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Beoplay H4 review: not the tangerine dream we were promised

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Beoplay H4

A few weeks ago, I wrote enthusiastically about a new pair of headphones from B&O Play and their quite unique tangerine color scheme. The Beoplay H4s were, and remain, a showstopper piece of headwear that will attract looks, arch eyebrows, and generally communicate your eccentric personality. Loudly. My hopes for these headphones were raised by their familial association with the Beoplay H6, still my benchmark portable over-ear headphones, and their affordable $299 price. We know Bang & Olufsen is capable of cutting the cord on the H6s without compromising sound, so the optimist in me was hoping that the H4s would be something along those lines. Or at least something worthy of the extroverted paint job.

But I admit I’m probably not the target audience for tangerine headphones, and so I called on my colleague Ashley Carman, whose red nail polish is a much better match for these headphones’ warm palette, to help me judge the Beoplay H4s. We both liked and loathed aspects of these headphones, and the fun part is in how different our pros and cons turned out to be.

- Vlad Savov

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Ashley’s take

I had hoped the H4s were the ones. Most headphones are boring and ugly, but maybe, I thought, the H4s' orange color could change my headphone game. I’m in desperate need of a new pair that work well and are stylish, so I tested the H4s for nearly two weeks and can confirm they’re showstoppers. The tangerine cans stand out on New York City sidewalks and conjure a kawaii feel. Shoshana from Girls would definitely wear these, and they pair perfectly with my rose gold MacBook.

The bright color can't totally mask the cheap plastic

But after only two weeks of wear, my tangerine dreams were dashed. The once bright color already started fading. I’m not sure if it’s dirt or makeup, but the orange tint is turning grey, and it’s making me sad. The plastic also feels cheap and is already scratched after being slightly tousled in my bag. A cloth pouch or case likely would have helped, but neither is included. The H4s also don’t fold. These cost $300; I don’t want to see the FCC label, which I immediately noticed stuck outside the cans. (You can see it if you look closely at the below photo.)

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

As far as sound, the audio quality was great. I tried a bunch of different music types, including bass-heavy hip hop and synthy electronic, and the headphones handled all genres well and even blocked most outside noise — a major feat in the city. They were comfortable, too, especially considering I wear glasses most days. Audio quality and comfort are arguably the two most important features of a pair of headphones, and Beoplay’s done a good job with the H4s. Connectivity-wise, the Bluetooth never disconnected randomly, and my phone always detected when the headphones were on and within range. The side control buttons were also convenient, particularly for adjusting volume. The battery lasted for hours; I’ve barely charged them since I started wearing them, and I’m constantly listening to music.

I did try to take phone calls with these on, but the audio quality was poor. People on the other end could barely understand me while I could hear the wind blowing in my microphone. These just aren’t designed for phone calls. Would I invest in the H4s? Probably not. I commend the company for experimenting with its color palette, but for the price, I would likely go with Vlad’s H6 recommendation, even if they are wired. I would also consider buying a simpler pair of black headphones that are more unassuming and appropriate for all seasons.

Vlad’s take

The internal deal that I strike with myself regarding any set of headphones is that if they sound great and fit well, I'll wear them no matter what they look like. So, as I was unboxing the Beoplay H4s and the irresistibly bright and cheery pink-orange of their earpads hit my eyeballs, I was quite prepared to be a dude with tangerine headphones. Then I popped them on and they were soft, lovely, and plush. Everything would have been awesome if they sounded anywhere near as nice as they fit.

Like having mac and cheese for every meal, no matter which restaurant you visit

The sound of the H4s is, in my judgment, bad. I understand why Ashley likes it, having used these headphones in the noisy environments they're designed for, but to me there's far too much artificiality, distortion, and unevenness to celebrate the H4s as any sort of siblings to the Beoplay H6. The biggest problem I have is with the way the lower mid-range is subsumed by an excess of bass. Music sounds almost underwater, everything booming and thumping at you, whether it was designed to or not. That lends the sound a certain sense of lushness, to be fair, but it's a one-dimensional sort that turns all music into the same congealed mush. It's like having mac and cheese for every meal, no matter which restaurant you visit.

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Attempting to offset the excess of bass sauce, B&O Play also overheats the treble of these headphones, making it screechy and unpleasant at higher volumes. Which is an absolute shame, because I might otherwise have recommended the H4s as a pair of extra bassy (albeit unrealistic) headphones that people can indulge with when they fancy it. As ever, I have no fixed opinion on how headphones should be tuned for human listening; some people will favor a warmer, bassier sound, others will want the sparkle and detail of a stronger treble response. Unfortunately, the Beoplay H4s have high quantities of both, but not high quality.

At a buck shy of $300, the H4s land into an extremely competitive field, led by Apple's Beats Solo 3s. The Beats are no less comfortable than the Beoplays, however their sound is vastly superior, and they come with a nice case and a collapsible design. And if you own an iPhone, Apple's W1 wireless syncing with the Solo 3s is an absolute breeze. The Beoplay H4s tout "crafted" leather, aluminum, and fabric, but I share Ashley's sense that they feel cheap and uninspiring. So we'll call that a tie with the Beats alternative.

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Our shared conclusion is that B&O Play got a lot of the basics right with the Beoplay H4s. We commend the company for being unafraid to explore bolder colors, and also for driving down the entry-level price for its wireless headphones. But "cheap by B&O Play standards" is still quite expensive by most people's budgets for a portable pair of headphones, and the H4s just don't have enough quality or convenience to justify their cost. If they sounded better, sure. If their loveliness didn't fade so quickly, or if they were provided with a good protective case, then yes. But as they are today, the Beoplay H4s are superficially attractive and internally flawed.