Hands-on with the $350 Surface Headphones: Why is Microsoft making them, and are they any good?
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Hands-on with the $350 Surface Headphones: Why is Microsoft making them, and are they any good?

Although the surprise announcement of Microsoft’s new wi-fi headphones seemingly got here out of nowhere, the last product was the end result of three years of labor and dozens of various variations.

The Surface Headphones characterize new floor for Microsoft, as the firm had by no means made a premium audio product like this earlier than, so there’s cause to be skeptical. Nevertheless, by leveraging a number of areas of the firm that have been steeped in audio expertise, resembling Xbox and Skype, Microsoft has produced a tool that makes it appear to be the firm has been in the headphone enterprise for years.

At a price of $350, the Surface Headphones aren’t low cost, however there are loads of pricier choices on the market that don’t match the capabilities of Microsoft’s headphones.

That’s my large takeaway after a number of days of testing the headphones. GeekWire bought an opportunity to make use of the headphones and study their historical past from a few of the individuals answerable for constructing them.

Watch our video evaluate above, and proceed studying for extra particulars.

Surface Headphones are accessible for order beginning immediately, and they ship Nov. 19. Like most Surface units, the headphones function a classy design. The all-gray motif isn’t flashy, however the minimalist design, contrasted with the top quality supplies, make for a easy look. After I walked into work with the headphones on, everybody stated I used to be the coolest particular person at the workplace. So there’s that!

The thought for headphones began with Cortana. At the time, sensible audio system weren’t practically as widespread as they are immediately, and headphones appeared like a pure approach for customers to carry Cortana in all places.

“We thought headsets and headphones could be a extra pure extension of units when outdoors the house or workplace or in cafes,” stated Juha Kuosmanen, senior director of program administration for Experiences and Gadgets at Microsoft. “The thought of getting your assistant with you when you will have your headphones was vital.”

Whereas Cortana is nonetheless an vital a part of the expertise, the thought advanced to deal with constructing one thing that matches the alternative ways individuals use their units. Headphones are the commonest and vital laptop/cellphone accent nowadays, stated Robin Seiler, normal supervisor of Microsoft units, as everybody shifts again and forth between working at house, the workplace and many different locations.

Microsoft envisioned the headphones working in quite a lot of environments, and in consequence, noise cancellation is an vital a part of the expertise. A dial on the left earcup helps you to both block out ambient noise or amplify it. When absolutely amplified the headphones add extra quantity to somebody’s voice and even make it doable to obviously hear individuals talking quietly on the different facet of the room. The correct earcup comprises a dial to regulate quantity rapidly.

Every earcup capabilities as a contact pad with the skill to pause the music, skip again and forth between songs or take/reject cellphone calls. Whenever you take off the headphones, the music mechanically pauses, and for those who put them again on rapidly, it resumes.

Voice activation of Cortana is constructed into the Surface Headphones and the machine integrates with the Cortana app to play songs, set reminders, make calls and extra.

Setup was a breeze. The toughest half was getting the plastic wrap off the field. The headphones are available a grey cloth case that additionally consists of an audio cable for a wired expertise, in addition to a USB-C charging wire, however no wall outlet.

Microsoft has an internet site for organising and configuring the headphones, nevertheless I used to be capable of get them figuring out of the field. All it took was turning on the headphones and bluetooth capabilities on my varied units and they related straight away.

Although the headphones are marketed as a Surface accent, they work with out any connection to Microsoft. I’ve a Samsung Galaxy cellphone, and my laptop is a MacBook, and I used to be simply capable of join each.

Kuosmanen stated the firm made an intentional alternative to not put something proprietary into the headphones that made them work higher on one kind of machine over one other. Microsoft has a giant emphasis proper now on constructing merchandise and providers that are machine agnostic, that means they work simply as nicely on a Home windows machine as they do a MacBook.

The sound high quality was crisp no matter the setting because of the noise canceling capabilities. As a frequent podcast listener, I typically have a tough time listening to less-than-stellar audio from cellphone interviews, and these headphones made it slightly simpler to decipher a few of that dialog. Different reviewers are break up on the sound high quality, with The Verge counting it as a minus and Wired calling it a plus, placing it slightly below Bose’s QC35 II headphones.

The pads themselves are fairly comfy, and they are made from an artificial materials that feels loads like leather-based with reminiscence foam on the inside. The earcups and the yoke, slightly aluminum piece linking the earcups to the headband that always broke throughout testing, have been two areas the group spent a ton of time on.

Taking the time to get issues proper was extra vital for the group than transport the units a number of months earlier. In a earlier iteration of the machine, the miniature Microsoft brand made up of 4 mirrors was a bit out of alignment, so the group made a complete new model with the brand straightened out.

Microsoft additionally performed checks on many alternative head sizes to verify the headphones didn’t press too laborious. That is typically a difficulty for me and my large head and causes me to get complications from most over-the-ear headphones. However I used to be capable of put on the Surface Headphones for a number of hours straight and not using a downside.

At 10.2 ounces, the headphones are mild sufficient that they didn’t weigh me down. The 15-hour battery life ensures that the headphones will maintain up via a piece day or a protracted worldwide flight.

The goal prospects for these headphones look like heavy customers who are on the go loads and spend time on lengthy calls or touring. Whereas the Microsoft leaders wouldn’t say what number of people labored on Surface Headphones, Microsoft pulled individuals and information from its cell, Xbox, Skype and different divisions.

“Folks sit on a headset for 14 hours and sport,” Seiler stated. “Sweating and clamp drive and stress on the head are all stuff you don’t even take into consideration till you’ve been sporting a headset for hours.”

Kuosmanen came to visit from Microsoft’s cell group after becoming a member of by way of the acquisition of Nokia. A marathon runner, Kuosmanen warned towards making an attempt something past a lightweight jog whereas sporting the headphones. This was a disappointing revelation for me as I like to make use of headphones fairly extensively when figuring out, operating or enjoying basketball. The thought of paying $350 for a set of headphones that may’t carry out all the duties I wish to is a little bit of a downer.

Total, the Surface Headphones are a wonderful entry into this realm for Microsoft. From the consolation, to ease of setup and use, to the little issues, it seems the further time and endurance the firm put into the headphones has paid off.

Video manufacturing and modifying by Starla Sampaco.

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