MICROSOFT’S NEW ‘SURFACE HEADPHONE 2’
“Surface Headphone 2” Overview:
Microsoft achieved something very impressive with the original “Surface Headphones” and claims the same in it’s “Surface Headphone 2”: the company was able to leapfrog veterans of the noise-canceling headphone market (like Bose and Sony) with an ingenious method for controlling them. With a twist of the smooth-turning dial on either ear cup, you could adjust volume and the level of active noise cancellation. It felt instantly intuitive and so satisfying one of those things that left you wondering how no one else had seized on the idea sooner. But the Surface Headphones fell short when it came to battery life and sound quality. And Microsoft tried to sell them for the same price as the top models from Bose and Sony, which was unwise for a brand-new product that hadn’t garnered the reputation of its competitors.
“Surface Headphone 2” Launch Date:
At its Surface event, Microsoft announced that the Surface Headphones 2 will go on sale in the US and UK on May 12.
“Surface Headphone 2” Design:
The Surface Headphones 2 retains the understated design of their predecessors. Except for a glossy Windows logo on each side of the headband, there’s no branding to be found. The matte black model is very classy albeit less recognizable than the light gray color, which remains available and I’m pleased to report that it avoids collecting fingerprints unless you’re handling the headphones with greasy fingers.
Microsoft made one welcome change to the ear cups: they now rotate 180 degrees, so the Surface Headphones 2 can rest comfortably against your body when wrapped around your neck. The headphones don’t fold, unfortunately, and the carrying case eats up a good amount of room in a backpack.
Everything else feels very familiar. Except for the dials along the perimeter, the entire surface area of either ear cup can be tapped to pause or play music, skip tracks, and answer calls. In leaving volume and noise cancellation to the dials and separating them from the touch controls, Microsoft makes everything feel more focused and easy to remember. The only physical buttons on the headphones are for the power you hold this down to pair new devices and a mute button. The latter is rare for headphones nowadays, but I’ve come to appreciate it in this new reality of constant video calls. There’s also a 3.5mm jack at the bottom of the right ear cup if you want to plugin. (The dial controls will still work over a wired connection as long as there’s remaining juice in the battery, but the tap gestures and mute button are disabled.)
“Surface Headphone 2” Features:
There’s a mute button on these headphones, which you don’t see every day.
On your head, the Surface Headphones 2 are pleasantly cozy, thanks to their spongy, big ear pads. The one area where I think Microsoft still needs improvement is the headband. My ears never felt fatigued from wearing the Surface Headphone 2 for extended periods, though they can get sweaty if I’m outside. The only discomfort came at the top of my head after an hour or two of wearing them, so the headband could use some more cushioning. For now, Microsoft still trails Bose and Sony in overall comfort, but not to a dire extent.
Microsoft has also stated that it has improved sound quality, we assume through the upgrade to “Bluetooth 5” from “Bluetooth 4.2″. Noise cancellation can be changed via three levels, Microsoft’s noise-canceling isn’t quite as effective as what Bose or Sony can achieve, but the Surface Headphones 2 are perfectly capable of quieting the types of ambient noise and constant hums that can grow irksome when you’re trying to focus. I do struggle to understand why anyone would need 13 levels of noise cancellation to switch between, though. Surely something like five would have sufficed. But if you’re super particular about balancing your music with the outside world, there’s no getting more granular than this. And the transition from full-power noise cancellation to off mode (where the outside sound gets amplified) only takes a single turn of the dial, so it all feels very efficient.
Microsoft claims it has boosted “Battery Life” from 15 hours to 20 hours with ANC (Ambient Noise Control) enabled. That’s at par with the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700 but well under Sony’s 30 hours. Still, 20 hours means you’ll likely only have to charge these once maybe twice if you’re using them constantly each week with the included USB-C cable. When you power the headphones on, a voice tells you how many hours of battery life are remaining, which is more helpful than hearing a random battery percentage.
Microsoft’s pricing of the Headphones 2 is a drop-down from the original. The “Surface Headphones” had a price of $349.99, the “Surface Headphones 2” only cost $249. A UK price has been announced and it puts them at £239.99, which is right in the middle of our expectations.