Alongside three new Surface computers, Microsoft has also just announced another wearable device, the new Surface Headphones. The $349 Headphones are wireless, noise cancelling over-ear headphones with built-in Cortana access and some other unique design tricks. They’ll be shipping later this year.
At first glance, the Surface headphones look rather similar to B&O Play’s line of minimally designed cans, with an all grey finish and metal yokes. They have 40mm drivers, a claimed 15 hours of battery life, and the ability to automatically pause music when you take them off your head. Like many other wireless headphones, there are also touch controls on the right earcup for pausing music, skipping tracks, and answering calls.
But the real interesting design feature with the Surface Headphones are the rotating rings on both earcups. The right one will adjust the volume output, while the left one will scroll through the 13 different levels of active noise cancellation, so you can go from completely blocking out all outside audio to being able to hear your environment. Many wireless heapdhones only allow you to toggle the noise cancellation on or off, while some don’t even let you do that, so this is a unique and very cool feature from Microsoft.
For Cortana, the headphones have both a long-press gesture to access it, or you can say “Hey Cortana” and it will pull up the assistant on your PC or smartphone. You can then dictate a command or question and Cortana will speak back to you in the headphones.
In terms of comfort, the Headphones have dense, memory foam padding and large cups that completely cover my ears. The adjustable headband has some small amount of padding, as well, but we’ll have to see how long term comfort is like after we’ve had a chance to review them.
The sound signature for the Headphones is very similar to other consumer wireless headphones, so if you’re familiar with Beats or B&O Play headphones in this price range, you can expect something along those lines. Bass is strong and punchy, and there’s good presence, but you won’t get the sparkly highs or enveloping soundstage that’s common with audiophile headphones. Based on my limited time with them, I have a feeling most people will be very happy with the way the Surface Headphones sound.
Still, the most compelling reason to get the Headphones will be the adjustable noise cancellation feature, and I think that’s a good enough reason to look at these instead of Beats or other similarly priced wireless headphones when they are released later this year.