No stranger to truly wireless or even noise cancellation, B&O is trying something with the Beoplay EX, delivering the AirPods style with a more premium style. Does it work, and are they worthy of your wallet?
There’s clearly not an absence in earphones to pick from, as the truly wireless world of earphones heats up. Everyone has a pair, with some offering many in the space of a year, adding to their selection and making the choice that much more difficult.
Some brands remain fixed on styles, and others dabble and experiment over time, tweaking the designs to try new things, particularly as styles change and technologies are researched.
The Danish audio giants of Bang & Olufsen fit in that boat. Clearly no stranger to earphones, it has been making truly wireless options for a while, and of course noise cancelling headphones, too. There was even a pair of truly wireless noise cancellation earphones in the Beoplay EQ last year.
This year, however, Bang is changing things up.
While last year’s EQ sported the style Bang has been using for years that made the earphones little dots in your ears, this year, the focus is on bringing the stem to the design, something Apple first made with the first AirPods.
Apple hasn’t quite let go of the stem-style, and keeps it going in the AirPods Pro and AirPods 3, shorter as it is. However it’s not the only stem earphone maker, and in the Beoplay EX, Bang & Olufsen is shaking up its truly wireless earphone options, offering another choice in stemmed ANC earphones. Is it a winner?
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Design and features
A different look for Bang means the stem-less earphone options of the past are now stemmed, and that’s largely how they look. Imagine the Apple AirPods, but made by Bang & Olufsen and with colours, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what B&O has crafted, using a combination of materials instead of just the plastic you know earphones can be made of.
The Beoplay EX uses a combination of aluminium, glass, and plastic (polymer to be precise), and it arrives with a stem in the design, with the glass covering the B&O logo and used as the button for the whole thing.
Each EX earphone weighs 6 grams and is IP57 dust and water resistant, with a 9.2mm driver in each ear and three microphones on each side, providing both active noise cancellation and a hear-through transparency mode over Bluetooth 5.2.
AptX is also supported, so if you happen to listen to some high-end audio, there’s a touch of support here, as well.
While Apple might rely on the stem to control its earphones, B&O is instead focusing on the circle that encases the B&O logo, with that being where the controls are. It’s a surprise, and might make you wonder why the stem is even there, since the touch panel isn’t in how you hold the stem, but rather just tap away on the circular panel.
Tap to pause. Tap to play. Tape a couple times to trigger different modes. It’s pretty easy to use, and just requires you memorise some tapping choices.
You also get a few choices for wearing the earphones, thanks in part to four sizes of silicone tips included in the Beoplay EX box, plus a pair of Comply Foam that you can use, as well.
That’s more than the regular assortment of three tips other earphones often arrive with, as Bang & Olufsen attempts to cater for more ear types in a premium pair. As it is, the inclusion of Comply Foam is a saving of around $25 locally, since you can buy those for practically any other earphone.
All that’s left is to experience the sound offered by the EX, which as usual is tested by the Pickr Sound Test, something you can experience on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Music, and Tidal.
That starts with the electronic of Tycho and Daft Punk, which delivers some good balance and spacious sound, offering some thick bass and solid mids, resulting in good warmth overall. Some of the highs can sound a little thin in comparison to the lower sounds, but the rendition is good and wide.
It’s much the same with pop, as we found listening to the EX earphones. Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Cut To The Feeling” delivered a lovely sound, while Ariana Grande’s “Into You” was big, Charlie Puth’s “Done For Me” was bold, and Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” slapped the bass nicely provided you achieve a solid ear with the earphone tips. You get several choices, so that’s a help.
Rock, jazz, and classical felt warm overall, and didn’t drive the bass too hard, likely because the tracks we’re testing with don’t see a lot of overkill, and overall the sound offered by B&O’s EX earphones was warm, friendly, and easy to listen to. These are easy on the ears and offer that smooth Bang & Olufsen signature sound.
With solid performance in sound comes solid battery life, boasting a good six hours of noise cancelling playback in the earphones and an extra 20 in the case, which is a nice aluminium box that feels sleek and solid in the hands.
You can charge that earphone case up with either a Type C port or even find a wireless charger, because Qi is supported here. Oh, and if you switch noise cancellation off, you should find a little more battery life, up to eight hours, but you’ll have to forgo that sweet bubble of isolated sound you might love so much.
But at $650, the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay Ex is a hard sell. A really hard sell.
We get it: noise cancelling earphones can be expensive, and Bang & Olufsen is a premium brand that commands a premium price. That’s not lost on us, really.
Yet these earphones come in at a price point above the best in the business. Sony’s WF-1000XM4 was our benchmark for in-earphones in 2021, and they max out at $449, while Sennheiser’s recent entry in the Momentum True Wireless 3 costs $399. And the rest of what’s great in this category — Apple’s AirPods Pro, the Beats Fit Pro, and the Bose QuietComfort EarBuds — all come in under the $650 price Bang pitches this pair at.
What needs work in the Beoplay EX?
It’s not just the price that can be hit and miss, with comfort joining that category, as well.
While Bang & Olufsen generously throws in a pair of Comply Foam tips alongside the four sizes of silicone tips, no matter what you select, the earphones can feel a little like they’re wearing down your ear.
We tried the Comply foam tips first — they’re generally our favourite style of earphone tip, and something we’ll often buy separately for our earphones — and while they were snug, the fit in the Beoplay Ex found us getting a minor ache after a good half an hour.
Switching over to the silicone tips, the bright blue of our review model stood out, but so did the ache, returning around the 30 to 40 minute mark, though we persisted for another 20 minutes.
After an hour of listening, when we pulled the EX out, our ears were thankful that we had. They’re a little tight these things, which isn’t bad for ANC, but also isn’t fantastic for your ears, either.
We’re not quite sure if the comfort issues come from the earphones being too tight or too large, but the comfort is lacking for long periods of time with these earphones. You might find the experience more enjoyable than we did, but just on comfort alone, these won’t be for everyone.
The noise cancellation is our other quibble, because it’s not mind-blowing. It’s definitely decent enough, and you’ll cancel out parts of the world, but it doesn’t seem to hold a candle to the best ANC earphones out there, including Sony’s WF-1000XM4 and the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3.
Even B&O’s take on adaptive active noise cancellation leaves us a little underwhelmed, because all it does is jump between levels of transparency, not levels of noise cancellation.
This isn’t adaptive cancellation the way Sony or Sennheiser is doing it using locations, and it’s not quite adaptive to profiles the way Jabra tried, nor is it automatically adaptive based off the sounds you’re around, something Beats tried in the over-ear Studio 3 headphones. It reads as more of a guess: you’re around talking so we’ll open up the ambient sound a bit so you can hear things. That’s roughly it.
Final thoughts (TLDR)
Placing the B&O’s equivalent of the AirPods is strange, because there’s a good pair of earphones in the Beoplay EX, but they’re not the best around, even if they’re priced like they should be.
Higher priced than anything Apple, Bose, Sennheiser, or Sony crafts, the Bang & Olufsen EX are premium but hardly the best, making the AirPods look a little more luxury, yet hardly improving anything. If anything, the AirPods Pro are the better option, giving you a little more tech with head-tracked Dolby Atmos support for less, something the the EX doesn’t offer.
We’re not entirely sure who the Beoplay EX are for, either. If you’re looking for the best truly wireless noise cancelling earphones without Atmos support (because you mightn’t listen to Apple Music), Sennheiser and Sony have you in mind, while if you do listen to Atmos sounds, Apple and Beats are where you’ll want to focus your attention, given you’ll get head-tracking, too.
Instead, it seems as though the Beoplay EX are focused on people after a more premium style of AirPods, and that’s kind of what you get here. Kinda sorta.
Are the Beoplay EX worth the $650 price? We’re not sure, but if you’re looking for a more premium style of AirPods, you’ll find it here.