When it comes to earphones, most of us tend to stick to the pair we receive in the box alongside our smartphones and don’t venture much further from the default. You wouldn’t then expect that a set of earphones could be considered high-end, but that’s exactly what Bang & Olufsen have created in the form of the BeoPlay H5.
The H5 represents the company’s first set of wireless earphones. With Apple rumoured to be dropping the 3.5mm audio jack on the upcoming iPhone 7, there’s no doubt a push towards wireless audio, especially when it comes to Bluetooth earphones, and we’ll see quite a lot more releases in the upcoming months. While the progression to wireless may be well on its way, many still wonder whether high-end earphones are something to take notice of as well, given the obvious price tag. I had the privilege of enjoying the H5 for a period of two weeks hoping to answer that exact question.
Build and Design
Any premium product needs a premium design and build, and the BeoPlay H5 is no different. The earphones feature a mix of aluminium, rubber, and even fabric. Unlike many of the other wireless earphones, the H5 doesn’t have the neck brace, necklace or any other form of centre piece many companies claim are for balance or support, but instead of the main electronics reside, the H5 is without such ailments. Instead, all the tech needed to power the device is built, and fitted into the two earpieces of the H5. And that’s pretty impressive in its own right. Even more so when you consider that the earpieces don’t feel abnormally heavier either, weighing just 18g. B&O have also included quite a number of different earbuds to choose from, both different sizes and different materials. Choosing the correct buds are important, especially if you’re out on a run and don’t want the earphones falling out.
The earbuds are fitted with magnets allowing them to be held together when not in use. When powered on, bringing the two earbuds together will pause the current playback, and leaving them in that position for a few minutes will turn the earphones off. The opposite is not the case, presumably as a safety measure, since it would be easy enough to disconnect, and hence won’t automatically turn on. The H5 comes with its own charging dock, which plugs into any USB socket. The earbuds are placed within two holders on either side of the dock, and kept in place, once again, by means of the magnets, which it also uses to charge. The indicator light will turn on to indicate a successful docking, and green once fully charged. It is suggested that you carry the dock with you at all times when required to use the H5, but I’ll get into those discussions in the performance section below.
The BeoPlay H5 is an extremely comfortable and lightweight device, also there are times when the snug fit of the earbuds start to annoy your ears, not because of overheating or sweat (as the housing is made from moisture-resistant materials), but rather due to continuous use of more than 3 or 4 hours. One of the only disappointing aspects about the design of the H5 is the poor control box. While it may resemble the standard smartphone earphones, up and down for volume, and the middle button to pause/play. The button grooves are far too flush, making it quite difficult to know which button is being pressed, while the box is also far too high on the braided cable to be easy to use. I’d instead suggest controlling all functions such as volume and playback on your smartphone or PC.
Audio Quality and Performance
The BeoPlay H5 sports two 6.4mm, electro-dynamic drivers. The drivers provide great default sound quality, and are, quite easily, a lot clearer at higher volumes than all other earphones I’ve used previously. While I wasn’t able to turn up the volume to its max levels, for obvious reasons, they were fairly loud, more so than I was willing to experiment with. Bang & Olufsen claim that the H5 will deliver their signature sound, but, having already tested the BeoPlay H6, A2, and BeoLit 15, the H5 doesn’t come anywhere near the same level of quality. For the most part, though, the H5 produces good quality sound, with clear, balanced audio through the highs and lows, although not quite as perfect in the mid-range. Users will be able to adjust the balance using the BeoPlay App (Android, iOS), but it still doesn’t quite strike the perfect chord in the mid-range. As with all other B&O products, there’s no denying the bass. And this is, more than any other aspect of the H5, is where they stand out from the generic earphones. I always find myself listening to a lot more hip-hop and electroclash music, not because they typically fall within my style of music, but rather just to capture the true bass levels enjoyed by B&O audio devices.
In addition to choosing the right pair of earbuds for your ears, it’s still a matter of finding the perfect position in-ear to get the optimum sound, which always takes a few attempts before hitting that sweet spot. While this is a general consensus across most earphones, I would have expected a high-end pair would find a method of resolving this to some extent. The H5 is a wireless-only pair of earphones, which uses Bluetooth 4.2 to connect, with support for aptX, aptX-LL and AAC codecs. In short, aptX provides high-performance stereo audio via Bluetooth connection, where aptX-LL, or aptX Low Latency, provides an additional audio-video synchronisation. AptX-LL is claimed to offer latency as low as 32ms, and if those numbers don’t make any sense to you, your standard HD TV has an audio-video sync of roughly 40ms. You’ll most likely never pick up any latency then in that regard.
The BeoPlay H5 is fitted with two 50mAh batteries in each earbud, which provides a total of 100mAh, which is rather minute by today’s standards. Still, the unit is able to eke out around 3 hours of continuous playback before needing a recharge. Unfortunately, if you’re one for listen to music or being connected throughout the workday, you will have to charge at least twice during your standard shift. And given the wireless-only connectivity, it may be quite annoying not being able to use the device while being charged. Using the dock as a charging port presents an additional annoyance in the fact that it isn’t very ubiquitous. B&O do provide you with a small carry bag within the contents to transport your earphones and dock where need be, although that’s very little consolation.
B&O products are always a cut above the majority of brands, and that’s undeniable. The debate does arise, however, when we compare the price vs. how much better the audio quality is, along with the features and build quality. With the B&O BeoPlay H5 carrying an RRP of R4,799 it’s not just a matter of being twice assured, but rather thrice or even four times. The H5 has a very good build and design; matchless amongst other earphones. The magnetic earbuds and lightweight, 18g design are features every other pair should aim to replicate. And while the sounds quality is excellent in its own right, it isn’t sufficiently superior to consider the price tag, especially when compared to the R300-R500 for the above-average pair of earphones.