Many would argue that their price to performance ratio is pretty poor, and I don’t really have an argument against that because in some (or many) of the cases, I agree. I’m sure most people here are familiar with the concept of diminishing returns on expensive gear though...some are just more diminishing than others, and sometimes it’s all a matter of perspective.
Anyway, enough of my preamble, here today is the recently released BeoPlay H3. Along with the H6 headphones (as well as others) the H3 is part of a B&O strategy to bring their products to a wider audience. We have to remember though, unlike companies like Focal and B&W and Klipsch who have only recently started making headphones, B&O have been at it since 1970s, so they (should) know what they’re doing. At $299AUD/$249USD, they’re still not cheap. For fans of the brand, that might not be a problem. For people more discerning of their audio, that may be harder to justify as that price range (and the one below) contains many competent earphones. Mind, these aren’t marketed to audiophiles, still, I thought it would be nice to review these in the presence of my daily drivers: JVC FXT-90, FAD Heaven IV and Fischer Audio DBA-02 Mk1, just to see how they stack up.
Packaging (3.5 /5)
Not a blister pack, thank goodness. I would have walked out if they handed me a blister pack. Overall though, not bad, but nothing special for the price. Maybe they were going for Scandinavian simplicity over wow factor...
Inside, there are the earphones, silicone tips (XS, S, M (fitted), L), a nice (and weighty) case, flight adapter and quite a bit of paperwork. Oh, and lots of sticky tape. Took me about 15 minutes to figure out how to free the earphones without grabbing scissors and cutting them free.
A shirt clip would have been nice, likewise more tips of different variety.
Build Quality (3.9 /5)
The earphones themselves are exemplary. According to B&O, they’re carved from a single block of aluminum, to which they drilled, count them, 23 holes on the back for ventilation and seemingly one more earside as well. There is great attention to detail...more on that later. Whilst I don’t think this will end up in the Museum of Modern Art unlike some other B&O gear, the final product is an elegant, even if not stunning looking, but well crafted earphone.
Big problem though: STRAIN RELIEF. Why.are.there.none? There are flexible bits of rubber on both the plug end and the earphone end, but the wire aren’t attached to the rubber sleeves. The Y-split is better (?) but looks cheap, I preferred the one on the A8 earphones.
Then there is the remote on the left earphone cable. Its 3 button configuration is designed for use with iProducts. I don’t like it. Partly because I don’t use an iProduct, but mainly, it’s plasticky, scratch prone and feels cheap, a far cry from the earphones themselves. Positives? Clicks give good feedback. Manufacturers must realise, the world is not just populated with iProducts, either make 2 versions (one with and without remote), or just one universal one.
One other thing, 3 year warranty if something *natural* happens and the H3 dies.
Yeah, it doesn’t deserve a 4 here, too much inconsistency.
Comfort/Isolation/Microphonics (5/2.5/3 /5)
It’s small, and light, so I’ve not had to worry about it falling out of my ears because of the weight. Comfort is helped by the rounded design which doesn’t dig into any part of the ear. The design is also a semi in-ear type earphone, not unlike the Radius DDMs, JVC FXT90, so isolation is moderate as it doesn’t sit very deep inside the ear. Still probably be run over by a low speed Prius if not careful...
Microphonics are present, but acceptable though not helped by not really being able to be worn cable up due to the design. Well, you can, it just doesn’t look, or feel right.
Listening was done through a Fiio E10 DAC with mp3 tracks at v0, v1, or 320kbps. The H3 didn’t actually work with the E10 directly due to the extra conductor for the remote (again, ARGH remote), so I had to attach an extension 3.5mm from my q-Jays which ends in a regular 3.5mm. That worked fine.
If you read from the intro, you can probably guess where this review is heading. As I mentioned, B&O isn’t new to this. This may be their first in-ear, but their prior ear/headphones all pretty much have a similar sound signature, much like how Victor-JVC have their house sound, or Audio Technica etc. The B&O Form 2, A8 both sound, I suppose the best way to put is: inoffensive. They doesn’t do anything special, and whilst they doesn’t accentuate anything in particular, they also doesn’t suppress anything in particular. They are both quite neutral sounding. The H3 are...absolutely no different. Well, that’s technically not true, because the H3 retains the same sound signature and improves on that.
Starting from the low end, in isolation, listening to any music really, you’ll find bass that’s surprisingly well controlled, it never feels bloated or that it bleeds into the other part of the spectrum. It’s even well extended. What it isn’t, though, is it is never hard hitting. You get decent impact from things like bass drums but it never feels like it’s punching you. This point is exacerbated when listening to the FXT90 or heaven IV afterwards, which both hit a fair bit harder, and because of that, sound that bit more lively. The DBA-02 on the other hand is faster owing to the BA setup which gives it that extra snap which in addition its own well extended bass give the impression of a more punchy bass. What the H3 lacks in impact, it does make up for in intimacy and smoothness (not to be confused with smoothing out detail though, detail is still good because whilst not as fast as the BA setups, it does come very close to the FXT-90).
Moving onto the midrange continues this trend of smooth, non fatiguing sound. There’s quite a good separation and layering of individual elements. If I really had to pick something as to where the emphasis went to in the H3, it would be the mids, but not by much. Again, the others in this group I’ve chosen all have more forward sounding mids, and again because of this the others sound more lively with the DBA-02 and the FXT90. Clarity-wise, it is probably beaten by the DBA-02, but matches the FXT90 and beating out the heaven IV which due to its tuning sounds airy enough, but just a touch veiled in the mids.
So..would it surprise anyone if I said the H3 continues the same trend into the treble? Anyone? Didn’t think so. It has reasonable extension but you do hear the highs roll off a bit, but I think keeping in character with the H3, that doesn’t matter so much, it’s not vying for technical perfection. It’s not sibilant, and it does sparkle on the odd occasion, but it again just misses out on some of the energy offered by the other 3.
Presentation wise, it’s got a reasonable soundstage, less compact than the FXT90 and DBA-02, but not as spacious as the heaven IV. Whatever FAD did with the BA in that thing, they did an excellent job. Instrumental separation is good enough for orchestral music, but is bettered here by the DBA-02. Otherwise, the depth is also pretty much the average of the group, with things remaining nicely layered between elements.
Here’s one of the notes I made whilst listening to them all which I think is quite apt here: “ The most neutral sounding is the H3, doesn't have quite the speed of the the BA earphones, nor the impact of the heaven. Good subtlety, vocal a bit better clarity, seems to be very dependant on type of vocal, H3 stays pretty level, whereas others with their more shaped signatures tend to add or subtract.”
As I was reading through what I wrote above, it occurred to me that I made the H3 sound pretty ordinary. Good, but not great, but the reality is a bit different. When directly comparing them, it was easy to hear the differences. There is no doubt the H3 isn’t as technically adept than some of the others. I think I pretty much made that point at the beginning this wasn’t made for audiophiles. But what it lacks in technicality, it makes up for in musicality. Bias aside, I quite liked the sound. More so than I thought I would, coming from the excellent FXT90 being the most often used of my dailys. It’s never harsh, there’s plenty of detail to go around, and whilst I keep saying it lacks energy compared to x or y, in isolation it didn’t/doesn’t matter because over a wide range of genres, the H3 coped best by being neutral. As an example, playing a piece of classical music was excellent on the DBA-02, but throwing bassy electronic music at it, it just sounded a bit dry, lacking in warmth. That’s what I found anyway, ymmv. By extension then, the H3 should cater to the wider community beyond Head-fi quite well. Can I recommend it to this forum? I actually think it stacks up quite well against the others simply by being inoffensive to everyone, but then, this is the most expensive of the quartet I mentioned here, so from that perspective, I have to say no. Make it even 50 dollars cheaper though, and we can start talking again.