A key player in the high-end audio market, Bang and Olufsen is known for producing some of the best sounding audio equipment out there. While much of its lineup has traditionally been comprised of equipment for home audio systems, B&O has also produced several headphones, including the iconic U70 and the Form 1 & 2s. In 2000, B&O made its first foray into the earphone market with the release of the Earset 3i earbuds. However, it would only be 12 years later that B&O would make a true pair of in-ear earphones.
Enter the Beoplay H3. The H3 is part of B&O Beoplay’s (B&O subsidiary) attempt to make B&O products more accessible to the average consumer. And while the H3 carries a suggested MSRP of 259 USD, it is still much more affordable when compared to some of B&O’s astronomically priced products. However, while this may be a leap for B&O, it does put the H3 squarely into a market already filled with a great number of high performing and experienced competitors.
DISCLAIMER: This unit was provided by Karen @ B&O for the purposes of this review. We are neither affiliates nor employees of B&O. All media rights are reserved.
The H3 comes in a compact package with a minimalist feel characteristic of Scandinavian designs. As a whole, the package simply exudes quality, and it’s hard to fault what B&O has done here. The box opens from the bottom, and a red pullout “tray” contains the earphones and the rest of the accessories. A clear attention to detail is present throughout the entire package (e.g. the incredibly smart box for the airplane adapter).
My one big gripe with the H3’s packaging came in the way the earphones had been stored. Looking through the box’s back window, I had initially thought that the earphones were being held in some sort of cardboard or foam cutout. However, upon opening the package, I realized that the earphones were actually located in a plastic container covered with a sheet of black cardboard paper. This contraption is conveniently covered with tons of tape, which I attempted to tackle for well over ten minutes. In the end, I just grabbed a pair of scissors and cut the earphones loose. Why B&O would choose to use such an unintuitive means to store the earphones is beyond me.
The carrying case that is included is very nice. The outside material is leathery, and the inside is suede. The greatest thing about the case? Once you insert the earphones into the storage cavities, the cable loops perfectly so that the inline remote lines up parallel with the front side, and not at a diagonal with any of the corners. I wish that there had been some way to store the extra earbuds, but that’s just a personal preference.
The other accessories include spare tips (unfortunately no second set of medium tips), an airplane adapter, and a lot of writing in the form of various manuals, guides, etc. Overall, the H3 package is practical and highly usable, but not as comprehensive as I would have liked (missing foam eartips, clothing clip).
The H3 boasts a metal housing that is milled from a single block of aluminum. 23 precision-drilled holes are situated on the face of the housing and are necessary for the H3 to achieve its full potential as a dynamic earphone. While this does help enhance the macrodynamic quality of the earphones, it also means that sound isolation is quite compromised. In addition, the H3 is by design meant to be a pair of shallow fit earphones. In fact, in terms of fit, they felt more similar to earbuds than to other in-ear monitors. It is also interesting to note that about half the earphone is covered in a hard plastic (the side that faces your ear). However, this is a well-executed change of materials, and I found no gaps between the metal and plastic parts of the housing.
The cable is of good quality. For such a thin cable, it maintains surprisingly little memory and has acceptable levels of microphonics. However, the downfall of the good cable is the less than stellar strain relief. The housing is connected to the cable through the use of a relatively hard plastic guide, which would have worked great with a flat cable, instead of a thin, rounded one. In addition, the other strain reliefs feature an Apple-style sleeve, which in my experience hasn’t always kept earphones alive for the longest time. The split is nicely done, and looks like quite elegant. I wasn’t a huge fan of the I-plug at the end of the cable though. It is extremely thin, and is also made with a greyish brushed metal that doesn’t color coordinate with the earphones themselves.
The design philosophy of the H3 is somewhat confusing. Marketed by Beoplay as a pair of earphones that targets a younger audience living/working in urban settings, I was unsure of why B&O opted for an open back design that lets in so much environmental noise. What is undeniable though is that this is one of the best looking dynamic earphones out there. The minimalistic undertones in the H3 are fantastic, and I can safely say that it is an earphone that most will find to be quite “classy”. And while certain aspects of the H3’s build quality are less than satisfactory, B&O’s excellent customer service and generous 3-year warranty will help to significantly extend the H3’s lifespan.
My assessment of the H3’s sound quality was done in a closed environment (i.e. indoors). I found that during active use in settings like the subway, the performance of the H3 was significantly degraded (due to its open design). In addition, I should note that the leakage from the earphones is quite noticeable.
The overall SQ of the H3 could be described as being overwhelmingly pleasant and natural. Starting with the bass, there is a “big” sound that highlights the dynamic nature of the H3. Excellent impact and decent speed make for earphones that demonstrate just how great dynamic drivers can sound. It was quite refreshing to get away from the anemic bass that plagues so many single balanced armature earphones in this price range. Naturally, the H3 isn’t quite as fast as some of its BA counterparts in the bass department, but the added impact and musicality is a good trade off in my personal opinion.
The midrange of the H3 shines with its natural-sounding vocals and slight touch of warmth. Listening to Surfboard by Antonio Carlos Jobim, I truly enjoyed the wonderfully pleasant sound of the chorus. B&O really nailed it in terms of giving the H3 enough energy to ensure that it is lively enough to keep the listener engaged while managing to stop the overall experience from becoming fatiguing. However, there is a moderate amount of sibilance on some tracks, which is rather unfortunate.
The treble is relatively clear and detailed, but does not have a presence that is as well established as the bass or the mids. I felt that the H3 was just a little bit too relaxed on the higher frequencies at times. Overall soundstage is very comfortably sized and realistic (thanks to the open back design). The imaging was relatively clear but at times was held back by weaker instrument separation during busier/more congested tracks.
The H3 is a very good first entry by B&O into the word of in-ear earphones. Surprisingly, most of the issues with the H3 had to do with its packaging and build, and very little to do with the actual sound quality of the earphones. I am confident that B&O will eventually revise parts of the H3’s design, which would truly make it a lasting pair of earphones. Featuring great musicality and a wonderfully pleasant SQ, the H3 is a solid piece of B&O gear that no B&O collector should miss.
TYPE: Dynamic Driver
FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 20-16,000 Hz
IMPEDANCE: 18 Ohms
SENSITIVITY: 100 db/ 1mW at 1 kHz
WEIGHT: 12.8 grams
PRICE: 259 USD