If you're seeking user-friendly headphones with lots of fancy extras, Sony's new h.ear On Wireless NC headphones should be right up your alley. The company showcased the cans, which boast bells and whistles like active noise cancellation and wireless bluetooth feedback, at CES 2016. They're available in a slew of fun colors and go to great lengths to meet the needs of consumers, channeling the same design inspirations that have led Beats By Dre to such crazy popularity.
But are these features worth more than $300 to you, well-thought-out though they may be? And are you willing to shell out for a dedicated music player to make it all work? These are questions you'll have to answer before making the plunge to purchase the h.ear On Wireless NC headphones.
Full of features
From the moment you pick up a pair of the h.ear On Wireless NC headphones, the first word that comes to mind is "fun." Not only are these cans boldly colored, but they also pack practically every consumer headphone feature sought by the general public. Wireless playback, noise cancellation, and 40mm drivers crammed into a saccharine sweet casing could appeal to a huge number of buyers.
Often the addition of all these features means that sound quality falls short. But after spending some time with the h.ear over-ears, I'm fairly confident that the casual music-listener won't be disappointed.
While the headphones were designed with Sony's "Hi Res" audio devices (featuring the proprietary LDAC codec) in mind, you can easily pair them with your smartphone via the NFC target on the side. You can also use the included 3.5mm to 3.5mm stereo cable that plugs into the left ear cup. When wired, the cable gives you access to an in-line remote. There are also controls on the right ear cup (for when you're using the cans wirelessly), as well as a microphone on the headphones themselves.
They feel durable to the touch, as the plastic used to guard their sensitive insides is dense and doesn't give an impression of cheapness. For easy storage, you can fold up the band and shove the h.ears in a bag.
On the inside, you'll find a pair of 40mm speaker elements, angled to accommodate a human ear. The speakers are protected by a very porous mesh that should be fairly easy to clean with a damp cloth or compressed air.
The beat goes on
I'll admit: I didn't have high hopes for these over-ears. I typically find the difference between bluetooth and wired connections both noticeable and grating. However, I was impressed by what the h.ear over-ears were able to do using Sony's portable music players. The sound quality is... surprisingly decent.
For one thing, Sony didn't go nuts over the active noise cancellation. I praise that decision, because ramping up the ANC unit often creates audible distortion in the midrange. However, the h.ear over-ears seem to shoot solely for manageable cancellation, meaning less destructive interference—and less garbage noise.
It's obvious that Sony wanted a consumer-friendly sound for these cans, but again, restraint won the day here. Bass isn't absurdly emphasized, and the high end doesn't make your music unnaturally shrill either. I was happy to hear a well-restrained, yet dynamic response that worked well for most genres of music. Obviously we'll have to get these in for testing before we stake any hard claims about sound quality, but so far so good.
Among other songs pre-loaded onto the tiny walkman-reminiscent devices was Simon and Garfunkel's Sound of Silence. Using this to test the ANC, I found that there was an ever-so-slight addition of distortion to vocals. This was the only real issue I could find with the sound, and it's hard to perceive unless you know what you're looking for. There was a sense that I was listening to music underwater at times, but this is pretty standard for the noise canceling experience, regardless of the brand of headphones.
If I'm forced to pick a pain point, it's definitely the on-unit controls. While I understand their necessity in a wireless model, they don't feel great to use. That said, wireless controls have yet to be perfected on any headphones that I've encountered, so it seems unfair to focus on this one pain point in an otherwise solid pair of cans.
H.ear ye, h.ear ye
I was happy to see a lot of mature, market-ready headphones hit the show floor at CES 2016, and Sony's new wireless cans certainly fall into that category. Though they're far from groundbreaking, a credible set of on-ears that offer wireless connectivity and active noise canceling are sure to appeal to many users.
Pricing hasn't been set for this particular set of headphones, but expect it to lay about $320—assuming the global price is close to what the US price will be. That's right in line with other noise cancelling headphones (like Bose) out there, and very competitive if you're looking for a wireless option to boot.
If you'd like to make a colorful fashion statement, the h.ear On Wireless NC also come in several colors—rare for headphones in this part of the market. And even if you're not a fan of the colorful versions, there's always a timeless black option.
Buyers will have to wait, however, as these puppies don't hit shelves until sometime in the spring of 2016.