In the face of the Sony WH-1000XM3 and the Bose QC35 II, Microsoft appeared out of nowhere by offering its own Bluetooth active noise reduction headset, the Microsoft Surface Headphones. But what is it worth to use against its competitors and is there anything to make a whole cheese? Find out in our comprehensive test.
After several years of fierce battle between Sony and Bose to find out which manufacturer offered the best noise canceling Bluetooth headset, another actor appeared: Microsoft. With its Surface Headphones, the Windows editor intends to take back the main qualities of Bose QC35 and Sony WH-1000XM3.
Diaphragm: 40 mm
Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20 000 Hz
Active noise reduction: yes, up to 20 dBA.
Cable length: 1.2 m
Audio codecs: SBC (via A2DP)
Weight: 290 g
This test was done with a model bought in import.
An excellent idea of ergonomics
At first glance, Microsoft's Surface Heaphones offers a rather licked design. It is only available in one color, light gray, plastic, but the finishes are quite qualitative. The plastic is matte and well designed.
At the top of the skull, the arch offers a rather comfortable foam, at least for the short term. After four to five hours of use, however, we feel the weight of the helmet clearly press the top of the head. It must be said that Microsoft's Surface Headphones presses the hoop more than the ear pads to stabilize. After a long use, we end up feeling the 290 grams of the headphones, against 255 grams for the Sony WH-1000XM3 or 240 grams for the Bose QuietComfort 35 II.
The ears precisely, let's talk about it. The foam is particularly comfortable with about two centimeters thick. What to adapt perfectly to the shape of your face, even if in return, the heat will be all the more felt indoors or use in hot weather. It should be noted that the earpieces as a whole are quite thick and can look like Mickey Mouse, or at least can lack discretion. A design that is reinforced by the shape of the arch, which deviates outward in the atria, where helmets Bose and Sony for example are much tapered. We also regret that the helmet can not fold to be stored in a bag without cluttering for example, even if the earpieces can rotate 90 degrees, so that the outside is rested on your shoulders when you put it on the neck .
But where the helmet of Microsoft stands out particularly, it is at the level of controls and connectors. To increase the volume, simply turn a wheel that goes around the right earpiece. To increase the noise reduction, just do the same on the left earpiece. Knobs are an excellent idea to use, particularly aesthetic, easy to use and will not create false positive as can be known with the touch surface from Sony for example.
However, the Surface Headphones does not deviate completely from the touch. On each ear, you can press once to pause the music, hold down to start the wizard, press twice to skip to the next song, or press three times to return to the previous title. If we can fear false positives, especially when we just try to take the helmet in hand, we will be reassured with the test of the hood, passed successfully by the helmet of Microsoft: even turning his head with a hood worn over the helmet, the Surface Headphones does not awkwardly bring the music to pause. However, we can regret a reaction time a little long between the moment when you press the headphones to pause and the one where the music really stops. Above all, the touch surface is not limited to a single earphone, left or right, but to both.
Finally, note that the Microsoft headset has a USB-C socket for charging, a jack for a wired connection, a power button / pairing Bluetooth and a key to make the mute mic, usable during calls.
Like its main competitors, the Microsoft Surface Headphones has an active noise reduction feature. In addition to passive isolation, which is already effective enough to filter out background noise, Microsoft's headset can also analyze external sounds and produce a reverse sound spectrum to cancel them. To do this, it has two earphones on each headset. With this system, Microsoft says that it is possible to filter up to 40 decibels through passive headphone isolation, and an additional 30 decibels using active noise cancellation.
In total, the Surface Headphones allows to adjust four different levels of noise reduction: increase, low, medium and high.If low, medium and high are understood without problem, since they correspond to the level of cancellation of the external noise, the augment mode, "enhanced" in English, allows you to hear more external sounds. Convenient when you need to hear bike traffic for example, or if you want to chat with your colleagues without the passive isolation of the helmet.
I'm coming back, but the simplicity of the noise reduction setting is a great idea from Microsoft. It's a breeze to simply turn the ring around the left earpiece and wonder why competing builders have not thought about it before. Be aware, at Bose you have to go into the settings of the application on smartphone when at Sony, you have to press a button to disable the noise cancellation and go through the application to fine-tune the setting. Beside, the Microsoft system is childish.
As for the quality of the noise reduction, it will be noted that this one differs little from the simple passive cancellation when it is set to the minimum. At medium level, it reduces background noise. It is especially at the maximum level that it will impress, even managing to filter the voices, at least in a relatively quiet environment such as an open space.
At the maximum level, the Microsoft headset is also doing pretty well to filter out the most serious and persistent ambient noise like the roar of the subway. On the other hand, it will be more difficult to filter sounds with more variations, like that of car traffic on large avenues. Above all, with the noise reduction activated to the maximum, the Surface Headphones offers a breath that can be annoying after a few minutes of use. As such, if the helmet is very effective especially indoors to forget your colleagues too talkative, it remains on the whole less efficient than the models of Bose or Sony.
The Microsoft headset has a 40mm diameter membrane for each earpiece. It is theoretically capable of producing sounds between 20 and 20 000 Hz, which is the bulk of the frequency range audible by the human ear.
However, will highlight the notable lack of third-party codecs, in addition to the simple SBC included in the A2DP profile. The headset does not support aptX, LDAC, or even AAC. Therefore, even if you intend to listen to good quality songs with lossless quality for example, you can end up with a particularly compressed sound.
All in all, we regret that Microsoft's headphones do little to restore the sound dynamics of songs. The sounds appear fairly flat, especially on titles with a strong dynamic like John Coltrane's Blue Train or Vivaldi's Le Printemps. Fortunately, thanks to the accentuation of low mids and basses, the headphones lend themselves more to listening to electro or hip-hop, whether it's Get Lucky by Daft Punk or Phantom Pt. II of Justice. The power of the bass then clearly reduce the profile, otherwise flat, of the helmet. Note also that on its application for smartphone, Cortana, the firm offers a five-band equalizer with just as many presets (flat, classical, jazz, pop and rock).
Another good point, if the headset from Microsoft offers 15 levels of sound volume – adjustable by the wheel – there is no distinction of gross saturation, whether in the bass or treble.
A suitable autonomy
For its headset, Microsoft announces a range of up to 15 hours of use. Much shorter than the 20 hours announced by Bose for its QC35 II and the 30 hours brandished by Sony about its 1000XM3. In use, the actual life of the helmet is also lower. By turning the Surface Headphones, connected in Bluetooth with the volume to two-thirds and the noise cancellation to the maximum, it went out after 11:40 of use. A duration there still far enough from the 15 hours announced by Microsoft.
Still, if you charge it every night, Sony headphones should be able to accompany you all day if you do not turn up the volume. And if the headset falls out of battery during your working day, you can connect it to a USB-C cable to recharge while listening to your music.
The recharge elsewhere, let's talk about it. The headset comes with a USB-C cable, a very good point, especially compared to the simple micro-USB plug of the Bose model. This one allows to charge the smartphone for 7h of autonomy in 30 minutes, for 11h of autonomy in one hour, for 13h of autonomy in 1h30 and to make a complete recharge of the battery in 1h50.
Bluetooth, still perfectible
Surface Headphones is compatible with Bluetooth version 4.2, but unfortunately not version 5.0. In fact, the range and speeds are slightly lower, even if it does not change much on a simple headphones.
We particularly appreciate the possibility of connecting the headset to two devices at the same time. A feature that is also found at Bose, but is sorely lacking in Sony's model. Specifically, you can connect to both your computer and your smartphone in the office, without having to choose which device to connect to.
The Microsoft headset can be further controlled using the Cortana app. If it is not yet available on the Play Store in France, it is possible to install it on APK Mirror for example. For example, it allows you to view the remaining battery, access the equalizer, or download software updates for the headset. Moreover, once the application is installed on your smartphone, you can automatically launch Cortana to the voice simply by pronouncing the name of the voice assistant. Attention nevertheless, for the moment the requests will have to be done in English.
Note that even without installing the application, you can launch Google Assistant or Siri, for Android or iPhone, simply by leaving his finger on a few seconds on one of the two touch surfaces of the headset. All in all, the Cortana app is especially useful for handling the equalizer, but overall, it's easy to do without it.
Finally, we may regret the very robotic voice of the Surface Headphones when announcing the remaining battery life or, even worse, the name of the device to which it is connected.
Price and release date
For now, the Surface Headphones headset from Microsoft is not yet commercially available in Europe. However, it has been announced for a release in France on March 1st. It will be marketed in the hexagon for 380 euros.
Buy the Microsoft Surface Headphones
At this price, the Microsoft Surface Headphones is directly facing its two main competitors, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II and Sony WH-1000XM3 respectively proposed around 320 and 379 euros. Feel free to find our comparison of the best active noise reduction headphones.
Read on FrAndroid: What are the best active noise reduction headphones in 2019? our selection
Our photos of Microsoft Surface Headphones
In a market where Bose and Sony have been fiercely competing for three years, Microsoft is showing its ambitions. Its Surface Headphones headset, however, struggles to shade its two competitors. The sound quality is well below the Sony model and noise cancellation is less effective than the Bose headphones. At first glance, you might think that Microsoft's noise canceling headset has nothing for it … and yet. Indeed, the genius idea of Microsoft is to be found at the level of ergonomics. Halfway between Sony's touch and Bose's buttons, Surface Headphones' dial system is incredibly well thought out. One wonders how other builders did not think about it earlier. Finally, the Microsoft headset is a very good headphones, with a fairly effective noise cancellation and adequate autonomy. It just barely stands out from the competition and, if not for its ergonomics, nothing really justifies to buy it rather than the WH-1000XM3 or the QC35 II. It is hoped that this is primarily a trial run for Microsoft and that in the future the firm will continue to improve its helmet, very promising, to successfully transform the duel between Sony and Bose in real confrontation with three actors on equal terms.
Incredibly instinctive knobs
Bass of good quality
Can not bend it
A fairly flat sound quality