Now that Microsoft is entering the hardware market in a big way, it only made sense for them to come out with a highly technical set of over-ear active noise-canceling headphones.
Microsoft is of course the computer giant better known for its operating software than its headphones.
Microsoft has previously attempted to enter the hardware space with limited success (Remember Nokia).
So how do they fare? Surprisingly pretty well. Now to be perfectly honest these headphones form part of the surface suite of products, which include laptops and other related products.
There are a few teething issues that Microsoft need to focus on though, and if they do, I believe in time, Microsoft will be a real contender in the wireless noise-canceling headphone space.
When I saw them for the first time, I found them to be very appealing with the light Grey finish and sleek design. So I was glad that this was a product that I could hang right next to my Sony WH-1000XM3 and my Bose QC 35II.
You can just see that Microsoft was focusing on the tech here. Similar to Sony there are only a few physical buttons, which are tactile in nature.
The intuitive controls ensure that you can easily adjust the volume, mute your mic, or hang up a call. The headphones are designed to ensure that the audio pauses when you take them off.
With the Microsoft Surface, you can change tracks by tapping the on-ear sensors.
The headphones come with touch sensors on both ear cups. It’s nice to know that even left-handed people have been catered for in the design of these headphones(haha).
On the right earcup you will notice that the surface headphones come with a power button and a button to mute your microphone.
So something unique about these headphones is the headphone dials on either earcup. Each of the ear cups also includes a microphone so that you can hear everything around you.
The most obvious use of the dials is for the adjusting of the volume up and down.
The left earcup is, as they say where the magic happens, as this is where the ANC (active noise cancellation can be controlled), I will get to the noise cancellation of the headphones a little later, under the noise cancellation section (duh).
Charging for the Microsoft Surface provides a disappointing 15 hours of battery time.
This is very disappointing given that other headphones in this category and price range typically provide upwards of 20 hours of battery life.
I do not know why Microsoft could not get these cans to at least 20 hours and when I tried contacting them I could not get anyone who could assist me with an explanation.
What I was told is that they definitely ensure on improving these in the next addition, so we will wait and see.
Fortunately I did see if this was true and it was spot on. I spent a Saturday working with the headphones off, and did not switch off my music.
I would simply put the earphones to the side if I was tired of them. I was able to extract roughly 15 hours and 10 minutes from these headphones.
It must be noted that this is with noise cancellation and Microsoft cortana on.
As disappointing as the battery life is, there is one redeeming quality about the battery life here, which is that when you first switch on the headphones, you are alerted to the amount of listening time available and not just pure battery life, and to be honest that’s really what I want to see.
It’s better to know I have ” 8″ hours of listening time left than 67%.
The sweet spot for noise canceling headphones is around the 4-5 day mark of playback with a full charge and unfortunately the surface headphones fall short of this.
This is of course based on the assumption of a normal 8-hour day, and assuming that you use the cable when in the office and you switch off the noise cancellation when you do not need it.
Again Microsoft have disappointed as far as quick charging is concerned. While Sony gives a 5-hour quick charge, and Bose gives a 2.5-hour quick charge, Microsoft only give a 1 hour of playback time with an hour of quick charge.
I will say, I do think that these headphones have incredible sound quality. Of course, we all know that to get the right level of balanced sound with noise canceling headphones is challenging.
But Microsoft have done a pretty good job of this. The 40mm drivers deliver incredibly solid base and crisp clear sound.
I did sometimes feel however as if the artists vocals were not always as clear as I would have liked them to be, but this is by no means a deal breaker and can be improved upon in the future.
It’s just that at this premium price range, consumers will be very picky and any tinny sounds will count against you.
But then again if you are not an audiophile, you will have a lot of fun with the sound quality of these headphones.
Granted the materials are not all premium, but when you first touch these headphones, you cannot help but think that they just feel damn good and are built really well.
Microsoft decided to go with the large circular ear cups, to accommodate all types of ear sizes.
Now I prefer larger ear cups because the last thing you want on a flight is to have to keep taking off your headphones because they hurt your ear.
I would have been a bit worried that circular ear cups, could rest on your ears, but you will notice when you look at the ear cups that they are oval shaped on the inside.
Neat little trick from Microsoft.
The ear cup cushions are soft and made of memory foam with a leather like finish.
I have no idea why Microsoft decided to go for non foldable ear cups, because essentially, it forces the headphones to fit into a larger case, which is never ideal for people like myself who travel a lot.
The outside of the Light Grey headband is made of plastic and is made to fit very well. What I like is that the plastic seems to be fairly strong, and the headphones have just been well put together.
As you extend the slider you will notice that the slider is made of metal, which is good as it ensures that the headphones are strong and will not break easily when you adjust them for a perfect fit.
One drawback in my view is that the top of the headphones do not have that soft cushion like padding material, which can irritate the scalp if you are sensitive in that way.
But honestly this is by no means horrible. When you adjust the headband, you will notice a nice clicking sound which for me is very comforting to here.
This is why the headphones can accommodate large head sizes. Some people have argued that the headphones are on the large side, but never have I found them to be overbearing.
Somehow Microsoft have managed to ensure that these headphones are not going to fall off your head.
The headphones are lightweight and with spacious ear cups, allow you to be able to wear them all day.
The weight of the Microsoft surface headphones is 290 grams, which is heavier than most other headphones in this range, but they still do fit very well, I mean who’s gonna notice an extra 50g or so.
I myself am a traditionalist when it comes to headphone colors. For me the standard black, Grey/silver always does the job.
But in this competitive arena of wireless Bluetooth noise canceling headphones, manufacturers have to be able to provide diversity in a world with varying consumer preferences.
To my knowledge the Microsoft surface headphones only come in Grey.
Microsoft surface laptops have a variety of color schemes, from blue to burgundy to cobalt blue, so ideally in the future they can incorporate as a distinguishing feature of the headphones.
What’s in the box
The Microsoft surface headphones come with a 1.5m USB cord and a 1.2m audio cable with a 3.5mm Jack.
The hard shell carrying case is larger than usual, at least when compared to those of other headphones. This of course is due to the fact that Microsoft decided not to make the ear cups foldable.
So the headphones come with a simple carrying case, that is Grey to match the color of the headphones. All you have to do is turn the ear cups flat and place the headphones in the open space in the case.
One drawback of the case design for me is the fact that the headphones can move around a lot and potentially get damaged.
This is especially the case if you have packed your headphones in your luggage, sitting in the cabin.
I wish Microsoft had created some compartments to ensure that the headphones fit snug. But nonetheless, the case still does the Job.
Audio and connectivity
Cortona (Microsoft s ) virtual assistant can come to your aid when it comes to playing your favorite song, start meetings, search for web answers and so much more.
You can even rely on Cortona to set reminders when it is time to leave, attend a meeting or if you have a task to do.
Depending on the device that you are using, you can also activate google assistant or siri.
Thankfully the headphones are USB-C compatible, with the USB port located on the right ear cup next to the mute mic button.
It is always nice to see companies embracing USB-C in this day and age, as many other companies, feel that micro USB would save some cost.
The headphones are also compatible with Windows 10, iOS, Android, MacOS.
The first thing that I wanted to make sure of was whether the headphones would pair with other surface products that I own.
Thankfully I was not let down, the pairing process was smooth and simple.
This is possible through Microsoft’s technology feature called swift pair. If you do not wish to make use of the Bluetooth feature, you can make use of the included cable.
Simply insert the headphone jack right in the available slot right next to the USB C port, on the right earcup.
Pair to multiple devices
Were these headphones really stand out is the ability to pair to multiple devices. My expectation of the pairing ability of these headphones was 2, as that’s what the high end models offer.
But Microsoft decided that they would make it possible to pair to ten devices. Yeah that’s right 10 devices, absolutely incredible. So why is the ability to pair to multiple devices important ?
Well imagine you are playing music from your android (let’s say that’s where you saved your playlist), but then you suddenly get a call on your apple device.
Ordinarily you would have to switch off your headphones and answer your apple device. This can be very annoying, so the ability to pair to multiple devices affords you this ease.
The music playback buttons are simple to understand. A single tap on the sensors allows you to play and pause your music.
Double tapping of the sensors allows you to skip to the following track and a triple tap of the sensors allows you to skip back to the previous track.
Now fortunately, you do not have to remember these controls at least not initially. The people at Microsoft have ensured that they include a touch control instruction manual on the face of the travel case.
Active noise cancellation
The headphones come with fully adjustable active noise cancellation. You can tune noise cancellation levels with the touch of the on ear dial.
Turn down the on ear dial to reduce active noise cancellation. The Microsoft surface delivers up to 38 db for active noise cancellation and up to 40db for passive noise cancellation.
As mentioned previously the active noise cancellation can be controlled from the left earcup, using the dial.
Microsoft designed this to have 13 levels of noise canceling, all the way from dead quite to the ability to allow ambient noise in.
So initially when noise canceling headphones came out, they were designed to ensure that all noise is shut out and you could listen to your music or focus on a task without any disturbances.
In recent times however, makers of wireless noise canceling headphones have come to understand that sometimes you may want to hear certain sounds or talk to people briefly, such as a flight attendant.
The beauty of the dial is that it is very easy to use, and you do not have to remember a lot of settings and app functionality to get the right level of noise cancellation.
Just turn the dial until you get the level of noise cancellation that appeals to you.
So the ambient noise cancellation comes in really handy, when I cannot play my speakers at home. Sometimes when I am chilling and doing some work, I like to have some tunes playing in the background.
However, when people are sleeping, this can become a problem. So ambient noise cancellation is really useful in this instance, and I can also hear someone that calls my name or here footsteps around the house.
The Microsoft Surface headphones are priced at the upper end of the price spectrum for wireless noise canceling headphones. I think they are certainly premium and have all the bells and whistles.
I think from a performance point of view these cans are in the top 3 within this category.
The only drawback in my view would be the low battery life, but this is not a game changer in my view. I think these headphones are well priced for the performance that you get.
The dimensions of the headphones are as follows. The length of the headphones are 8.03” (204mm), the width is 7.68” (195mm) and the depth is 1.89”
I really appreciate that Microsoft have opted with tech savvy headphones that don’t rely too much on buttons and instead make use of tech to control them.
This I think is a stroke of genius, as we head to a 5G world in which everything will be connected via the internet of things.
The battery life, although not a deal breaker is a little disappointing in my view. I mean the reality here is that you are competing with the likes of Sony and Bose, who are the big daddies in this segment.
So if they are offering 20-30 hours of wireless playback you have to do a little better than 15 hours.
So, do I recommend these headphones? Overall yes, I do. This is especially so if you have a lot of Microsoft, and Microsoft surface products, as these headphones are very compatible with those.
But a word of caution, for $350*I would suggest that you shop around and make sure that you test out the top cans in this category.
I kinda recon that Microsoft should have tested these out at around $280-$300*, just below the Bose and the Sony.
The reality is that if anyone that is willing to spend that kind of money on a pair of cans is probably going to have to choose between a few quality options and the Microsoft surface headphones may not have that extra edge that allows them to be the top of that category.
Reasons to buy
Multi Point technology allows you to connect to 10 devices at a time
Multiple noise canceling settings
Adjustable active noise cancellation
On ear touch controls
Soft ear cups with a comfortable balanced fit
Audio pauses when you take them off
Microsoft Cortana voice assistant
15 hours of battery life with ANC on
1 hour of battery item with 5 minutes of quick charging