I was at a hole-in-the-wall pizzeria in downtown Manhattan, debating which slice I wanted to chow down on, when I felt a light tap on my shoulder. I turned, pulling down the metallic visor covering my mouth. In front of me stood the most New York of pizzeria owners. With the visor down, my headphones automatically switched to transparency mode. The sounds of the city flooded back into my ears, and I caught the last part of his question.
“... what is that?”
He was pointing at the $949 Dyson Zone on my head.
“Oh, this is the Dyson Zone.” I tried not to feel self-conscious. When you wear a mask that reminds people of a Batman villain, people are going to be curious.
“Oh my gawd,” he said. “You mean like the vacuum Dyson Dyson?”
“Yeah, it’s a wearable air purifier. And noise-canceling headphones. It’s a 2-in-1 sorta thing.” I explained the basics of how it worked. Air flows into the ear cups, which hide electrostatic filters. That gets funneled into the visor, which then blows clean air into your face. I whipped out my phone to show him the app. His eyes widened when I told him it can also monitor the air quality and noise levels around you — in real time, too.
“Holy shit,” the owner said. “We livin’ in da future.”
Day one: becoming Bane
About 36 hours earlier, I picked up the Zone from my building’s package room. It was a surprisingly heavy box, but that made sense after I looked up the specs. The Zone weighs roughly 1.3 pounds without the visor and 1.47 pounds with it attached. Yes, you read that correctly. Pounds. (For comparison, Apple’s AirPods Max, wireless headphones that are widely considered to be “heavy,” weigh 0.85 pounds.)
It’s been years since I felt like a kid while unboxing a review unit. Look at this thing. It’s an absurd gadget with an equally ridiculous price tag. After a few minutes of admiring this absolute beast, I twisted open the cans and installed the two air filters. Easy peasy. Pairing the Zone to my phone was also simple. All that was left to do was plug the Zone in to charge all the way up to 100 percent.
That took three hours.
Once I freed the Zone from its packaging, I may have thrown on a pair of sunglasses and posted a silly selfie to Slack of me wearing the Zone. I can neither confirm nor deny that I snuck up on my sleeping spouse and, in my best Bane voice, told them they had my permission to wake up. They were unimpressed.
I spent most of the first day learning the controls. There’s a button on the left that controls the airflow to the visor as well as Bluetooth pairing. On the right, there’s an audio joystick that you can use to pause and play tracks, control volume, and skip / go back a song. At first, I kept forgetting that you had to tap the side of either ear cup twice — but not too fast — to switch between noise canceling and transparency modes. Each time you do, there’s a whoosh sound that reminds me of airlocks opening and closing in sci-fi movies.
Once I got the hang of it, I may have showed up to a team meeting in full Zone regalia. My colleagues mostly shook their heads and noted how big these looked on my head. In the Zone’s defense, the audio quality on the call was clear, and not once was I distracted by the dryer running in the background. I was actually flabbergasted at how quiet the world had become. Though perhaps I shouldn’t have been. Dyson says the Zone’s 11 microphones can reduce surrounding noise by 38 decibels. Just putting the dang thing on dampens sound by another two decibels for a total of 40.
After the meeting, I took off the Zone and gave my achy ears a good rub. I usually use the Sony WH-1000XM4 (0.56 pounds), and the weight difference was comical. My neck felt light as a feather, as if I were Son Goku after a bout of training in the gravity room. If I wanted to, I could’ve headbanged with 50 times more power.
Day two: Zone versus NYC
While packing my work bag, I debated wearing the Zone on the subway. Without the visor, it looked like any other pair of chunky headphones. You’d need eagle eyes to pick up on the Dyson logo on a crowded subway car — and we New Yorkers are experts at never making eye contact while commuting. But these are also $949, and I shuddered at the thought of explaining to Dyson how a subway yahoo snatched these off my head. So into the plush carrying case it went.
With the Dyson Zone safely stowed in my extremely green backpack, I felt and looked like a turtle. It didn’t help that I’d also packed the explorer case — a fancy crossbody case for schlepping the Zone around.
Upon arriving at the office, I was roasted — flambéed, even — as soon as I put these on. Once again, comments were made about how big they looked on my head. It was fine. With the active noise canceling on, their best roasts were met with sweet silence. But honestly, I was more hurt when I was informed that, despite looking like Bane, the Zone did not make me sound like him.
Some of my colleagues tried the Zone on for themselves. A few tumbled headfirst into a deep, abiding love. Others decidedly did not. A few co-workers attempted to put it on as one whole piece. It ended up with the visor falling off multiple times. That’s because the magnets were a double-edged sword. It made the visor simple to snap on, but if you didn’t remove it before the headphones, it could easily fall off.
One co-worker commented about the copper color being ugly. I disagreed. To me, it was far prettier than the other two versions, which are two varying combinations of blue and silver. (Sorry, Ultra Blue with either Satin Silver or Prussian Blue.)
When show-and-tell was over, I dragged our photographer Amelia outside on an adventure. (Look, I can’t take pictures of myself in this thing.) We headed to a nearby park, where I vogued among the blooming spring flowers. A fair number of people stared in passing, but this is New York. No one gave a flying frittata about the weird gal in the cyberpunk mask sniffing flowers. Everyone had most definitely seen stranger things, myself included.
Every few blocks, I checked the air quality in the MyDyson app. Apparently, New York City was less polluted than I thought. The exception was a single block on the way to the train station. I don’t know what it was about that block, but the air quality plummeted from “good” to “fair.”
The nerd in me was excited because, finally, some proper pollution to filter. I had the Zone set to auto and was chuffed to hear the Zone’s filters kick into a higher gear. Even so, it’s not like it blasted a powerful gust of air in my face. You’re supposed to keep a finger’s length of space between you and the visor, and it’s subtle enough that I didn’t really notice the clean air pocket in front of my mouth and nose — at least, not when I was outside. You can feel it more inside, but I wasn’t keen on wearing the visor indoors away from home. This doesn’t filter viruses, the specter of covid-19 still looms large, and I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable by blowing my breath around the office.
The Zone’s sensors track nitrogen dioxide concentrations in your vicinity. Nitrous oxide emissions, according to the blurb in the app, stem from burning fossil fuels. In cities, that means things like heating, power generation, and car exhaust fumes. To test this, we descended into the subway. Lo, the platform at Whitehall Street station was firmly in the “fair” zone.
The train car was mostly empty, but the few who were there stared openly and then went back to minding their business. The train car stank of institutional neglect, but alas, there was no more fresh air blowing in my face. After about an hour of roaming around, the battery fell below 20 percent, which is too low to power the purifier.
We took a pizza break, and I already told you what happened there.
Day three: Zone at work
Day three was a work-from-home day, so I wanted to see how long I could wear the Zone in one go. I also took a break from the visor. While the visor is cool, Dyson told me back in December that it thinks most people will primarily use the Zone as noise-canceling headphones.
I wore the Zone for about three hours before needing a break. It’s not that it’s uncomfortable. The ear cups are soft, and there’s plushy cushioning under the headband. But even if you had the world’s strongest neck, you’re going to feel the weight eventually. Whenever I looked down, I could feel gravity’s pull on the Zone.
I spent the majority of the day working on a draft I’ve since expunged from my memory, listening to music, and gabbing on a 45-minute call. My favorite singer sounded good, but his usually buttery smooth voice lacked some oomph, at least over wireless. He sounded much better if I plugged in the headphone jack, which is true of any headphones. I’m not an audiophile, but to my ear, I think the Sonys sounded better overall.
The equalizer settings can be tweaked in the Dyson app, but your choices are limited. There’s a bass-boosting mode, an enhanced mode, and a neutral mode. The differences between all three are noticeable, but they’re all fairly balanced. The bass boost made my favorite K-pop dance track thumpier, but did it reverberate in my skull? No.
There was one thing that annoyed the crap out of me. The headphone jack on my laptop is on the right side. The single USB-C port on the Zone is on the left ear cup. This left me with a dangly cord draping over my arms because my laptop sits to the right of my monitor. I got tangled up multiple times, which caught the eye of my cat. His Highness was miffed when I did not let him eat the cable.
It was neat that every time I took the Zone off, it automatically shifted into low-power mode. It also woke up as soon as I put them on. It reminded me a lot of my spouse’s AirPods Max. The noise canceling on the Dyson was slightly better, and the ear cups were comfier for my ear shape. The AirPods weren’t as bulky and not nearly as heavy, though.
By the end of the day, I had worn the Zone for about four hours total. I took them off when I felt a slight headache coming on. Whether that was from the weight or the pain of reading my own writing, who can say.
Days four and five: in which no visor is worn
I spent the blessed weekend as an apartment goblin. I saw no humans other than my spouse. The cat and I did get into it, though, after he parked his fluffy butt on the Zone.
“Sir,” I said. “These are $949.”
I got a noncommittal meow, and the jerk left me to clean his fur off the ear cups.
Day four was spring cleaning day. The Zone did a good job of dampening the whirr of its cousin, my Dyson stick vac. I could still hear the dryer balls rattling around while I did laundry, but it was easy to ignore — even when I was between songs. Less good was my obliviousness to the beeps and boops of various kitchen appliances. I only discovered I burned my lunch in the air fryer after the smoke alarm went off.
Just when I started to feel like I was used to the Zone’s heft, I had a scare while cleaning the toilet. As I mentioned earlier, the Zone can feel like it’s about to fall off when you look down. It doesn’t quite fall, but I was grossed out enough at the possibility that I switched over to my AirPods Pro.
On day five, I was chained to my desk scrapbooking and handling the bureaucracy of adulthood. For the most part, the Zone was a fine companion, but I had to take periodic breaks. After a while, it felt like the ear cups were hugging my jaw a lil’ too tightly. When I finally stood up, my bones crackling, I was surprised to see I still had about half the battery left. The last time I had charged was day three.
I decided not to wear the Zone while cooking dinner. A neat chef, I am not. But really, I just didn’t want a repeat of day four’s lunch.
Day six: Zone versus NYC, redux
Day six was similar to day two. There were just fewer people in the office to roast me in person. In the afternoon, I headed out with our video producers to film some capital C content for The Verge’s social channels.
While I retraced a lot of the same steps, the Zone didn’t detect much pollution. The air quality was always good. I couldn’t believe that, so we trekked into two train stations, rode a train, and I even stood over a stinky grate through which dubious fumes billowed up straight into my face. It was disgustingly warm. But nope. Not a blip. Perhaps sewer fumes lack nitrogen dioxide. The only other thing I could think of was that it was a windier day.
People stared again, but I felt less conscious of it. The only person who made me feel uncomfortable was a young lady who kept openly gawping at me while on the train. Again, hard to complain when you look like you stepped out of a cyberpunk anime. An older lady who sat next to me noticed the Dyson branding, and we had a lovely little chat about the headphones: a New York moment, so to speak. She seemed quite nonplussed at the visor.
The battery died after about 30 minutes of using the purifier, but I hadn’t charged the Zone since day three. Still, it made me wonder when in my actual life I’d ever actually need air purifying while out and about. Perhaps I’m overly cautious, but I never felt all that comfortable wearing the visor in public when I was alone. Also, I started to wonder if the ANC was a little too good. The only things I could really hear were trains screeching, sirens blaring, and obnoxious honking.
Which was why I probably had a heart attack when, on my way to dinner with my spouse, a man ran up to me. I was wearing the Zone without the visor but had forgotten to turn off noise canceling. I didn’t know this man had been chasing me until I felt a hand on my shoulder. It turned out he just wanted to know where I bought my jacket. (It was a spiffy jacket.) Lesson learned, I stuck the Zone back into my bag.
I’ve watched too many horror movies and listened to too many true crime podcasts. I know what happens to women who aren’t aware of their surroundings.
Days seven and eight: I merely adopted the Zone
Days seven and eight were spent writing this review. They were very much like all the other days that I used the Zone as headphones. My boss said I sounded tinny on a call, my spouse poked some fun when I couldn’t hear them, and as Dyson predicted, I mostly used them as regular headphones.
Looking back on the past week, I expected New York’s air to be dirtier. I went on another walk in my neighborhood to triple-check but nope. The air in my smelly-ass city is apparently less toxic than I thought. And if the air where I live is generally good, the battery drain didn’t seem worth it, which sort of defeats the purpose of the Zone compared to other ANC headphones. Perhaps if I lived in a more polluted city, like Beijing, I’d be inclined to use the visor more often.
I hardly expect most people to buy this thing. Audiophiles don’t blink at absurd prices, but I think we can all agree that the Zone isn’t the most practical device. But I don’t think it has to be. When I first heard about the Zone, I thought it couldn’t possibly work the way Dyson described. When I tried it in December, I had fun, but I was still skeptical since it wasn’t the final product. But holding the final product in my hands, having used it for a week, I can say it fit into my everyday life. Not perfectly. There were a few mishaps, but everything worked as described. It didn’t fall apart. The app wasn’t glitchy. I had no connectivity issues to speak of. The ANC was excellent. That’s wild when you think about it for more than a second.
Outside of this review, I wouldn’t pick these over my Sonys. After all, I merely adopted the Zone. At the same time, I don’t remember when I last put on a wearable and felt like I was holding a piece of the future. A ridiculous device this may be, but I don’t always want to be an adult and pooh-pooh something because it isn’t practical. For once, it was fun to embrace the absurd.