Surface Headphones 2: First impressions with Microsoft's Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose 700 competitors
The Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 has been tough to get hold of in many markets since its launch in May. Anecdotally, our order did not arrive until the middle of July despite having ordered a pair in late May. Nonetheless, our first impressions with Microsoft's latest over-ear headphones have been positive.
Microsoft sells the Surface Headphones 2 in two colours, with the Light Grey for original model returning. The Surface Headphones 2 also come in Matte Black, which is the version we purchased. The Surface Headphones 2 retail for £239.99 in the UK, US$249.99 in the US and €279.99 in the Eurozone. At these prices, Microsoft has not only undercut the original Surface Headphones, but also competitors like the Bose 700 and the Sony WH-1000XM3. The latter will soon be replaced by the WH-1000XM4, although we are now unsure when Sony plans to release the headphones.
Design & Fit - Well-built and exceedingly comfortable
Our unit is impeccably constructed and has no defects or processing issues. The headphones come in a rather large carry case, which contains a USB Type-A to Type-C cable and a 3.5 mm jack cable. The headphones itself weigh 290.3 g and measure 204 x 195 x 48 mm.
Microsoft does not state from what the Surface Headphones 2 is constructed, but the chassis feels like a mixture between plastic and aluminium. From what we can tell, the headband and ear cups are made from aluminium, while the headband casing is made from plastic. There is also a rubber or silicone headband cushion and leather or leatherette ear pads. Everything feels solid yet lightweight, which is a pleasant change from the mostly plastic build of the Sony WH-1000XM2 that we been using for over 18 months.
The Surface Headphones 2 also fit well. We have no complaints about clamping force and the ear cups sit comfortably around our ears.
Controls & Software - Intuitive and extensive
The pair of rotating dials from the Surface Headphones return for the new model. The dial on the right ear cup controls volume, while the left ear controls active noise cancellation. These cannot be switched or disabled. Touch controls can be disabled though should you not wish to change tracks or control playback using the headphones.
All control methods have worked perfectly well so far. In our opinion, the rotating dials are more intuitive than physical buttons or the touchpad that Sony embeds on its WH-1000XM series headphones.
The Surface Headphones 2 is compatible with Android, iOS, Windows 10 and Mac OS. The headphones pair as any Bluetooth device does, and you can pair a new device while connected to another. You can customise the headphones through the Surface Audio app, although there is a second app for Windows 10 called Surface Headphones.
The Surface Audio and Surface Headphones apps provide identical functionality, so we cannot understand why they are both available on the Microsoft Store. The Surface Headphones app is also compatible with mobile devices which may explain why it can still be downloaded from the Microsoft Store, but it seems redundant and confusing to have two apps that serve the same purposes.
Our unit connects instantly to paired devices and lists the ones to which it is connected. The headphones also let you the remaining battery life, which is handy. Additionally, the headphones will automatically pause whatever is playing when you remove it from your head; the opposite then happens when you put the headphones back on.
Sound Quality & Battery Life - aptX, multi-device connection and around 18 hours battery life
Microsoft has equipped the Surface Headphones 2 with two 40 mm "Free Edge" drivers, which have a frequency response of 20-20 kHz. According to Microsoft, the headphones offer up to 30 dB active noise cancellation and 40 dB passive noise cancellation. In our experience, the Surface Headphones 2 offer decent noise cancellation, although it is not quite up to Sony's standards. Nonetheless, it is still good enough to drown out most noises when listening to music or watching videos.
The Surface Headphones 2 have five audio presets and a five-band equaliser for creating custom ones. Sound quality is inherently subjective, but the Surface Headphones 2 benefits from more treble and a touch more low-end than Microsoft offers on the default "Flat" preset. Any custom presets are also transferred with the headphones, meaning you do not need to set custom presets for every device to which you have the Surface Headphones 2 paired. Overall, the Surface Headphones 2 sound punchy and warm and offer comparable audio quality to the Sony WH-1000XM2 over Bluetooth.
The Surface Headphones 2 also supports aptX, which is an improvement over the SBC that the original Surface Headphones offered. Bluetooth latency is acceptable in our opinion, although Microsoft does not specify any latency figures. The Surface Headphones 2 support up to Bluetooth 4.2, for reference. Additionally, the Surface Headphones 2 can remain connected to two devices simultaneously. We have been able to switch between devices seamlessly.
Microsoft also claims the Surface Headphones 2 should last up to 20 hours with music playback over Bluetooth and ANC on. We have been getting around 16-18 hours from our unit, which corresponds to around 2.5 working day's of use before we need to recharge the headphones. Fully recharging the headphones takes around 2 hours and 5 minutes for an hour's playback.
First Impressions - Do not wait for the Sony WH-1000XM4
We have been pleasantly surprised by the Surface Headphones 2. Microsoft has made plenty of improvements from the original model while also significantly dropping the price.
From our initial impressions, Microsoft has created a pair of premium over-ear headphones that are simultaneously feature-packed and great value for money. Our unit is well-built, sounds great and offers greater functionality than other similarly-priced ANC headphones.
In our opinion, we would consider purchasing the Surface Headphones 2 instead of waiting for Sony to release the WH-1000XM4. The Surface Headphones 2 offer more functionality than the WH-1000XM3 too with multi-device connectivity and auto play/pause functionality.