New York City is famous for not giving a damn, but I was still surprised that not a single passerby gave me a funny look as I ambled down Fifth Avenue. To be clear, I don’t expect to turn heads on a daily basis. It’s more that I was wearing the $949 Dyson Zone, a gigantic futuristic pair of headphones complete with a shiny coppery mask that floated over my nose and mouth. I felt like the cyberpunk love child of Batman villain Bane and D.Va from Overwatch.
The Zone is Dyson’s first foray into both wearables and audio. In a nutshell, it’s a pair of high-end noise-canceling headphones that attach to a magnetic visor — Dyson’s term — that sits in front of your face. The ear cans each hold a compact electrostatic filter that removes pollutants from the air. That air is then funneled through the visor to create a pocket of purified air. The device also pairs with the MyDyson app, where you can view the air quality and noise levels of your current environment.
For the record, the Zone only filters the air for pollutants, like allergens or gases from construction sites. It doesn’t filter viruses, especially since the visor doesn’t make any contact with your face, and it doesn’t filter the air you exhale.
The second you pick up the Zone headphones, you can feel the heft and build quality. These are not “light” headphones like the AirPods Max or the Sony WH-1000XM5. They weigh 585 grams, almost 1.3 pounds, for the headphones alone. Adding the visor brings that up to a whopping 670 grams. Despite the weight, they don’t feel too oppressive when you actually slip them on. The ear cups are plush, as are the cushions attached to the bottom of the headband — which also happens to house the battery. Granted, I didn’t wear the headphones for an extended period of time. It was probably about 20 minutes total between trying them on at Dyson’s demo and while walking around Fifth Avenue.
They sound good, too — and for close to $1,000, one should hope so. They aren’t particularly bass-heavy, which Dyson says is intentional. The company opted to go for a more neutral sound profile. I didn’t get to go through my favorite playlist, but what I did hear sounded crisp.
According to Dyson, the Zone can reduce noise by about 40 decibels — 38 decibels from the headphones’ ANC tech and an additional two decibels from just putting on the headphones. It was impressive in a quiet office, but it was even more so while on a busy New York City street. With ANC on, I could barely hear the hustle and bustle of the city around me. Car motors, people yammering on cellphones, and just everyday sounds went quiet. I could still hear aggressive cabbies honking and a passing fire truck — but they didn’t hurt my ears as much as they usually do.
While the headphones are undoubtedly large, most people wouldn’t bat an eye without the visor. Dyson says they anticipate that most people will use the headphones on their own, using the visor only when it makes sense — like when walking past a construction site or in particularly polluted areas.
The visor on its own is quite light and sits higher than I thought it would, covering your nose and mouth but not your chin. It doesn’t feel at all like the face masks we’ve been wearing for the past few years. Instead, it’s like having a vent that blows clean air into your face. It takes a bit of getting used to, especially if you choose a higher setting. For the most part, I kept it on low.
The visor snaps into place via magnets and can be easily pulled down when you need to interact with people. At that point, the headphones also automatically switch to a conversation mode that pauses music and makes it easier to hear what’s going on around you. When I tried this part out, there was a one- to two-second lag, but otherwise, it worked as intended. With noise canceling on, it’s extremely hard to hear conversations going on around you, so this is definitely a necessary feature for anyone who’d wear something like this in public.
It’s too early to say what kind of impact the Zone’s exorbitant price tag will have on sales. Of course, $949 feels absurd, but eye-watering prices haven’t necessarily meant failure for Dyson. Its Airwrap hair curler costs $600, while regular curlers retail for as little as $50. And yet, the Airwrap is a viral sensation and routinely out of stock.
Preorders for the Zone don’t open until March in the US, but Dyson says the US isn’t the only market it’s considering. In other parts of the world, air pollution is a much more serious concern — and one that other smart masks are also targeting. Last year, I reviewed the $150 AirPop Active Plus Halo Smart Mask, another mask that connects to an app to help monitor the air quality around you. I found that mask to be too expensive for everyday life, especially since the tech component was a tad wonky and mask restrictions have since eased.
The Zone’s tech component is a lot slicker. While I took the Zone for a spin, I was able to see in real time both the air quality and noise levels around me in the MyDyson app. I’m not sure I’d keep my eyes glued to an app like this — especially when walking — but it works in a much more fluid way than the AirPop app did. Not to mention, at the very least, you get a working pair of high-end headphones. The AirPop mask doesn’t really do anything else.
For me, the biggest challenge the Zone faces is how other people might react to you wearing it. Take smart glasses. Aside from technological challenges, a big reason smart glasses haven’t taken off is human vanity mixed with social stigma. You only have to remember how Google Glass wearers were called “Glassholes” or the way some people reacted to face masks during the pandemic to see why some people might not be keen on a gadget like the Zone. There’s a primal unease that comes with technology that obscures your face — and that’s without adding in considerations like privilege and cost.
While I wasn’t nervous trying the Zone in the privacy of a conference room, stepping out onto Fifth Avenue was another story. No one likes to get weird looks, and the Zone is the opposite of inconspicuous. I have worn devices like the Focals by North in public before, but those looked like a regular pair of Warby Parkers. But as I mentioned, nobody seemed to care in the slightest. To be fair, I only walked a few blocks with the Zone on. I’d have to see how I’d feel wearing this thing for an entire commute on the subway. Then again, as a native New Yorker, I can attest to seeing and ignoring much stranger things before.
Photography by Victoria Song / The Verge