A quick note before I tell you whether or not the headphones here are any good. I’ve noticed that real audio journalists routinely use reviews as a vehicle to espouse their own unique and brilliant taste in music. So, in my ongoing effort to be taken seriously in this field, I too will be sprinkling my reviews with references to the cool bands that I listen to. Thank you for your understanding during this critical stage in my development as a respected critic.
Two different animals volunteered their skins to make the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9i headphones. For its luxurious tan leather head strap, the noble cow. And for its pair of pillow-soft earpads, the frolicsome lamb. Two plates of anodised aluminium catch the light inside their radial brushed metal finish, shining like the radio tuning knob on a classic Bentley dashboard, flashing like the headlights of an oncoming car in an urban myth about a murder.
The biscuit-brown colouring of the leather cushions is reminiscent of a perfectly brewed cup of tea, or of He-Man’s skin. The matte grey plastic and fabric complements the brown and is the colour of the original Playstation, possibly the greatest piece of electronics ever engineered. Everything about the build, style and design of the H9i screams quality (switch on the active noise cancellation and you can barely hear the screaming) and though they’re quite expensive cans at £449, they exude the craftsmanship of a pair of headphones two or three times the price.
Helpfully, they sound about as good as they look. The theme tune to The Archers comes in crisp and detailed, the bouncing strings unmuddied by the kind of overdone bass you often get in consumer-grade headphones. The vocals in Snooker Loopy by Chas and Dave are elevated and clear, lifted as they are from the bombastic synth instrumental bed, and the snack-snack of colliding cueballs can be heard as though happening inches from your ear. And don’t get me started on how good St. Winifred’s School Choir sound on these things. Transcendental. Sublime.
Some clever touches around functionality are worth mentioning. The headphones detect when they’ve been taken off your ears and pause your music, resuming again when you slip them back onto your head. The touch control gestures require some getting used to. A downstroke activates noise-cancelling – which is decent enough, though not on a par with the cheaper Sony WH-1000XM2 – and an upstroke activates a “listening mode”, which pauses music and uses the built-in microphone to amplify the sounds around you, like having a superpower or a hearing-aid.
Battery life is improved from the previous generation, up to 18 hours of playtime. And it charges through the new USB Type-C port, which is potentially one less (or one more) cable for you to carry around.
There are cheaper headphones – I’ve listed a few of the best options below – but none that look as good hanging around your neck as the Beoplay H9i. These headphones are about as fashionable as they come, with the well-engineered innards to match their well-designed outtards, and the overall quality to match the near half-a-G asking price.