Danish audio brand Bang & Olufsen has never tried to be the most affordable brand on the market, instead focusing on adding a high-end fit and finish to fantastic-sounding products, and charging a pretty penny for them.
Such is the case with the wireless H9 headphones, which offer the same warm and punchy audio signature and sterling aesthetics as the company’s more affordable (but still pricey) H7, adding in active noise cancellation for an extra $100. While we enjoy the look, feel, and sound of the latest upgrade, shortened battery life and limited noise-canceling prowess make them a tough choice to justify for anyone but the highest rollers.
Out of the Box
The H9’s gorgeous leather accents and sleek aluminum leap out at you from as soon as you remove the lid from the simple white box Once you’ve removed the headphones and molded divider from the main compartment, you’ll find a series of small black boxes housing a short USB charging cable, a 3.5 mm cable (should you desire to forgo Bluetooth), a two-prong airplane adapter, a fleece carrying case, and the user guide.
Though the fleece case is sure to keep scuffs off the beautiful cans when they’re loaded into a backpack or briefcase, we would have preferred a hard case, especially at the H9’s premium price point.
Features and Design
Visually, there is very little difference in the H9’s design in comparison to the elegant H7 over-ears we reviewed last year — or, for that matter, B&O’s on-ear H8.
In this case, that’s a good thing: The H series are some of the most classically beautiful headphones we’ve laid eyes on, featuring memory foam earpads wrapped in luxurious lambskin, machined-aluminum hardware, and a lightly padded, stitched headband. The H9 also sport the H7’s sliding power switch and small LED on the bottom of the right earphone to a T, next to which you’ll also find the micro USB charging port and 3.5 mm cable input
The H9 are some of the most classically beautiful over-ear headphones we have ever laid eyes on.
In fact, the only visible variation between the two over-ear models is a pair of slotted microphone holes on the plastic lower section of the earcups, used for the active noise cancellation system.
Left and right stereo channels are indicated by large “L” and “R” symbols inside each earphone, which we always find very helpful, and like the H7, a removable 770mAh Lithium-ion battery is located on the bottom of the left earcup.
The headphones’ similarities become a bit of an annoyance under the surface here, however. While the removable battery fuels the H7 headphones for 20 hours, the H9 only eek out about 14 hours per charge with noise canceling. While that’s still more than a workday’s worth of sound, it’s significantly less playback time than the more affordably priced flagship noise-canceling cans from Bose and Sony.
There are also some unfortunate quirks about the H7 that were not addressed in the H9. The touch controls remain glitch-y; there’s often latency with playback controls, and while swiping left and right works for changing songs, we routinely paused music when we were trying to swipe in a circular motion to adjust volume, at one point even dialing a recent phone number by accident (meant to be activated by a double tap on the main pad).
Turning on or off noise canceling is also somewhat confusingly controlled by the touch pad, with a swipe upward turning it on, and a swipe down turning it off — a motion we would have preferred to control volume, as it does so on nearly every other touch-sensitive pair of headphones we have tested.
Pairing with the H9 headphones is refreshingly quick and painless. Simply move the power switch on the bottom of the right earphone up towards the Bluetooth symbol, wait for the LED to flash blue, and find the H9 in your device’s Bluetooth menu to pair.
As with the physical design, there’s really not much setting the H9 apart from the H7 in terms of audio performance, aside from the inclusion of noise canceling.
Both pairs of headphones feature 40 mm dynamic drivers, and when listening to them side-by-side with noise canceling off, we noted a virtually identical sound profile. That means warm and full bass, sparkling treble, and a wide and flowing soundstage.
The deep bass response brings a supple roundness to indie rock tracks like Built To Spill’s Liar that many other headphones lack. Even when listening to big, punchy trap singles like those on Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., there’s an elegant and tasteful quality to the bottom of the H9’s sound that we enjoy immensely. It’s not the kind of flat, audiophile-friendly sound you might expect from a $500 pair of headphones, but we don’t mind a little coloration when it’s handled well.
The touch controls are glitch-y and poorly designed.
As with the H7, however, there is some fogginess in the upper-midrange that affects a bit of the vocal spectrum. The breathiness in ex-Dirty Projectors vocalist Amber Coffman’s No Coffee sounds a bit more restrained than what we’ve heard there from other high-end over-ears. Still, the soundstage is extremely wide, with a shimmering high end that highlights guitar strings and hi-hats on the far edges of the sound.
With the noise canceling enabled, you immediately realize the H9 are more designed to create a quieter listening environment than to effectively silence a busy train station or airport on par with their rivals. In fact, given that the headphones feature formidable passive sound isolation to begin with, it was actually a bit hard to tell where the active noise canceling began and the passive noise isolation ended at times.
However, with noise canceling engaged, we did notice some details popping out that we’d missed on previous occasions. The barely audible background noise at the intro of Alabama Shakes’ Sound & Color, for instance, becomes slightly more present with the noise canceling on. In general, instruments have a bit more room to breathe when the headphones tune out extraneous background noise.Our Take
The extra clarity provided by the H9’s modest noise cancellation is appreciated, but it’s hard to justify when you consider they’re $100 more expensive than the H7, and provide 6 hours less playback time.
The DT Accessory Pack
Is there a better alternative?
The H7 are an obvious choice if you’re looking for the same sound, style, and luxurious build quality at a lower price point. When it comes to noise-canceling, the wireless market is currently dominated by the Bose QC35 and Sony MDR-1000x, both of which offer better noise cancellation and better battery life for significantly less money than the H9. That said, the H9 do compete relatively well with the MDR-1000x in terms of sound quality.
How long will it last?
Bang & Olufsen makes extremely high quality products with the finest materials, and the H9 are no exception. They should last for many years of solid use, especially considering the replaceable battery.
Should you buy it?
Not in our book. Though Bang & Olufsen’s H9 are a luxuriously appointed and great-sounding set of headphones, there are more affordable (and better-functioning) noise canceling headphones with excellent sound quality for significantly less money.