When only the best will do. If there is no wind, that is.
We bought the H95 headphones from Bang & Olufsen and reviewed them after many hours of listening. We had been using a Bose QC35 for many years and always loved it, but the time has come to try something new.
Since Apple launched the Airpods Max, there is a renewed interest in premium over-ear Bluetooth headphones. Not that there was anything wrong with the existing ones from brands like Sony, Bose, Sennheiser, and many others. Yes, they are made from plastic. But that has a good reason: weight. Lighter headphones offer far better comfort. And they also feel like quality products, so there is nothing wrong with them.
The Airpods Max are not the first Bluetooth headphones to offer a premium build or premium features. Bang & Olufsen has a whole lineup of them, and even Montblanc has one. And there are others too.
These premium headphones come with premium price-tags. The Bang & Olufsen H95 is currently the most expensive Bluetooth headphone on the market.
So what do you get for your hard-earned money?
Build quality & features
First of all, you get a top-notch build quality. Metals, and leather. A perfect case, or should I say: box? Even the included cables are premium. Often, however, the premium build comes at the cost of wearing comfort. What good are premium headphones if you don’t want to wear them? Luckily the H95 is pretty ok, in this regard. It will never match the wearing comfort of our Bose QC35’s, however. That one you can wear all day long, and even forget that you are wearing them. No, the B&O H95 is very present on your head. You will feel the weight and the pressure from the earcups. At first, we could only wear them for about an hour. But now we got more used to it, we can wear them for several hours without problems. This is not a headphone to wear all day long, however, or when doing some activity that involves a lot of movement. The H95’s are best used when sitting in a comfortable seat and listen to some top-quality recordings.
You get some nice features too. The H95 has 2 large dials, one on each side of the headphone, that allows you to change the volume and the amount of noise-canceling and transparency mode so you can hear your surroundings. The ear-cushions are removable and attach with magnets. And you can still use them wired also with a 3.5mm audio cable or USB. All of these features are not exclusive to the H95, other headphones have had them too, but it is nice that they are included.
The H95 is also very comfortable to wear around the neck when you are not listening to music. With many headphones it feels like they are strangling you, but the H95 does not.
The number one reason to consider the Bang & Olufsen H95 is sound quality. You might wonder if good sound quality is even possible with Bluetooth headphones. Audiophiles will tell you that it is not possible, but these headphones are not meant for audiophiles. Audiophiles use completely different headphones that cost several times more than the H95.
Bluetooth has come a long way, and it is possible to achieve CD-quality sound using Bluetooth these days. It will depend greatly on the music source and the Bluetooth profile that is used. So, yes: the H95 is capable of producing great sound. But so are others like the ones from Sony, Bose, Sennheiser, Bowers & Wilkinson, etc.
The difference is in the choice the manufacturers make when it comes to sound-profiling. Headphones from Sony and Bose often raise the mid-bass range a bit for example. That produces a warm dynamic sound that many people will like and can be quite impressive. Bad recordings also sound better this way. The majority of people will like the sound of this kind of headphones a lot. There is nothing wrong with that. It is just a preference.
Bang & Olufsen, and other brands like Sennheiser and Bowers & Wilkinson, usually prefer a flat profile. They avoid adding anything to the music and try to produce the original recording as good as possible. The H95 does a wonderful job at this. When you have been listening to other Bluetooth headphones like the ones from Sony or Bose, the H95 will probably disappoint you at first. It will sound less punchy, less dynamic, even somewhat dull. But after a couple of hours, your hearing will adapt and you will start to hear it: an openness to the sound that you have never heard before. Acoustic instruments really sound like they should sound. Drums sound breathtakingly realistic. Vocals come to the foreground and are never overtaken by instruments. There is a butterly smoothness to the sound. With other headphones, the overprocessed dynamic sound can be tiring after a while. The H95 is the opposite: the sound is so relaxing and soothing. The sound-balance is on another level too. Everything sounds far more balanced than in any other headphones we tried. And the balance stays perfect when you crank up the volume all the way. You can play the H95 really loud, and it will still not get tiring. With other headphones, the bass becomes either too pronounced or drops completely when you play them at high volumes. The bass on the H95 can go really low. Much lower than other headphones. But it will never overpower other sounds. You never get a messy or murky sound. The sound always stays detailed and rich.
But remember: if you have been listening to other headphones, it will take some hours of listening before your hearing will adapt and you will appreciate the quality of the sound of the H95. A quick test in a shop might not convince you.
The downside of this wonderful sound quality is that you need good recordings. Bad recordings will truly sound bad. This is similar to listening to a high-end HiFi setup.
The H95’s really shine when you listen to jazz and classical music. But it will handle all kinds of music well, providing the recording was done correctly.
A thing to note: sound quality is not exactly the same using the H95 over Bluetooth or using it wired. When using the H95 with a Windows 10 computer we recommend connecting using USB. That gives the best sound. Using the 3.5mm jack or Bluetooth with a Windows PC gives a more muffled sound. Probably Windows does not use the correct Bluetooth profile. We also had to reconnect because at first Windows only used the H95 as a device for speech. Things might be better on a Mac, but we did not test that. The best combination for good sound is a smartphone with a Bluetooth connection.
If you turn off both ANC and Transparency mode (“neutral mode”), the sound changes a bit also.
ANC, transparency mode, battery life
Noise cancellation is fine, and up there with the best headphones on the market. I doubt that you will really need it, because the H95 is the kind of headphone that you will use in a quiet room, relaxing in a chair with a good drink and some quality music. The passive noise-reduction by the ear-cups is so good, that we almost never use ANC.
Transparency mode could be better. This mode allows you to hear your surroundings. It works, but your surroundings still will sound a bit muffled.
Battery life is stellar. The best in any Bluetooth headphone and the numbers given by Bang & Olufsen are accurate.
There is no such thing as a perfect pair of headphones, and the H95 are no exception to this.
The touch-pad on the right ear-cup to skip tracks, and start and pause the music does not always work well. We often need 2 or 3 tries. Often we stop the music by accident, just by touching the headphone.
It does not play well with Windows, but that might be a Windows thing because a lot of other headphones also have this problem. As noted before: you need to pay attention and look if the H95 is connected for both speech as well as music. Otherwise: remove it from the pairing list and try again. But even if everything looks fine, the sound is not as great as when connected to a smartphone. We recommend using the USB cable when connecting to a Windows computer for the best sound.
The most annoying thing about the H95 is that it seems to be very sensitive to wind. Even in the slightest breeze of wind, they produce a crackling sound as if it’s amplifying the sound of the wind instead of reducing it. This is both in ANC and transparency mode. If you turn both off (= neutral mode), the crackling stops, but you will still hear the wind more than what is normal. Very difficult to enjoy the H95 outside because of this, unless there is really no wind. We hope this will get fixed in a firmware update.
Update: we reached out to Bang & Olufsen and received a reply in which they state that there is nothing wrong with the H95 and that the solution for avoiding the wind-issue is using the “neutral mode” like we discovered for ourselves. So, this problem will not be corrected it seems. We never had this problem with our QC35’s, so we guess this is a design error with the placement of the microphones or the ANC algorithms not compensating for wind noise.
After listening for many hours to the H95, we put aside our beloved Bose QC35. Yes, the Bose is far more comfortable to wear, but the amazing sound of the H95 is really addictive.