Bang & Olufsen is known for premium design, and the high-end audio company takes it very seriously. While B&O Play is the company's millennial-focused brand, design is still extremely important.
The Beoplay H4 represents the entry level for headphones from the company, pairing the unique Danish design language with a well-sounding experience at a high price tag of £249.
A simple design that mixes plastic and metal
Bluntly, I’m a big fan of the Beoplay H4's look, as it combines simplicity with a metallic design. Beoplay offers the headphones in a range of colors including Steel Blue, Black, Tangerine, Vapour, and Charcoal Grey. I've been testing out the Black models, which blend well with pretty much anything. I have to admire the boldness of anyone who would go with Tangerine.
An area of disappointment is the partially plastic build. Both the left and right ear cups are plastic with a shiny metal circle on the outside. The circles glimmer in direct light, which looks cool. You also have the small B&O logo on either cup, which is nice and subtle.
Connecting the ear cups to the top band are pieces of metal, with a brushed finish. It gives the H4’s some structure, but they can still flex to fit on any size head comfortably. Along with these metal pieces, there's an exposed braided cable that goes from the bands to each ear cup. That, of course, provides connectivity and gives you an idea of how far you can extend the ear cups down.
The padding on each cup and the top of the band is lambskin leather, affirming the high-end design. The cups themselves are comfortable and have ample padding. They're circular, unlike the oval design that manufacturers like Bose opt for. Each ear cup swivels flat (though not fully 360-degree) so you can more comfortably wear them around your neck.
Controls, a jack for an audio cable (if you're not a fan of wireless), and the micro-USB port are all found on the right ear cup. The included audio cable doesn’t have any in-line controls, but of course it's entirely optional as the headphones are wireless first. You also get some reading material and a micro-USB cable in the box. Surprisingly, there is no carrying case or even cloth bag included, and at a £189 price point, I was at least expecting something to carry them in.
A customisable sound experience
Bang & Olufsen has been doing audio for a long time, and the sound quality of the H4 is great. You get a well-balanced experience that keeps high and low tones at a similar level with a slight emphasis on deeper bass tones.
The Beoplay app for Android and iOS is where you can customise the listening experience. Through the ToneTouch section, you can manually control the sound profile by tapping anywhere on an array that's divided into four quadrants: Warm, Excited, Relaxed, and Bright. The spot you prefer will vary depending on your taste as well as the material, and you can save your selection as a preset.
Can't choose? Bang & Olufsen has also created four presets for you: Commute, Clear, Workout, and Podcast. Each preset puts a dot in a specific place on the Warm/Relaxed/Excited/Bright array. Depending on where the dot is, the high tones, low tones, and bass will change.
If you’re the type of listener who likes an earth-shaking bass experience, choosing Excited will lower all tones, but Warm and Bright will do the opposite. For balanced sound, I’d suggest setting the dot to right between Excited and Bright. I found myself navigating to Warm for most music, with pleasing sound for many genres, including pop and rock 'n' roll.
The core everyday use that disappoints is taking phone calls through the headphones. Bang & Olufsen put the microphones on the ear cups, as there is no inline control on the audio cable (a traditional location for this). This leads to varying results, since, if you don’t speak loud enough, it may be hard to hear you on the other end, depending on the ambient noise.
Using them in real life
My primary concern with over-the-ear headphones is that they always have the potential to cause discomfort after extended use, especially since I wear glasses. However, I can confidently say the B&O H4's didn’t feel uncomfortable to wear, even with a full day of use, with a wide variety of activities, from taking a train to walking a dog. The ample padding underneath the leather made them quite comfortable.
Bang & Olufsen promises up to 19 hours of battery life over Bluetooth; I found that it came pretty close. It got through a full day of listening at various volumes and frequent changing of sound profiles. I found that using the included microUSB cable with a regular power outlet, I could get a full charge in just under 3 hours. Unfortunately, fast charging with the H4s isn't possible.
I was impressed with the sound quality, especially with using them in public places or while commuting. The H4’s don't have active noise cancelation, but they are isolating: With the volume at about 35% I found that I couldn’t hear everyday noises and even people having a conversation quite close to me.
The headphones can also play plenty loud, with very little distortion even at maximum volume.
If you're spending £249, you should expect a high-quality experience from your headphones. Given the price point, I still think B&O should include some kind of case, but in "real life" I found myself not really missing it. Instead of packing them away, I'd usually just wear them around my neck when not listening to music, and thanks to the swivel ear cups that was a non-issue.
The design screams simplicity, and they look fantastic. The padding in the ear cups and top band leads to a comfortable experience on long days. Most importantly, they sound outstanding. In the end, the Beoplay H4 headphones live up to their eyebrow-raising price tag.