Bang & Olufsen's Beoplay H4s are the good kind of compromise. You're paying around half of what you'd expect to drop on of Bang & Olufsen's pricier pairs but without sacrificing too much.
What Are They?
The Beoplay H4s are Danish luxury audio manufacturer Bang & Olufsen's new entry-level pair of over-the-ear wireless headphones. Of course, since it is Bang & Olufsen, entry-level doesn't mean cheap: you're still looking at an RRP of $399, which is as much as high-end cans from some other brands. But in addition to price, the Bang & Olufsen brand also comes with the promise of unique aesthetic and great sound quality. Fortunately, the H4s live up to this promise.
First things first, the H4s sound great. They're a little bassier than the vast majority of Bang & Olufsen headphones I've tested - such as the H5s and H9s - but still offer a nice sizzle in the mids and highs. All in all, it's quite a detailed and balanced sound profile that's a good compromise between studio headphones and a more bass-driven set of Beats, for example.
I found the extra emphasis on the low-end most noticeable when it came to percussive elements, especially kick drum. This helped even the densest of tracks - such as Mastodon's "Scorpion Breath" - maintain a clear driving rhythm section without overwhelming the vocals or lead guitar. The same can be said for Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here", where the H4s bring every element to life, from the crackling static in the intro to the bending high-end synths throughout.
Bass-driven tunes get an extra punch from the H4s; Chance The Rapper's "All Night" almost sounds like you're standing right next to a subwoofer, but in a good way. You can genuinely feel the music, but not at the expense of the soaring horns or swirling synths.
In terms of sound quality, the one thing I'd ding the H4s is that actual basslines can occasionally play second fiddle to pounding kick drums, and can get a little lost in the mix. For example, the bassline on Run The Jewels' "Thieves!" didn't have the same visceral edge it had on the H9s, despite a little more oomph in the percussion.
Bang & Olufsen's companion app also lets you tweak the H4s' sound to your preference, but I found the out of the box sound to work the best for my ears.
Despite the somewhat more affordable price-tag, Bang & Olfusen has still used the same high-end materials its known for when designing the H4s. These include lambskin, memory foam pads, and aluminium "extenders". While I'd call the H9s my favourite pair of headphones from a design perspective, the H4s do have a nice minimalist charm to them.
In terms of fit, the H4s are very light for a pair of over-ear headphones. When combined with a design that feels secure without being too tight, the H4s are easy to wear for extended periods of time.
The H4s' battery life is rated just under 20 hours, which seems reasonably accurate from my usage, and on par with other devices in the category. They recharge over micro USB, and ship with a 3.5mm that you can use if they go flat.
What's Not So Good?
The biggest issue with the H4s is a quirky power button. In addition to turning the headphones on and off, it can be used to bring up Google Now and Siri. To turn the pair off, you need to hold power for about five seconds, but I found that half the time it would bring up a voice assistant instead. The power button and volume controls also aren't quite as clicky as I'd like; they feel quite shallow, which is a small betrayal of the H4s' otherwise premium design.
My only other real complaints about the H4s are omissions. You don't get a carry case or sleeve in the box, and there's no active noise-cancelling. While the plush cans do a good job of blocking out a nice chunk of noise anyway, $399 is the kind of price-point where you start to see noise-cancelling popping up in other premium alternatives.
Who Are They For?
Bang & Olfusen's Beoplay H4s are the good kind of compromise. They offer a lot of what you'd get from a more expensive pair, and the things you miss out on are mostly just nice-to-have extras. The lack of noise-cancelling could be a deal breaker for some, but if you're after a high-end high-quality pair of headphones without breaking the bank, the H4s are easy to recommend.
What Else Can I Buy?
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H6 (Second Generation)
If you want to go the next step-up in Bang & Olufsen's headphone family. Beoplay H6s are a good bet. They offer slightly higher end sound, more premium design, and retail for $499. While they're $100 more than the H4s, you do miss out on wireless functionality.
If noise-cancellation is the main reason you're after a pair of high-end headphones, the Bose QC35s are hard to pass up. The might not be quite as plush as the H4s, but they're the best option if you've got the need for silence. The fit is a little tighter, but the QC35s are still a great all-round pair of noise-cancelling cans in terms of both comfort and sound.
Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2
Plantronics' BackBeat Pro 2 is a full-size pair of over-ear noise-cancelling headphones that retails for just $300. Despite undercutting the competition, the Pro 2s' noise-cancellation is still effective, battery life is strong, and sound is well balanced. The only real issue with them is that they're a bit heavier than most other noise-cancelling ans.