Tiny wireless earphones are all the rage right now. Apple, Jabra, Sony, Jaybird, Bose, and now Bang & Olufsen have all joined the race to build miniature 'buds that sit in your ears without cables, and each one wants to be the pair in your pocket. B&O Play's Beoplay E8 takes a fashion-forward approach, but these pint-sized earphones also sound incredibly good for their size.
What Is It?
Bang & Olufsen's youthful, fresh sub-brand B&O Play has a new set of headphones in the $449 E8. They're the first from the storied Danish audio company that are 'true wireless' -- in-ear, earbud-style earphones with built-in Bluetooth and built-in tiny rechargeable batteries, and no wires. The two headphones communicate and sync up using a tech called near-field magnetic induction rather than Bluetooth, and the right earbud is what makes the Bluetooth connection with your smartphone.
The Beoplay E8 is a pair of tiny earbuds -- the right master weighing seven grams and the left slave weighing just six. The charging case, to which the E8 'buds connect magnetically and to recharge their four-hour batteries, weighs 45g -- this is a lightweight package that'll fit happily in a jeans pocket, although not quite as easily as a pair of AirPods. That leather-wrapped case is really quite lovely to behold and to open and use, although its ovoid shape again isn't quite as straightforward as the AirPods or the Jabra Elite Sport. Charging is done over microUSB rather than the USB-C of other B&O gadgets, which is a bit of a pity.
These are, so far, the best sounding wireless in-earphones that I've listened to -- and, apart from the new Sony WF-1000X, I've listened to pretty much all of them. The Beoplay E8 has a fantastically musical sound straight out of the box, with impressively strong bass and nicely crisp treble, and a good amount of detail in the midrange. In its size class, the E8 punches above its weight, although it does carry that significant $449 price tag -- the most expensive true wireless in-ear headphones you can buy at the moment. That typically Bang & Olufsen musical signature remains, which is impressive given the headphones' miniscule 5.7mm speaker drivers and the tiny sub-100mAh batteries hidden away inside.
One of the smartest features of the E8 is its ability to listen in on outside noise using each earphone's integrated mic -- an ambient mode that is customisable to three different settings using the earphones' complementary Beoplay app. You can pause music entirely while you have a conversation, have it playing at a reduced volume while you chat, or have it remain at its original volume while outside noise is boosted, which might be useful for listening to announcements while you're commuting. The same app lets you push an equaliser around to tweak the E8's sound a bit, boosting bass or sharpening treble -- the headphones don't need it, but a bit of extra oomph is nice.
The E8s don't have the ear-wing silicon sleeves that some of its competitors do, but they don't need them -- their fluted design sits comfortably and quite deep in the wearer's ear canal. Three different silicon ear-tips are included in the box, as are a single pair of Comply foam ear-tips that expand in the ear and offer the best passive noise cancellation of any wireless earphones I've tried. You can also buy individual right and left earbuds if you lose one, as well as a replacement charging carry case -- this is the way that wireless earphones should be sold and cared for after purchase.
All of this is wrapped in something that's really, really surprisingly rare for this new breed of wireless earbud -- a bit of style. B&O's new headphones are hands down the most attractive wireless earbuds you can buy, in everything from the carry case to the earbuds themselves. They're extremely well built; the aluminium ring around the circumference of the earbuds is slick, and those touch-sensitive pads on either ears are smooth and easy to tap. Ambient mode switches on with a tap of the left, track play/pause is a tap on the right, a tap and hold on either raises or lowers the volumet Here's a full list of the gestures.
Should You Buy It?
$449 is a lot of money to pay for a pair of headphones. With the B&O E8 you get convenience in spades -- the convenience of a tiny pair of headphones you can carry with you wherever you go and use without having to plug in a cable to your phone. You don't get the incredible booming bass of over-the-ear headphones or the battery-free ease of wired headphones, but that's not what the E8 is about. In the company of other truly wireless brethren, these headphones perform excellently both with calls and with music, which is rare. If you buy a pair of B&O headphones, you're making an investment for years to come, and the E8 is no different.