Microsoft Surface Headphones Review
Microsoft surprised all of us with the announcement of Surface Headphones during its October 2 press event. What’s more surprising, however, is Microsoft’s ambitions: the new Surface cans are designed to take on market leaders like Sony and Bose in the noise cancelling headphone world.
How’s that going to happen? These headphones feature pretty immense noise cancelling technology as well as beamforming microphones for better voice pickup – all within a slick-looking and comfortable shell.
Price and availability
The Surface headphones are available to buy for Rs.32,211 – more expensive than some of our favorite models from heritage audio brands like Bose and Sennheiser, and around the same price as our favorite noise canceling cans of 2018, the Sony WH-1000MX3s.
Ingenious control dials
Stylish look and premium feel
Shockingly good wireless performance
Excellent noise canceling
Some comfort issues
Uncompetitive battery life
Lacking support for AptX, AAC, or LDAC for higher-quality sound
Sound lacks refinement and treble energy
The design of the Surface Headphones reminds me of Bang & Olufsen’s, both in look and feel. That means a stylish, minimalist exterior, featuring aluminum yokes, a steel headband, and a lot of high-quality plastic. The finish of these headphones is really pleasant to the touch, and that’s complemented by soft memory foam pads that seem to melt around the ear. It would have been nice for Microsoft’s design to collapse down — the way that the Bose QC35s, the Beats Studio 3, and the Sony 1000X do — but even with a more rigid shape, the Surface Headphones feel robust and fit into a compact, color-matched case.
Perhaps the best place to start is with what the Surface Headphones don’t have. They don’t support aptX or even Bluetooth 5.0 – instead they support Bluetooth 4.2. That’s not enough to immediately discount them from your shortlist – but it does leave them looking a bit retrograde compared to up-to-the-minute spec of their Bose and Sony rivals. They don’t fold as flat or as compact as those competitors, either.And they don’t have that competitive a battery life. The USB C charging port does at least get them up to speed rapidly – Microsoft claims they can be brimmed from empty in under three hours, and that certainly seems feasible. But Microsoft is also quoting 15 hours’ continuous use on one charge – and, even if that were true, it puts them well off the pace set by the competition, where 20+ hours is a routine achievement. But it’s not true, not really – you’re looking at more like 10 or 11 hours in real-world conditions. Which is nothing to write home about.
But with those pale grey elephants in the room dealt with, there’s still stuff to admire in the Surface Headphones’ feature set. For instance, you’ve a total of eight mics deployed between the two earcups – four to assess your environment for noise-cancelling purposes, and four to allow you to make calls or issue voice commands.
There are capacitive sensors inside the earcups, whch drive an automatic ‘play/pause’ response when you take the headphones off or put them back on. Each earcup also functions as a touch-panel to control music and volume, deal with calls or summon a non-Cortana voice assistant.
Nicely integrated dials around the outside of each cup control volume (right) and noise-cancelling (left). And the right earcup also hosts the USB C input, 3.5mm analogue input, power on/off and Bluetooth pairing buttons.
Microsoft claims the Surface Headphones have its Cortana voice assistant ‘built in’, but in fact Cortana must be installed on your source device if you’re going to control the headphones using your voice. Of course things are a touch more laborious if you prefer to use an alternative voice assistant, but having some mics listening out for your voice is not quite the same as having Cortana built in.
Inside each earcup there’s a 40mm full-range driver of the ‘free edge’ type. There’s next-to no surround roll on the driver, which in theory allows low-distortion movement and wide dynamic range.
Overall, Microsoft’s Surface headphones are surprisingly good, with a stunningly warm sound, and generous bass frequencies, which means your music will sound great whether you’re listening to subby hip-hop or acoustic singer-songwriters.
One criticism of this warm sound is that it can take some of the attack away from lower-mid frequencies. However, if sharp trebles and mids tend to give you listening fatigue, these could be the perfect headphones for you.
Brilliant sound quality
Effective noise cancellation
Design won’t appeal to all
Sound may be too warm for some