was always going to be a risk by going on-ear instead of over-ear. We suspect that like most headphones this would lessen over time as they metal changes to your head but it's worth noting.
The H8s then are not without fault - they're slightly tight and the sound -- although excellent -- might be a little too bass-heavy for some. Conversely, they're some of the best-looking headphones we've ever laid eyes upon, the battery life is impressive, as is the noise-cancelling.
Are these the best wireless headphones you can buy right now? Well considering the Parrot Zik 2.0s cost over £100 less and offer more customisation, the question you need to ask yourself is how much are you prepared to pay for the design, because as with all of B&Os products, the audio is just one part of the story.