While they might have failed to light the world on fire in the way that Apple probably hoped they would, the debut of their AirPods last year can definitely be seen as the firing shot in a new retail war between wireless and wired earbuds. With the latter now becoming both more practical and affordable, the battle is on for traditional wired earphones to provide a stronger argument to justify themselves.
Even if, more often than not, that argument is going to boil down to style versus substance, it’s still shaping up to be an argument that’ll drive up innovation and generate better options for customers. The BeoPlay E4 is an apt manifestation of this idea.
While B&O do have a set of semi-wireless in-ear headphones, they’ve yet to fully cut the cord and deliver something akin to Samsung’s Gear IconX or Jabra’s Elite Sport buds. The E4 sees the company make a strong case for why don’t need to go down that path in order to deliver a product that’s worth your attention and, of course, your hard-earned dollars.
Design-wise the E4 keep things pretty simple. On the surface, there’s not a huge amount of aesthetic differences between the E4 and last year’s H3 ANC buds. The noise cancellation dongle involved comes in a more angular shape but apart from that, the two earphones feel like they come from the same school of thought.
The E4 keeps things sleek and compact, with some degree for customization via a set of alternative ear-tips (four sizes in all). They’ve even thrown in a set of Comply Memory Foam Ear Tips for good measure. The only real downside here is the weight of the dongle, which occasionally tugged the earbuds out of my ears or the 3.5mm connector out of my phone’s headphone jack. All in all, it’s a pretty minimalist approach to the category that will either suit you or it won’t.
The bottom line here is that E4 leverages a lot of the same technology found in B&O’s flagship H9 wireless headphones, specifically when it comes to noise cancellation. In practice, listening experiences sound great. The E4 suppress up to 15dB more low-frequency noise than the company’s previous efforts and feature a transparency mode that (when toggled) registers incoming ambient noise and music from the earphones, separates the two and generates a signal that blocks out the unwanted noise.
There’s a longer technical explanation for this feature but, basically, this feature allows the E4 to deliver audio experiences that sound almost as crisp and clear as those you’ll find in over-ear headphones.
A fully charged unit will net you a neat twenty hours of use, which is one key area where the E4 offers up another clear advantage over its competitors.
However, this aspect of the package is arguably balanced out by another important one: price. B&O do sweeten the deal a little by bundling in a charging cable, a flight adapter and a carry bag. Unfortunately, at an Australian price-point of $350, it’s still a tricky sell for earbuds that feel like they’ll wear and tear as easily as any other.
When it comes to performance, the E4 delivers a solid experience that’s easy to recommend. However, it’s definitely worth weighing up how much the B&O brand is worth to you before buying in. Whatever way you cut it, $350 is a lot of money for old-school wired earphones – even if they do hold up as some of the best sounding earbuds we’ve ever tuned our ears towards.