Did you know Albert Einstein once ate a grasshopper? And that Nikola Tesla used to talk to pigeons? What about the time Alfred Hitchcock tied an actress to a bunch of live birds for five days just to film a scene?
It may sound shocking, but these geniuses are far from being alone in their eccentric manners. Many of the most brilliant, successful, and iconic people throughout history had their fair share of well-documented quirks, and yet we still admire them, and we still find them fascinating. We are forgiving of those quirks because, at the end of the day, their body of work is what really matters. And that’s where every single one of them knocked it out of the park.
The Beoplay H5 wireless earphones remind me of some of these iconic people. Yes, they’re pricey and they have a few quirks of their own but man, do they ever sound good.
I first noticed the Beoplay H5 wireless earphones while casually browsing in a local store. I was looking to step up from my standard Apple EarPods, and right at first sight I thought they were some of the best-looking earbuds I’d ever seen. The feature set was solid, too: Bluetooth 4.2, AAC codec support, weather resistance, 5-hour battery life, and a companion iOS app with user-configurable sound profiles — all hallmarks of a high-end product. And when my friend Marius — a self-confessed non-snobby audiophile — spoke highly of their sound quality, that was all the encouragement I needed.
Now, $250 is admittedly a lot of money to drop on a non-returnable product (headphone returns are not permitted in Spain for sanitary reasons). Besides, earbuds are a very peculiar product category, where comfort and fit are just as important as audio quality, so I wasn’t too keen on the idea of buying the H5 without having at least tried them on first. With those concerns in mind, I did what any self-respecting product reviewer would do: I reached out to the local office of B&O Play in Spain and requested a review unit.
Happily, my request was quickly granted by the lovely people at B&O Play, and so here we are. Let’s take a closer look at them.
In the Box
B&O is one of those brands that pay a lot of attention to the so-called unboxing experience of their products. Apple does the same thing, too, and with good reason: first impressions matter, and they last.
When you open the box, you’re immediately greeted by the H5 earphones, perfectly cradled in a black foam panel. Lift the panel by pulling on the small tabs at each side and you get access to everything else.
Right off the gate the most surprising item in the box is the custom magnetic charger. It is a small black cube with cutouts that are shaped like the earpieces. To charge the H5, simply bring the earpieces close to the cube and they’ll magnetically attach and start charging. Simple and clever. I like it.
However, one thing you won’t find in the box is a power adapter. The custom charger ends in a classic USB type-A connector, so you’ll need to plug it into your computer — 2016 MacBook Pro owners, you’ll need a dongle — or borrow a charger from another device. There’s a pretty good chance you’ve already got one or more of those stuck in a drawer somewhere, but for a $250 product, the lack of a complete charging solution out of the box is disappointing.
That would be quirk number one.
Also, since this is a custom charger and there’s no way to plug the H5 to a standard USB cable instead, you need to be very careful not to lose it. B&O sells the charger separately, but it comes in at a hefty $39 — or an outrageous 79€ in Europe. Luckily, you can find compatible 3rd-party chargers for about $15 on Amazon.
The H5 come fitted with medium-sized silicone tips, but there are also three additional pairs of silicone tips in the box (large, small and extra-small), and three additional pairs of Comply Sport foam tips (large, medium and small).
Besides the earphones, tips, and charger, the box also contains a small carrying pouch made of soft fabric, a small booklet with instructions and warranty information, and three cable clips.
Bang & Olufsen are known for their high-end audio products and their impeccable design ethos: clean lines, gentle colors and, above all, audiophile-level sound quality. The Beoplay H5 represent their first crack at creating truly high-quality wireless earbuds. For the most part, they are a solid effort.
As I mentioned earlier, the Beoplay H5 look pretty darn good. The 52cm-long cord is made of a braided textile fabric that is tangle-resistant and very soft. It feels luxurious for a product in this category, and comes in black, a limited-edition moss green, or dusty rose (as reviewed).
All three colors look great, and the design is pleasantly understated so as to avoid calling unnecessary attention to the earphones when you’re wearing them on the streets. The non-black models succeed in adding just a touch of color and elegance without being over the top, something that is surprisingly difficult to find in the world of earphones. And the black ones are, well… black.
Personally, I’m a big fan of black, but since this was a review unit and beggars can’t be choosers, I was happy to test the dusty rose version instead. See? It doesn’t even sound like pink when you say it like that.
Despite the sort-of, kind-of pinkness of them, I do have to say these are quickly growing on me, and I appreciate the added splash of color rescuing me from the dullness of monochromatic tech choices. They look genuinely good, to the point where I’m actually wondering if these are the ones I should buy, after all. We’ll see.
The three-button inline remote with microphone is sleek and provides full functionality when paired to an iOS device. You can answer and terminate calls, as well as control media playback and volume. The B&O logo is located on the back of the remote, which contributes to the overall discreet look. Unfortunately, the buttons in the remote are not very clicky, nor are they sufficiently marked, so it’s not always easy to tell them apart by tactile feedback alone. This becomes less of a problem as muscle memory kicks in, but in the early days, it’s a bit of an issue.
Make that quirk number two.
The earpieces themselves are made of textured rubber and polymer, which is a fancy way of saying plastic. They feel great to the touch, with none of the coldness metal sometimes has. Although, each earpiece still has a color-matched aluminum plate with the B&O logo on the back. They’re pretty durable, too: B&O says they’re sweat and moisture resistant, although you still need to use the proper Comply foam tips for the sealing to work.
As far as status indicators go, the left earpiece has a small LED that lights up in white to indicate pairing mode, and when the earphones enter standby mode prior to shutting down. The same LED also lights up in red to indicate battery has dropped below 10%, and it flickers in red when battery is under 1%. Besides those visual cues, there’s also an audio cue when you turn the earphones on, in case you’re already wearing them and can’t see the light.
Comfort and Fit
Comfort is a critical aspect when choosing earphones, and this is where the Beoplay H5 will either make it or break it for most of you. To be fair, B&O did a reasonable job of including different sizes of tips in order to find the right fit for most people, but for whatever reason, none of those worked for me.
The problem I have with the included tips is that they are too short, meaning I have to push the earpieces deep into my ear canal to create a proper seal. This makes the earpiece itself push against my ear, causing discomfort — and in some cases, even pain — after just a short while. My guess is this issue could have been mitigated by going with slightly longer tips, a slightly narrower earpiece design, or a subtle combination of both.
For what it’s worth, I had three more people use the H5 for a few hours and none of them seemed to experience any discomfort. I guess I must have weirdly shaped listening organs on my fleshy human head.
Nevertheless, I’m calling this quirk number three.
Luckily, I read from a few fellow reviewers that Comply Isolation Plus foam tips improve comfort dramatically, and I’m happy to agree. I purchased a set of these tips and, while I still wouldn’t call the H5 super comfortable, I can now at least use them normally without wanting to tear my own ears off. Just make sure you select the correct core size (TX-200) for the H5.
I realize spending even more money on additional tips just to make the earphones fit is far from ideal, but keep in mind that Comply tips wear out with use, so you would need to buy replacement tips sooner or later anyway.
Then there’s the matter of exercise. If I had comfort issues while using the Beoplay H5 normally, exercising with them was even more challenging, not only because they weren’t comfortable, but because they kept falling off. At only 18g, the H5 are by no means heavy, but they are heavy enough that they slowly pull out of your ears when running. As a result, I have to constantly push them back in. That’s annoying when you’re supposed to be focusing on your run.
B&O advertises the H5 as suitable for sports — in my own experience, that just wasn’t the case. They may be fine for a weight-lifting workout at the gym, but running with them was a no-go. I only managed to make the H5 stay put during a 30-minute run by switching to the Comply Isolation Plus tips and using the largest size available, and even then it wasn’t what I would consider a secure fit. Again, this was only my own experience with them, so of course your mileage may vary.
For me though, that’s quirk number four.
Bluetooth earphones pose an interesting design challenge: they should be small and light, but they also need batteries in order to work. So far, companies have tried to find the right balance in two different ways: putting the battery into the inline remote, like the Jaybird Freedoms, or into the earpieces, like the Bose SoundSport Wireless.
Neither approach is without compromise — the Freedoms have a comparatively bulky remote that tugs at the cable when moving and provides only decent battery life, while the SoundSport have really big and ugly earpieces compared to most other earphones out there.
For the H5, B&O went with the second approach, but only up to a point. Each earpiece holds a tiny 50mAh Lithium-Ion battery that manages to keep the earpieces small and nimble enough while lasting for up to 5 hours at moderate volume. I don’t typically listen to music at loud volume and I did manage to get those 5 hours out of the H5, so this seems like an acceptable compromise in my book.
I would love to see some sort of add-on power pack, like the one the Jaybird Freedoms use to provide an extra boost when needed, or the clever charging case the upcoming Apple AirPods will use. However, five hours is about par for the course for the market these days, and my guess is this will be long enough to last a full day of casual use for most people (working out, commuting, and the like).
Allow me to put it simply: the Beoplay H5 are the best-sounding earphones I’ve ever used. There.
Now, I’m by no means an audiophile, so my appreciation of these may not be exactly academic. But when I tell you that the H5’s sound is good enough to outweigh their quirks, I mean it. These are some really nice sounding earphones. Native support for aptX and AAC codecs over Bluetooth means we’re no longer compromising on sound quality when choosing to go wireless, and B&O decided to leverage that support to create something special here.
Bass is pleasant and balanced — not faint by any means, but also not overpowering like on many modern headphones. Treble is quick and agile, with fine details coming through with pristine quality. And the mid-range is, to my untrained ears, extremely detailed for earbuds in this price range. Best of all, distortion is not a problem, even at loud volumes.
For reference, I’ve compared these to a pair of $25 in-ear Sony earbuds, and it’s night and day. If you’re coming from a pair of standard Apple EarPods, you’re in for a treat. The Beoplay H5 even manage to give my Bose AE2i over-the-ear headphones a run for their money — the Bose are better, but not by much. That’s impressive.
Keep in mind that your choice of tip significantly affects sound quality. The silicone tips provide great isolation and sound quality, but cable noise is definitely audible. On the other hand, the included Comply Sport tips are more breathable and, as a result, don’t isolate nearly as well. The advantage is cable noise is also significantly reduced. If you’re after the best sound quality, stick with the silicone tips despite the occasional cable bump. Finally, the Comply Isolation Plus tips I recommend using with the H5 offer the best of both worlds: they isolate sound really well, while still letting the ear breathe and keeping cable noise bearable.
Of course, as good as they are, the Beoplay H5 don’t quite manage to trump physics — or rather, acoustics. The earbud format has its limitations: sound stage is not very spacious, and separation could be better. Many over-the-ear headphones will perform significantly better for the price, but that’s just the nature of the animal. At the end of the day, the Beoplay H5 are earbuds, and they do sound like earbuds.
Just really, really nice earbuds.
The Beoplay App
The Beoplay H5 have another ace up their sleeve: a companion mobile app that allows you to customize their sound profile to your particular taste. It’s a really clever solution and, for the most part, the implementation is great.
Once connected to the app, you can customize the look to match your device and color, and from then on you can control media playback with the included options, as well as modify the sound profile of the H5. In order to keep this feature accessible, the app uses a custom interface called TouchTone.
By dragging a pointer around a four-quadrant grid, you get to alter the way the Beoplay H5 sound. Each quadrant is labeled with a different sound profile: Warm, Bright, Excited, and Relaxed. The further away from the center you go, the more you’ll be emphasizing one profile over another. Simple. You can also pinch to modify the size of the sound stage, but in my experience this didn’t really achieve the desired effect.
The app comes with built-in B&O-curated profiles for several common activities — Commute, Clear, Workout, and Podcast — but you can also save your own. Best of all, the selected profile remains active in the H5 even if you pair them to a different device, like your Mac, for example.
All in all, TouchTone is a very intuitive interface and it allows all consumers to find the right setting for them with ease, regardless of their audio expertise. It is a surprisingly great interaction model and I’m glad it’s there.
If you’re in the market for wireless earphones, everything I’ve written about so far should be enough for the H5 to be a serious contender. However, it’s in the little details where B&O usually manages to elevate the user experience above what other brands offer. The Beoplay H5 are no exception.
There’s no shortage of delightful details in the H5, including the way their firmware updates automatically over the air when you first launch the Beoplay app. I’m pretty sure this was the first time I’ve ever reacted positively to a firmware update.
Speaking of software, another nice touch is that the H5’s battery life is displayed on the iOS Today view on the lock screen, as well as on the iOS status bar next to the Bluetooth symbol. This kind of integration with the operating system makes it really easy to keep track of how much juice you have left before you need to recharge the earphones.
The magnetic charger is also a really clever touch — watching the earpieces pop into the charging cube every day is a nice reminder that the H5 are a thoughtfully designed product.
But clearly the most delightful touch of all is the way the H5’s earpieces attach to each other when you’re not using them: simply let them fall around your neck, bring the two earpieces close, and you have an instant necklace. Best of all, the earphones automatically power themselves down when the magnets attach in order to save battery. I keep coming back to the word clever, but that’s only because it perfectly describes these little touches.
In stark opposition to the delightful design touches the H5 bring to the table are their many quirks, chief among which is fit. These are particularly finicky earphones to wear, and I for one had a tough time finding a way to make them actually usable. You may not face any of the issues I encountered, but be aware of the possibility going in — you’ll likely be able to make them fit your ears, but it can take some trial and error.
A second quirk I endured daily was the H5’s tendency to fall out of my ears while exercising. Had B&O included some stabilizing fins in the box, this probably would have been a non-issue. But not only are the fins not included in the box, they do not exist, period. Considering the amount of people I’ve seen complaining about the H5’s poor fit — especially during workouts — this really feels like an accessory B&O should make.
The lack of a complete charging solution is also unfortunate. No matter how you slice it, a $250 product should be usable without requiring any additional purchases, or without having to borrow another device’s power adapter. Skimping on those accessories feels cheap, and that’s the opposite of what the H5 should feel like.
Then there’s the remote, which lacks the proper tactile feedback and can be confusing to use sometimes, especially when performing complex operations like going back a few tracks. Hitting the right series of three-clicks consistently is pretty difficult, and I often found myself accidentally pausing my music, or advancing to the next track instead.
None of these may be deal breakers for you, and the H5’s exceptional sound quality certainly makes putting up with them a bit easier. However, there’s no denying these quirks do detract a bit from what is otherwise a phenomenal product.
Value and Alternatives
We’ve already seen what the Beoplay H5 bring to the table in terms of design, audio quality, battery life, and so on. Now, here’s the crux of the matter: are the H5’s strengths enough to overcome their quirks?
If you’re a person with a low tolerance for quirks, I’m inclined to say no. If you’re looking for a no-fuss solution and/or need a pair of dedicated sports earphones, then I’d encourage you to look elsewhere. Both the Jaybird Freedom and the Bose SoundSport Wireless are terrific earphones, sound great, and are cheaper to boot.
However, if you appreciate good audio and clever design, you’ll be hard pressed to find a pair of earphones that sound this good and look this good. And if you’re lucky and your ears play nice with them out of the box, you just may have found yourself the perfect set of earphones. Seriously, they’re that good.
Me, I find myself halfway between both groups. I do care enough about sound quality and design to want the H5, despite their quirks. I just don’t know that I’m willing to pay $250 for this particular set of tradeoffs. I’m getting closer every day, and if B&O were to release a slightly improved version of the H5, or if they simply added some stabilizing fins as an option, I would be all over them in no time. As things stand today, though, I find myself still on the fence.
As many iconic people in history have shown, genius is almost always in the company of quirks. Sometimes it can be hard to look past those quirks. At the end of the day though, what matters is the work those people did and their contributions to society.
I’m glad I gave the Beoplay H5 a fair shot despite their quirky nature, because they really are terrific earphones. Their sound is rich and clean, they look fantastic, and they’re full of delightful little touches that make owning them a joy. If you can make them fit your ears, they are some of the best wireless earphones money can buy.
That, however, turns out to be a pretty big if.