Pros: Warm, pleasant sound, open natural soundstage, fine metal finishing
Cons: Poor quality cable, lacks some definition, relatively pricey
This written review was essentially my script for the following video review, so the information contained in both is more or less identical. If you want a closer look at the H3, watch the video review! :)
The H3 was something of an aspirational purchase for me, as ever since I began getting interested in audio I was always fascinated by Bang and Olufsen’s fantastic speaker and telephone designs. In recent years Bang and Olufsen have been releasing products targeted at a younger market under the ‘Beoplay’ name, and the H3 is the company’s first in-ear earphone in this range. It has a recommended retail price of $299 Australian or $249 American dollars, which actually seems faintly reasonable for a company that makes $50,000 dollar televisions.
BUILD QUALITY / DESIGN
One of Bang and Olufsen’s signatures is precision metal crafting, and the earpieces of the H3 show this off in style. They look and feel beautiful , with these tiny pin-prick vent holes and detailing which is pretty exquisite. One disappointment though is that the driver capsule appears to be made out of 3 different parts, most of them plastic - B&O didn't craft the nozzle out of a single piece of metal like some other premium earphones (EX1000, Westone ADV Alpha) or even some cheaper earphones (HiFiMan RE-400, JVC FXD-80, Yamaha EPH-100), and as a result this part of the earphone feels less durable and less fancy.
The cable on the H3 is not detachable and comes with a simple 3 button remote for Apple devices. The cable itself is also a bit of a disappointment. It’s a bit thin and not very supple, meaning that it tends to retain memory and develop ugly kinks, especially when you use the nice cable winder case that Bang & Olufsen provides. There are no strain reliefs at all on the Y-splitter, which is worrying, and the straight angle jack on the other end feels a little insubstantial.
Overall build quality is okay but you would expect better given the brand and the price. One thing to note is that Bang and Olufsen offer a 3 year warranty on the H3, and given that they have retail stores in some major cities around the world, getting good after sales service from B&O would probably be easier than most other brands.
The H3 has a traditional design that can only be worn down. This means cable noise is a minor problem, but not too bad. The H3 is relatively comfortable, but the curved part of the earpieces does sit in the outer ear so depending on your ear shape they may not sit right. With this many vents on the back, you would expect external noise isolation on the H3 to be quite poor - and it is. Forget about using the H3 on a bus or a train, these earphones are made for quiet environments.
The one word that describes the sound of the H3 is: natural. The H3 has quite an inoffensive sound, which is slightly warmer than neutral and quite a substantial bass response. It’s balanced and clearly Bang and Olufsen have done their homework with the tuning, because the H3 just sounds pleasant, if a little unexciting. One really nice aspect of the H3 is that they have quite a natural, open soundstage, which is probably due to the extensive venting. They aren’t as open as something like the EX1000 but they strike a nice balance and have more bass than the Sony ear hanger designs, if that’s what you are after.
I have two issues with the sound of the H3 - one is that at times, the treble can get a little sibilant. This sibilance is quite minor though and it can be tamed by replacing the stock H3 tips with Sony Hybrids with a smaller nozzle aperture. The hybrid silicone is also a little more comfortable than the stock tips B&O provides.
The other issue with the H3's sound is that at times the bass can sound a little blunted and uncontrolled, again probably due to the venting. This isn’t to say that it sounds bloated, but at this price point or even cheaper I have heard tighter and more controlled bass.
The closest earphone i can compare the H3 to is the HiFiMan RE-400, which is also a very neutral earphone that I recommend strongly for $99. The H3 and the RE-400 actually sound very similar, though the H3 has a bit more bass, a bit more sibilance, and a much more open soundstage. At the same time though, the RE-400 sounds a fair bit more cleaner and tighter, especially in the bass.
Now I think the RE-400 is a fantastic earphone and probably underpriced for $99, and that’s why I recommend it so much. In contrast, I think the H3 is a little overpriced for what you get. It’s not a bad sounding earphone, and it’s one of those earphones where I’d be very happy to listen to it for hours without noticing its deficiencies, until I put it up alongside something else and then feel a little disappointed.
I can’t really recommend the H3, both because I think the price could be lower, the build quality could be higher, and it’s not an earphone that is tremendously practical to use because of the lack of noise isolation. That said though, I don’t think it’s a terrible earphone and if you want something with some gorgeous metal finishing and a natural, easy to live with sound, you could do a lot worse than the H3.