You got that URGE to SPLURGE! The real question is, do you need to do that for the Best Noise Canceling Headphones? Let’s take a look at the Focal Bathys, the Bowers and Wilkins PX8 and the Bang and Olufsen H95.
ANC and Transparency
Before we go into the sound quality let’s talk about a few important things first. Ok – the active noise canceling and transparency tests yielded some really surprising results!
The Bowers and Wilkins performed the worst for noise canceling here! Please note – when we say ‘worst’ – you can still drown out low end sounds with it. But it’s just not as great with mid and higher frequencies – where voices and clanking plates live. Of course, if you’re playing music you’re going to get more immersion with ANC on.
But still – none of these is excellent at ANC. Having said that, the Bowers and Wilkins were surprisingly bad. The Focal is the best of the bunch here. It’s very good at low end, but accentuates the mids and higher pitched sounds a bit more. The Bang and Olufsen is in the middle of the pack and its noise canceling is average.
But when it comes to letting in sounds or ‘transparency mode’, that narrative changes. Again, the Focal Bathys exceeds the others. There’s a lot more volume of your environment in transparency mode. There are more lower end frequencies let in, but not the lowest of the low end. We found it very usable for speech.
The Bang and Olufsen and the Bowers and Wilkins both find themselves having two names and having two good transparency modes, however both are a notch below the Focal. Again, very usable for short conversations.
Connectivity and Extras
So what else distinguishes these headphones apart from the obvious sound differences? we’ll talk about it in a bit.
Well the Focal has a DAC mode that you can use to play using a USB-C cable with active noise canceling on, but hold up – Even though the Bowers and Wilkins and the Bang and Olufsen don’t have a separate mode, you can still use them via USB to play audio.
And then there’s multipoint.
We’re happy to say that all these premium headphones have not skimped on multipoint: the ability to connect to two devices at once. But there’s having the feature and there’s doing it well.
In our view, the Bowers and Wilkins does the best here. Not only was it most reliable across devices, but it also has a device list in the app and you can clearly see which device is connected. And not just that, you can initiate pairing to a new device from within the app.
After that, the Focal was the second best, with no device list, but multipoint worked reasonably well. The app connection was a bit wonky when used with two phones, however.
And in last place was the Bang and Olufsen – it works, but it was quite stuttery and sometimes downright unpleasant. If you let it settle down for a while, it does better. But who wants to listen to half a stuttery song every time?
Interestingly, only the Bowers and Wilkins has a sensor to play and pause your music when you take your headphones off and on. MUCH cheaper headphones have done this in the past so it’s weird that these high rollers don’t even offer that!
Even more interestingly on the Bowers and Wilkins, it’s disabled by default. You can change how sensitive the sensor should be, but even on the lowest sensitivity we found the sensor automatically pausing our music even while sitting completely still, so – that’s probably why it was disabled out of the box?
All apps are pretty barebones and the Bowers and Wilkins has the most full featured app here.
The Focal app gives you EQ, ANC modes, light control and that’s pretty much it. We did have issues when using it on two devices though. The app, unlike the music playback, works only with one device at a time. Bang and Olufsen’s app is also pretty basic with an interesting disc thingy instead of a traditional EQ for sound – and you know what we dig it.
Microphones and Calls
We don’t think any of these are mind blowing for phone calls. Check out the microphone tests in the video above.
TLDR, It’s not by a huge margin, but we thought the Focal was the best, followed by the Bang and Olufsen and lastly, the Bowers and Wilkins.
For battery life, the Bowers and Wilkins is the worst of the lot at 25 hours with active noise canceling on. The Bang and Olufsen has the highest stated number of them all with 38 hours and the Focal is at 30 with noise canceling activated. The clear winner is the Bang and Olufsen – but for us battery life wouldn’t make or break our decision.
Comfort and Build Quality
And what about comfort? Well that’s probably the biggest reason this review took so long because we’ve been trying to compare these three headphones. Also, the Bang and Olufsen we have is a used one – loaned to us by Bang and Olufsen. And the age of a device also affects how the clamping force works.
At the end of the day we think that the Focal and the Bang and Olufsen are both pretty comfortable with the Bang and Olufsen having the edge. It’s lighter and smaller and doesn’t clamp as hard as the other two. The Focal has the second highest clamping force, but also has roomy ear cups and my ears were suspended, not touching the drivers which is nice. The Bowers and Wilkins, as usual, has a stronger clamping force.Now it’s better than its ‘cheaper’ sibling the PX7 S2 mind you, but it’s still the clampiest of these three and we do not see ourselves using this for longer periods of time without a break.
When it comes to build quality – as you might expect – all three of these are showing off some premium materials. The Focal for example has a lot of solid metal components.And lights on the earcups. I mean – come on!
Bowers and Wilkins has an aluminum headband and the Bang and Olufsen also has metal, leather and textile all over it. What we don’t really like on the Focal is the suede-like material on the underside of the headband. Just five minutes after taking out the headphones from the packaging this was already full of lint. So we can only imagine how this is going to age.
Which one of these is the best? Well, again – it would have to be the Bang and Olufsen. And the reason is simple: A. it’s the only one here that is foldable B. it’s the lightest here and C. those beautiful dials. There are two dials – one on the right for volume and one on the left for ANC control. I know, I know you’re going to say “Hey that’s exactly the same as the Microsoft Surface Headphones” and yes you would be right. But due to the materials, this implementation just feels more premium and well executed.
Our favorite control scheme for any headphones so far has been the Airpods Max with its immaculate volume dial and button combination. But the Bang and Olufsen H95 comes really close! Having said that both the Focal and the Bowers and Wilkins go for solid, high quality, reliable buttons with quite a similar layout. The power button is also a slider on all three which is really easy to reach. And the buttons – if we’re being honest – work perfectly well.
There’s no wow factor though and the sheer utility of a dial for volume cannot be overstated. And don’t forget that the Bang and Olufsen gives you a super high quality – METAL carrying case.
I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, but its footprint is marginally smaller than the other two cases. Overall, the design itself just feels a bit more premium without trying too hard like the Focal or the Bowers and Wilkins. The Focal feels a bit bulky on the head and the Bowers and Wilkins tries to grab attention too – but the Bang and Olufsen is the most understated, subtle and dare we say it – the classy one here.
Sound, Sound, Soundicle
On sound, we’ll give you a short version and a longer version.
The short version is this: the Bang and Olufsen H95 is … what’s the word? Banging!
Now the long version! The Bang and Olufsen H95 is not in the ‘I-put-them-on-and-I-was-blown-away’ category.
There’s no major bass bump or crazy tricks that wow you when you first put them on. But take some time – bring out some challenging music, or just regular old music and you’ll see how clearly and crisply music is represented. After hours, you’ll still be listening.
Bang and Olufsen’s products to our ears often have the property of not overdoing anything – it’s like a perfectly executed fine dining dish for which you have to appreciate the nuance and subtle elements.Of all the wireless products we’ve tested, Bang and Olufsen consistently continues to impress us for sound.
There’s a nice sub-bass bump and then a roll off at just the right place that avoids any kind of boominess. Mids and highs are clear and timbre is mostly fairly accurately represented except for a slight spike in the high treble that’s more a pleasant sparkle than a harsh ear-grating sibilant. Also if you’re a basshead – these might not be for you. I mean they can hold a low note for long and have really good bass extension, but they’re not even as bassy as the Airpods Max for example.
For us overdriven or distorted guitars are a great test of how well drivers can handle harmonics without getting too muddy or smoothened out. And the H95 handled everything from Dimebag’s solid-state chugging in Walk to Jack White’s fuzzy weirdness on the Fear of the dawn quite well. And these really open up at higher volumes.
And what about the Focal? Well, we really like it. It has an incredible soundstage. Especially for vocals, we really enjoyed listening to it. But somehow it feels like it’s a bit less revealing than the Bang and Olufsen. It seems to be going for a warmer sound, so there’s a focus – pronounced fock-us in French – an emphasis on the mids and the bass.
We also think that the Focal does an outstanding job of representing timbre and natural instruments. But it has a bit of a mid-bass problem. In “Duende” by Bozzio Levin Stevens – thanks Bruno for that recommendation all the little instruments have a clear position in space and sound good. However, I must say that Focal’s emphasis on the mid-bass really isn’t enjoyable on this song as it tends to kind of take over the entire track. And that bass is also very present on the Bowers and Wilkins Px8.
But switch to the Bang and Olufsen and everything is exactly as it should sound. The bass recedes a bit into the background without losing its presence, and drums and cymbals take center stage.
For voices it’s a toss up for us between the Bang and Olufsen and the Focal with the Bang and Olufsen adding that little bit of extra sparkle. Now don’t get us wrong – we also like how the Bowers and Wilkins PX8 sounds. But it is a pretty v-shaped kind of sound and goes for a more of a commercial popular kind of Sound signature. And that means a certain boominess in the bass. Also, it’s only got a bass and treble slider that you can use to adjust.The Focal Bathys has a 5 band graphic equalizer in the app which gives you far more control over how it sounds. And even though the Bowers and Wilkins sounds great, it doesn’t do as well as the other two on this list.
One thing you can’t say about the Bowers and Wilkins however is that it’s boring. And this can be a problem with the Focal – especially at lower volumes. It can sound a bit meh, whereas the Bowers and Wilkins is always spicy. But on volume – MY GOD the Focal is loud! It can go into hearing damage territory without any kind of distortion! And you know what – the Bowers and Wilkins can hit higher max volumes! The maximum volume on the Bang and Olufsen was considerably lower, but despite that – we love it – for us it threads that needle between accuracy and enjoyability everytime! I think great audio gear makes you really FEEL your music and the Bang and Olufsen H95 really… It was really emotional.
On the codec side, all of these use aptX on Android and Windows and AAC on Apple devices.So yes, there is a slight resolution difference, but not something that will make or break your purchase decision.
Which one should you get?
Let’s just talk about the products without the price – for us it’s the Bang and Olufsen Beoplay H95 all the way. Decent microphones, delightful controls, sublime sound, best battery life and great comfort and portability – give it the win for us. In second place is the Focal Bathys and the Bowers and Wilkins Px8 gets the bronze medal. That is irrespective of the price.
Now the prices you saw on the thumbnail of this video – they’re just the standard retail prices. Latest prices are above – using those links helps out our channel with no additional costs to you.
The Bang and Olufsen is older and given the prices of these – right now the Bang and Olufsen H95 is the cheapest of the lot at about $630 and we think that makes it a no brainer. The Focal Bathys costs $799 but we’d still pick it over the Bowers and Wilkins. Because it sounds better, is more tweakable, wears better, lasts longer and does ANC and calls better than the Bowers and Wilkins. The Bowers & Wilkins PX8 might be in third place here, but it’s not really ‘bad’. It’s just that at the price of $699, they have to bring more to the table than a spicy sound signature and spanking good looks.
The sub-par ANC and mic performance are also impossible to ignore. The lower battery life doesn’t help either. But guys – we’re comparing these three headphones in a vacuum here. We think you’d really be MUCH better off saving some money and going for the AirPods Max, the Sennheiser Momentum 4 or the Sony WH-1000 XM5.