Friday, December 6, 2019

Headphones are not something you’d normally associate with the Microsoft Surface brand – not least because they don’t run Windows.

But following the success of its Surface Pro and Surface Laptop lines in recent years, the 44-year-old tech company is branching out.

Unfortunately, the market it has picked to branch into – over-ear noise-cancelling headphones – is an extremely crowded one.

The company’s £330 Surface Headphones – available only in pale grey – go up against well-established audio brands such as Sony, Beats and Bose.

But given that this is Microsoft’s first foray into headphones, its a pretty solid start.

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The headset is big and comfortable, with a padded headband and soft plushy cups. Not the coolest, perhaps, but also not completely lacking in style.

They can be used wirelessly or plugged in via a detachable 3.5mm cable.

The outside of each cup is a rotating dial, allowing you to adjust the volume on right side and the level of active noise cancellation on the left.

Noise cancellation is exceptional – obliterating ambient noise when turned up to the max and amplifying it when turned down to zero.

This makes them ideal for air travel, allowing you to tune out the noise of the plane’s engine, listen to music, and talk to the air stewards, all without removing your headphones.

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Sound quality is decent, with powerful bass – though not as refined as some other similarly-priced options, like Sony’s 1000X M3s.

The Surface Headphones also come with useful touch controls, allowing you to tap the cup once to pause or play, tap twice to skip to the next track, or three times to go back.

They also automatically pause what you are listening to when you remove them, and restart it when you put them back on.

As well as listening to music, the Surface Headphones are designed to be used as a headset for calls, with two microphones in each ear cup for picking up the user’s voice.

If you receive a call while wearing the headphones, you can tap the cup twice to answer or do a long press to reject the call.

Being the company it is, Microsoft couldn’t resist going a step further and including support for AI voice assistants.

Microsoft would love you to use Cortana, of course – and this makes sense if you’re pairing the headphones with a Surface device – but they work equally well with Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant.

You can summon your voice assistant of choice by long pressing one of the headphone cups, and then speaking normally.

The voice assistant will reply in your ear, so there’s no need to take your phone out of your pocket or bag.

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They boast 15 hours of audio playback, and can be recharged using a USB Type C cable. Fast-charging means you can get an hour’s worth of playback in five minutes and a full charge takes less than two hours.

Overall there’s a lot to like about these headphones. They’re comfortable, multi-function, and the controls are very intuitive – plus noise cancellation is great.

But Microsoft has been over-ambitious with its pricing.

Given the wide range headphones in this bracket, available in diverse styles from companies with rich heritages of delivering superior audio products, Microsoft’s first Surface offering will struggle to make waves.

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