The Price of High-End Sound

B&O Beoplay E8 Review: AirPod Alternatives For Those Who Care About Hi-Fi


October 30, 2017 Reviews By Photo by Hunter Kelley
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The Beoplay E8 ($299) is the first truly wireless pair of earphones by B&O Play, a division of Bang & Olufsen. Unlike Apple AirPods ($159), which are relatively affordable and optimized for iOS or MacOS devices, or Jabra’s Elite Sport ($200), which are optimized for working out, the Beoplay E8 are designed for audiophiles. They’re also pretty damn expensive.

The Good: Beoplay’s E8 headphones sound excellent and have the look and feel of a luxury product. The case is also the most AirPods-esque of any truly wireless earphones I’ve tested; it’s compact and pretty, and it magnetically opens and closes.

Who It’s For: Anybody who values sound quality, design and/or luxurious accessories.

Watch Out For: They’re expensive. They’re not sweat resistant, so I wouldn’t recommend working out with them. The app doesn’t make pairing super easy. I experienced some sound cutting in and out. And if similarly shaped earbuds (that go straight into your ear canal) don’t fit in your ears, these won’t, either.

Alternatives: There are quite a few more affordable alternatives, including Apple AirPods or Google Pixel Buds. The Jabra Elite Sport is best for working out. And Bose SoundSport Free is the closest in terms of sound quality.

Review: These are different from other truly wireless earphones. First, they sound exceptional. Each earbud is powered by an advanced electro-dynamic driver that can produce a very wide frequency range (20–20,000Hz). I was going through a London Grammar phase, and the electro-pop group’s high choruses and slow bass on songs like “Non Believer” and “Strong” came through crystal clear. Podcasts, too, sounded great.

Second, they feel like a luxury item. They’re housed in a leather charging case that’s small enough to comfortably fit in your pocket, unlike the case for the Bose SoundSport Free ($250). And the case also magnetically clips together when opened and closed, similar to how the AirPods case opens and closes, which feels (and sounds) pretty nice.

The Beoplay E8 earbuds have a number of other nice-yet-common features. Each earbud has an optical sensor that detects when the earbud is in or out and toggles playback accordingly, along with a specific set of built-in touch gestures (playback control, track skipping, answering/rejecting calls, volume control). I found the integrated mic to be clear and reliable when taking calls. The battery is pretty average in comparison to similarly priced earbuds; the pair gets roughly four hours on a single charge, and the charging case can re-juice each earbud twice over.

The app actually works pretty well, too. I could adjust the EQ, which made the Beoplay E8 far more customizable than most competing earbuds. This feature is aimed squarely at audiophiles, providing more “crafted” sound signatures. The buds also have a “transparency mode” where the sounds surrounding you are amplified. This isn’t a unique feature, but it was pretty intuitive and worked well when I was walking through the loud and sometimes perilous NYC streets.

In many ways, the Beoplay E8’s hardware is second to none, but the initial pairing process let me down. You need to alternate between the Beoplay app and your phone’s Bluetooth settings, and while jumping between apps isn’t too difficult, the process didn’t work for me. After 15 minutes of trying, I ended up downloading the reviewer’s guide from B&O’s website, which instructed me to hold the side of the right earbud for five seconds until my iPhone discovered them. From there, everything worked fine, thank goodness, but it was frustrating, especially for somebody who’s tested a lot of Bluetooth headphones.

The only other downside is that the Beoplay E8s won’t fit everybody. Rather than hooking to the inside of your ear like AirPods or an earbud with earwings (like any Jabra or Bose earphones), these earbuds rely on an in-ear fit. If similarly shaped earphones don’t fit in your ears, like the Focal Spark, the Bowers & Wilkins C5 S2, or any of B&O Play’s other earbuds, chances are these won’t fit either.

Verdict: The Beoplay E8 earbuds sound better than any other truly wireless headphones I’ve tested, but not enough to justify the price. And the non-straightforward pairing is a bummer, considering other, cheaper Bluetooth headphones work so intuitively. But if money is no object, and you want great-looking and even better-sounding wireless earphones, these are your best option.

What Others Are Saying:
• “Sonically, the Beoplay E8 is capable of many sound signatures, but its baseline will please plenty of listeners. Functionally, the design fits securely and is easy to use. Generally speaking, this is a very good pair of earphones, but there is the issue of price to consider.” — Tim Gideon, PCMag

Key Specs

Speaker: electro-dynamic driver, 5.7 mm diameter
Frequency Range: 20–20,000Hz
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2
Charging Port: microUSB

Review: Bose SoundSport Free Earbuds

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