B&O Play E8 review

Best in class wireless buds but they come with some caveats

27 December 2017
by Stuff Staff

Price: US$325

Wireless in-ear buds are all the rage these days. We’ve reviewed the excellent WF-1000x offering from Sony, and had our ears plugged by others from the likes of Bose and Jabra. But it was always the E8’s from Danish audio-wizards Bang & Olufsen that got us the most excited when we saw them announced at IFA earlier this year.

DESIGN AND SETUP: DANISH DELIGHT

Considering B&O’s pedigree when it comes to merging the best of design and sound, it isn’t any surprise that the E8’s look as fantastic as they do. While they’re a tad bulkier than some of their rivals, they are lightweight and fit snugly into your ear canal at an angle that makes it difficult for them to fall out (even at a brisk jog), providing excellent noise isolation in the process without being uncomfortable.

Each bud has a touch-sensitive pad that acts as your control mechanism which, for the most part, works well. You have to remember how many taps and presses does what action (i.e. one tap on the right bud to pause/play, press and hold on the left bud to lower the volume etc.) but once you’ve got that down you feel a bit like you’re in a sci-fi film.

The bundled charging case is also a treat, with its clamshell design and genuine pocketability. It recharges the buds up to two times which, coupled with a battery life of 4 hours on the buds, gives you a total of 12 hours of playback. Not too shabby.

Pairing the E8’s to a smartphone via Bluetooth is simple enough, and the BeoPlay app lets you tweak the EQ to your preference as well as set up a ‘Transparency’ mode that ducks out whatever you’re listening to to let in audio from outside. Handy if you’re, say, in an airport waiting for a boarding announcement. Out of the three modes – ambient, social and commuting – we found that ‘social’ gave the right balance of reduction in audio to outside world. Although, honestly, it was just as quick to pop one of the buds out if you wanted to listen to what was going on around you.

CONNECTIVITY: SOME TEETHING ISSUE

One of the key things that sets the E8’s apart from other in-ear buds is the use of NFMI tech. This allows for a consistent connection between the left and right bud, primarily to reduce instances of dropout that similar products suffer from. Unfortunately, in our testing this was a little inconsistent which at a retail price of US$325 is nothing to gloss over. We paired the E8’s with a number of Android phones – a Huawei Mate 10 Pro, an HTC U11 and a Google Pixel 2 XL –  and had varying degrees of success. The Mate 10 Pro and U11 would experience frequent dropouts, sometimes as high as five to six times in a 10 minute period, which made listening to music a challenge. This wasn’t all the time, mind you, but it occured often enough that it became frustrating.

We had a much better experience on the Pixel 2 XL (running both Android Oreo 8.0 and 8.1) which was more in line with what we expected. Rare to null dropouts when using the E8’s over a prolonged period of several hours. We can only think, then, that this issue had more to do with the Bluetooth setups of the phones we tested with rather than the buds themselves, but it is definitely something to take note of especially considering the high asking price.

SOUND: SUPER SONICS

When free of connectivity issues, however, the E8’s sound fantastic. There’s a richness to the bass without it being overpowering, and a crispness to the highs that really make them sing. As mentioned, you can use the app and tweak the EQ to your preference, but we loved the sound signature of these buds right out of the box. They had no trouble parsing a hectic track like Dance Yrself Clean from LCD Soundsystem, offering up a wide and clear as crystal soundstage. BADBADNOTGOOD’s Can’t Leave The Night has a monster of a bassline that can make lesser headphones fall apart at the seams but the E8’s handled it with class, making our head rattle without muddying itself in the process. An acoustic track such as Heartbeats from Jose Gonzalez did sound a little flatter than it might on a pair of B&O’s over-ear cans, but considering the size of the drivers in the E8’s they still performed admirably.

B&O BEOPLAY E8 VERDICT

Normally, we’d find it difficult to fault B&O’s first attempt at truly wireless in-ear buds. Sonically they are in a class of their own compared to their peers, and if that’s what’s most important to you (and it should be, they are headphones after all!) then we’d emphatically tell you to go out and buy these, premium price be damned. However, it’s precisely because of the high pricetag and our experience with connectivity issues that we’re left a little wary. We recommend, if you can, trying the E8’s out before you buy because if you’re lucky enough to not be plagued with dropouts then these are the Bluetooth buds to beat.

STUFF SAYS

Score: ✭✭✭✭

While you’re paying a premium the E8’s are a fantastic sounding (and looking) pair of Bluetooth buds. Just be wary of potential connectivity issues.

 

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