When Microsoft announced it was going head-to-head with the likes of Bose and Sony by entering the noise-cancelling headphone world, I was pumped. A company with pockets as deep as Microsoft entering a market as populated as this was never going to roll-in with anything less than a premium offering.
Then, when I saw the $500 price tag, I only but assumed they were throwing the kitchen sink at it. Having now spent hours with the headphones on the company’s Surface tablet; listening to music, watching movies, and gaming, I can confirm they’ve done a pretty damn good job.
But not a great one.
Unlike, say, industry-benchmark Sony’s WH-1000MX3, from the outset, I was taken with how the simplicity of the name – ‘Microsoft Surface Headphones’ – really just cuts to the core of what it is. That simplicity filters through the whole product.
Taking it out of the box you’re greeted with a simple grey canvas case and a pair of headphones that have a clean and simple grey design that weighs enough to feel meaty without being heavy. Grey is the only colour you can get them in, keeping the look in line with the Surface range, but it will really be a matter of personal opinion if you think they look sharp, or like they were shipped with only an undercoat of paint applied.
Their comfort is a stand out feature. Gaming is where I spent the most time with them and I really enjoyed the comfort of the earcups and headband. (I have read others complain that the size-adjusting bands are prone to getting hair caught in them, but as a bald man I can offer no feedback in this area).
The cups are made from memory-foam which make for a snug-fit but note with long sessions, and with the noise cancelling on, you’ll need to occasionally take them off and give your ears a rest from the pressure.
Stylistically, you’ll quickly notice the lack of buttons, which is an element Microsoft have nailed. The actual rim of the right can is the volume control – rotating left and right turns it up and down – the rim of the left can is the noise cancelling control – rotating left and right controls it. It works brilliantly. You can then tap the face of the cans to stop/start – and skip tracks etc, and when it’s all brought together it really feels like a top-end product.
All of this is pointless if they sound garbage, and it’s here that I can confirm they sound great. The weight of the headphones is put to good use with a really satisfying bass coming through, while the treble and sharper sounds are clear and crisp.
If you like it ear-shatteringly loud you may be disappointed as I often found myself wanting for more noise – but my ear-doctor is probably ok with that. Listening to music the songs and vocals have a warmth to it, while action films (I tested on Top Gun) carry the weight and guts you want in over-the-ear headphones.
There is a but though. With approximately 15 hours of battery life with full-featured use, they are far from the leaders in the field in longevity (for example the Sony WX-1000MX3 guarantee 30 hours).
Overall, Microsoft’s debut offering is undeniably a success; they stand up against the more established players and deserve your consideration. Microsoft loyalists will flock regardless and be happy they did.
But where they will divide a crowd is their ultra-simple grey design, and they’ll straight up lose the crowd with their limited battery life and eye-watering price tag. I’d recommend waiting for the inevitable follow-up headset, or wait for their price to come down to a more reasonable mark.