Microsoft Surface Headphones Review: Earning a spot in the premium tier

I wasn’t expecting to like Microsoft’s Surface Headphones as much as I did. Not a brand known for producing premium tier headphones, the Surface Headphones are the apparent result of watching makers operating in the same space and careful note taking.

The first thing you’ll notice about the Surface Headphones is how clean the design is. Microsoft have gone for a simple headband with a plush leather cushion that sits in line with the circular cans on either side. The cans themselves are surprisingly large, with extremely soft padding, and should fit easily over even the biggest ears. The materials used in its construction are both light and quite breathable, allowing you to wear it for very long periods without discomfort. They don’t get hot and they don’t put any weight on your ears. These are two huge ticks for any over-ear cans I review and Microsoft are to be commended for getting this aspect completely right.

The sides of the cans are actually radial dials. Turning them allows you to adjust the level of available noise cancellation — the higher you go, the more outside noise is blocked out. What I was not expecting was that turning the noise cancellation down, or rather playing with the amount of ambient noise, allowed me to zero in on conversations around me. It wasn’t directional as far as I could tell, mostly amplifying what was in front of me, but boy that particular feature came as a surprise. I actually jumped the first time I used it because I wasn’t expecting the conversation happening across the busy office space I was in to come through so clearly. I can see the thinking here — you’re a working professional, you’re on a plane, its noisy as hell and you’re trying to hear your colleague. I see what you were going for there, its everything outside of that particular usage that makes me frown it out. I had planned to try that particular feature on the train that morning and was suddenly very glad I hadn’t.

Beyond the rather gnarly privacy concerns, these cans are something of a technical wonder. They’re capable of producing a thrilling, full sound that approaches the high bar Sony set with the WH-1000XM3 (and since I bring it up, big thanks to Microsoft for giving their headphones a simple name instead of an impossible-to-remember model number). For a pair of cans made for business customers, they’re capable of being a really solid pair of music cans. They put a similarly big show for spoken word as well, with calls and podcasts all coming through clear as a bell. Additionally, I managed to get around 13 hours out of the battery (just short of its advertised 15 but close enough in my opinion.)  It’s great work across the board. If I have a criticism to level at these cans its the volume — these things can go loud if you want them to. Too loud, in fact. I cranked them to maximum volume early on and found it uncomfortably noisy. 85% volume on these cans would be full volume on almost any other set. That it goes up that extra 15% is, in my view, uneccessary and potentially a little dangerous. High volume isn’t inherently a bad thing, some people might need that extra juice. Just be careful with them is all I’m saying.

So despite a couple of issues I think the team could stand to address, the Surface Headphones are some of the best over-ear cans I’ve used in recent memory. They’re a great general purpose headset with all the bells and whistles its pricing tier suggests. It pairs seamlessly with your bluetooth ready devices and it’s got an enviable battery life. Well worth checking out if you’re in the market for a companion piece to your Surface laptop or tablet.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Highlights: Great sound; Great design; Great battery life
Lowlights: Extremely high top volume
Manufacturer: Microsoft
Price: $499 AUD
Website: Microsoft.com
Available: Now

Review conducted using a loaned retail kit provided by the manufacturer.

David Smith

David Smith is the games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously written for PC World Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @RhunWords.

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