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Microsoft Floor Headphones 2 assessment: now a competitor

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2

“The Surface Headphones 2 offer all-day comfort and intuitive controls to stand out from the crowd.”

Inexpensive

good sound

Excellent control

Good noise cancellation

Disappointing battery life

Distortion at higher volumes

Microsoft’s original Surface headphones were surprisingly good as the company had never made noise canceling headphones before. They brought solid noise cancellation, respectable sound quality and were very comfortable. In addition, the intuitive controls were top notch.

However, they were slowed down by poor battery life, a lack of high quality Bluetooth codecs and no real way to optimize settings like the EQ. They were expensive too. At $ 350, they went head-to-toe with Sony’s incredibly good WH-1000XM3. Microsoft had little hope of winning this fight.

Microsoft’s second attempt, the Surface Headphones 2, is less like a new version than a confirmation that too much was charged for the first Surface Headphones. With a price tag of $ 250 and some small improvements, the Surface Headphones 2 are looking for a niche.

Now at a cheaper price

It may seem strange to start a headphone check with money, but in this case it is justified. The biggest change Microsoft made to the Surface Headphones 2 is the price. At $ 250, they’re $ 100 less than the original Surface headphones. It makes a big difference. Not only are they cheaper, they are also cheaper because they also contain some extras.

design

If you place the Microsoft Surface Headphones and the Surface Headphones 2 side by side, you will hardly notice any differences … unless you choose the matt black option, which connects the previous light gray.

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

The new model has an identical design with the same minimalist aesthetics. The seamless headband, the one-sided swivel arms for the ear cup and the subtle Windows logo are copies of the first generation. Fortunately, these are also the particularly comfortable ear cushions and the characteristic knob controls for volume and active noise suppression.

The large touchpads on each ear cup are easy to use and react very quickly to knocking.

At $ 250, they’re $ 100 less than the original Surface headphones, and that makes a big difference.

A small change is the ability to freely rotate each ear cup 180 degrees so that you can wear the Surface Headphones 2 more comfortably around your neck when you’re not using them. You can also perform DJ-style one-ear monitoring when using the analog cable.

In short, Microsoft has made the wise decision to retain all of the physical traits that have helped the first generation stand out.

Comfort still stands out the most. I wore these headphones for a full 9-to-5 working day as I focused on this review, and apart from sweaty ears (an inevitable consequence of closed headphones), I never felt a hint of discomfort. It is remarkable.

Still, I don’t think they’ll be the best companion in the gym. Stationary bikes, ellipticals, and free weights shouldn’t be a problem, but shock-related activities like running or skipping rope can cause the headphones to move a little. In this case, a higher level of comfort goes hand in hand with a loose fit, making the Surface Headphones 2 more suitable for long sessions at the desk than for long trips in the city.

Cortana and language support

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

A hands-free voice assistant is a great convenience – one of the things I like most about products like AirPods Pro from Apple, Pixel Buds 2 from Google and Echo Buds from Amazon. And although Cortana hasn’t won as many hearts and minds as Siri, Google Assistant, or Alexa, it was a cool feature of the first generation Surface headphones to be able to talk to her without pressing a button.

Unfortunately, Cortana has almost given up the second-generation Surface cans. You can still access your voice commands. To do this, however, you need Microsoft apps like Outlook Mobile. Once it’s set up (a complicated process), you can call Cortana hands-free, for example to read your email. Only certain types of email accounts are supported. You can only use them if you are in the United States.

I suspect most people – unless they’re hardcore Office 365 fans – will ignore this feature and just use the device’s built-in wizard, which you can run by long-pressing the touchpad on one of the ear cups.

In its briefing with journalists, Microsoft advertised the fact that both the Surface Headphones 2 and the new Surface Earbuds can do subtitles and translations in real time in Microsoft apps like PowerPoint. It’s definitely a solid tool, but I can’t see too many business people standing in front of a boardroom with meeting attendees and wearing full-sized headphones. The Surface Earbuds are a different story.

Battery life

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

The original Surface headphones suffered from poor battery life. With just 15 hours (or 18 hours if you turned off Cortana’s voice activation feature) between charges, they fell significantly behind noise-canceling headphones at the same price – many of which can last twice as long. We are used to spending 25 to 30 hours or more on premium noise canceling headphones.

Microsoft has made some profits in this department, but frankly not as much as I would like. The battery life is said to be 20 hours when the ANC is switched on. While this is better, it is still far from an affordable ANC headphone like this Taotronics.

After five minutes of quick charging, you get an additional hour of play, which is also not exactly convincing. With the WH-1000XM3 from Sony you get five hours after 10 minutes of charging.

Audio quality

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Like their predecessors, the Surface Headphones 2 deliver a strong sound. Microsoft calls it Omnisonic sound, but you can calculate that down to marketing language. In practice, these headphones deliver a rich, full sound that can be extensively optimized using the new Surface Audio app for iOS and Android (which you can also use with the first generation Surface Headphones).

Rock, jazz, classical and pop presets have expanded these genres, which presets don’t always do right.

With the factory settings, you hear a very flat response that audio purists look for in their speakers and headphones. Highs, lows and mids are all well balanced, and the bass response is just so clear that your favorite songs have a real presence. These cans don’t offer the precision, clarity, and depth of the soundstage you get with high-end headphones, but given their new, cheaper price, they’re no longer a deal-breaker.

If you jump into the EQ settings of the app, you can move this bass from benign to bombastic in one fell swoop. Can you find a combination of settings that you like? You can save them with your own labels – a huge improvement over the first pass. I found that the rock, jazz, classical and pop presets built into the app actually improved these genres, which isn’t always right with presets.

Although the overall sound quality remains unchanged from the first version, Microsoft has added support for the aptX Bluetooth codec, which is said to improve sound quality when used with devices that support it. However, my iPhone 11 doesn’t support this, so I couldn’t test it.

With moderate traffic noise and peaceful interiors, calls were clear and noise was reduced to a minimum.

As good as their sound is, I’ve found a significant disadvantage. If you set the volume to 9, 10 or 11, distortion can creep in. I first noticed them on Death Cab For Cuties To the Ground’s snare drum beats. A quick review of other tracks like my favorite low-end bass shaker Boom Boom Pow by the Black Eyed Peas confirmed that bass drums can do the same thing.

Everything north of Volume 8 is almost painfully loud and I cannot imagine that you would like to expose yourself to these levels for a long time. However, it is surprising that Microsoft did not tune the Surface Headphones 2 to the distortion.

Call quality

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

The Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 offer excellent call quality. With moderate traffic noise and peaceful interiors, calls were clear and noise was reduced to a minimum.

The only minor problem was the ANC function. Typically, you can choose between 13 noise reduction levels and two pass-through modes with the left ear cup wheel: normal pass-through and ambient gain.

Passthrough is ideal for calls because it allows you to hear your own voice naturally. However, during a call – and sometimes at other times – pass-through mode will switch back to the lowest ANC setting, usually accompanied by an audible click.

I contacted Microsoft to see if the Surface team knew why this was happening, but I had no response at the time of publication.

Noise canceling quality

I have to say that after using many different ANC headphones, I like the Microsoft noise canceling system the most. That doesn’t mean that the Surface Headphones 2 at ANC are better than the Sony WH-1000XM3 or the Bose Noise Canceling 700 – they are not. However, their dial-controlled intensity is impressive and intuitive.

It hasn’t changed since the first generation cans, but it’s still worth pointing out. It’s a far better way to adjust the amount of outside noise you want to let in than app-based presets. This is usually done this way.

The ANC itself is not bad either. There is a very small hiss when you are not playing music and it does not provide complete silence, but it easily reduces loud roaring noises such as bathroom fans or vacuum cleaners to an acceptably quiet level.

Our opinion

The Microsoft Surface Headphones were surpassed by their competitors at $ 350. With a price tag of $ 250 and a slight increase in battery life, the Surface Headphones deserve 2 serious considerations.

Is there a better alternative?

You can usually find Jabra’s Elite 85H for around $ 250. With a better battery life, slightly better sound quality and water resistance, they are an excellent alternative to the Surface Headphones 2.

However, they don’t have Surface’s excellent dial-based controls, which makes the most accessed functions much easier and more user-friendly.

How long will they last?

Microsoft grants a one-year warranty on the Surface Headphones 2, which is common for headphones. Their build quality looks better than average and I think they should last for many years with reasonable care.

Should you buy them

Yes. The price of the Surface Headphone 2 is the biggest improvement and does what was once an overpriced product at a very good price. They have a shorter battery life than the competition, but with great sound, comfort and ANC, as well as some of the best controls on all headphones, they have definitely found their niche.

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