Earlier this year, Microsoft threw the tech world for a loop when it revealed it was jumping into the headphone space with its upcoming Surface Headphones. While the name isn't all that inventive, the actual technology showed a lot of promise.
Targeting heavy hitters such as Bose and Sony, the Surface Headphones feature adjustable active noise-cancelling which is controlled in the right earcup. The cans also have a whopping eight integrated microphones, half of which are focused on magnifying your voice. And what would any Microsoft product be without access to Cortana, Microsoft's digital assistant?
The early reviews of the Surface Headphones are in and the results are generally positive, praising the 13 levels of noise-cancelling, giving mixed opinions on the audio quality but panning the battery life.
Surface Headphones Scorecard
Vlad Savov of The Verge raved about the consistent wireless performance. "Their wireless performance is exceptional," said Savov. "The Surface cans keep a stable connection to the iMac at my living room desk no matter where I am in my apartment, whereas literally every other pair of wireless headphones would suffer interference from all the metal appliances in the kitchen."
And while he liked the audio quality, he did note that it wasn't tuned the way he expected. "The best way I can sum up the Surface Headphones’ sound is that it’s tuned like that of car speakers," Savov continued. "This realization came to me while I was listening to Urbandawn’s Gothenburg Cluster, which is a fast-paced exhibition of heavy-hitting electronic beats. It comes across as just a deluge of bass through the Surface Headphones. Distorted, bloated, yet beautiful bass."
Over at Windows Central, Daniel Rubio was all-in for the techniness of the headphones, touting the adjustable ANC, auto-pause and Cortana integration.
"The right ear cup of the Surface Headphones acts like a giant volume knob. The left ear cup controls noise cancellation, giving users 13 different ambient sound levels," said Rubio. "The execution of this is perfect. Surface Headphones are easily the most user-friendly headphones when compared to Sony and especially Bose. The dials are smooth, gentle, accurate and a joy to use versus physical buttons or using an app."
Rubio also felt the Surface Headphones came close to matching either Bose or Sony in terms of audio quality. "Audio quality compared to other popular brands at this price point is as good as Sony and better than Bose."
Jeffrey Van Camp from Wired was pretty gung-ho about the Surface Headphones audio quality, placing them on a par with Sony and Bose.
"The Surface Headphones do sound fantastic with noise cancellation on or off, and that's an impressive accomplishment. The 40mm drivers in each earcup pump out balanced sound with enough bass to get you dancing when the right track hits," said Van Camp. "I had a particularly fun time listening to the heavy beats and 80s vibe of Muse’s latest album, Simulation Theory, but they’ve been able to handle every genre of music I’ve thrown at ‘em."
Van Camp was also a fan of the ANC, noting that while it couldn't drown out everything, it generally kept things murmur-quiet.
"Microsoft's noise cancelling tech succeeds at silencing most of the chit-chat and table banging you might hear in an office or café, and it can drown out street noise pretty well," continued Van Camp. "At max, it's not quite as quiet as Bose or Sony, depending on the circumstance, but the difference is negligible in places like a coffee shop."
Engadget's Roberto Baldwin liked the headphones' comfortable fit, but wasn't that impressed with the soundstage. "The sound is satisfying if a bit neutral in its tuning for my taste," said Baldwin. "The low end is there, but it's not accented as much as, say, Beats headphones (which, like it or not, has done well for the brand). The mids and highs don't sound muddy, but they are also not as crisp as I would like for cymbal crashes."
However, while he was impressed with the adjustable ANC, he lamented the short battery life due to Cortana always-on status.
"The Surface Headphones will last up to 15 hours on a charge. That time could be longer if Cortana wasn't always listening for the "Hey Cortana" wake words," said Baldwin. "Meanwhile, the Bose QuietComfort 35 IIs will last up to 20 hours, and the Sony WH-1000XM3s will keep you rocking for 30 hours. That's almost as long as a Phish concert!"