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Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 review: Top-notch sound, stand-out style
Microsoft Surface Headphones 2
What we like
What we don't like
Major companies are staking their claims to the audio market almost everywhere you look. Whether it’s new wireless earbuds or noise-cancelling headphones, everyone wants in. Some fail, but others like the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 hit on something special. Find out what we love and what can be improved for the next generation right here in our Surface Headphones 2 review.
Who is the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 for?
- Bluetooth multipoint users: They offer a smooth switching experience between your phone and laptop without having to adjust settings.
- Commuters in need of noise-cancelling: They’re not as strong as the top options, but the noise-cancelling is still solid.
- Anyone who wants high-end audio on a slight budget: Microsoft’s headphones undercut the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose Headphones 700 by around $50 without sacrificing much.
What’s it like to use the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2?
Many high-end headphones come with carrying cases, and most times they’re not even worth noting. However, Microsoft’s new Surface Headphones 2 is an exception to the rule. The included carrying case sports a slim profile and hardshell exterior that’s easy to slip in and out of my backpack.
You’ll have to fold the ear cups flat to slip them into the case, or you can wear them around your neck when not in use. Unfortunately, you won’t find any folding hinges, so you can’t make your headphones all that small if you’re cramped for space.
You may like: Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
Other than that one update, these new cans are essentially indistinguishable from the first generation. They sport the same sleek design with blank sides and a monochrome finish. While Bose’s Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are sleek in their own right, I see the Surface Headphones 2 as my preferred pair of the future.
Are the Surface Headphones 2 comfortable?
Stylish looks aren’t the only draw of Microsoft’s new headphones though. These cans are seriously comfortable. I wore them all day without feeling like my ears needed a break. Unfortunately, they don’t exactly breathe well. We reviewed our pair in the middle of summer, but I’d happily suffer some sweat for the rest of the experience. There might be more comfortable pairs out there, but these are my favorite because of how they minimize ear fatigue.
If I have to find one complaint with wearing the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2, it’s the material on the bottom of the headband. Instead of choosing the same memory foam material as the ear cups, Microsoft went for a grippy rubber that tended to pull my hair when it moved. This is similar to what’s used with the Beats Solo Pro. It’s more annoying than painful, and it’s a small price to pay to keep the headphones in place.
How are the touch controls?
Both ear cups are touch-sensitive. They feature rotating rings around the edges for more complete control. You can control playback with a single tap, while a double- or triple-tap on either side skips between songs. If you tap and hold, you can activate your voice assistant, and rotating the right ring adjusts the volume. The left ring controls noise-cancelling.
I ran into an issue where accidental contact often paused my music when I didn’t mean to, but that’s not a problem exclusive to Microsoft’s headset. Just like the original Surface Headphones, this version packs 13 levels of noise-cancelling. Low levels even rely on microphones so you can hear the world without taking them off.
How do you pair Microsoft’s premium headphones?
You can pair the Surface Headphones 2 with or without the Surface Audio app, but I’d recommend the download for the step-by-step walkthrough. It also provides extra features once you’re set-up, but more on that later.
Microsoft includes a 3.5mm headphone jack for wired playback.
You can also pair the old fashioned way by holding down the power button for five seconds until you hear a voice prompt. Then head to your phone’s Bluetooth settings like you would with other headphones. You can also plug in a trusty audio cable if you’d rather not rely on Bluetooth at all.
How do you factory reset the headphones?
If you’re running into problems with your Surface Headphones 2 or you just need to pass them off to a friend, factory resetting them is pretty simple. There are two ways to do it. The first is as simple as holding the power button down for 20 seconds until you hear a voice prompt.
The other way to get the job done is with the Surface Audio app. You’ll have to hit the gear icon next to your headphones to open the settings menu. Then scroll to the bottom and select the Factory Reset option.
What can you do with the Surface Audio app?
Aside from pairing your headphones, you’ll need the Surface Audio app for a few bonus features and customization options. You can rename your cans, check for software and firmware updates, adjust your noise-cancelling, and choose from a few EQ presets. None of these features are life or death, but they’re appreciated when you pay for premium headphones.
How strong is the wireless connection?
The new Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 rely on Bluetooth 5.0 firmware and support aptX and SBC. This means that iPhone users can’t stream high-quality audio from their phones to the Surface Headphones 2 without the cable and a dongle. Regardless, this is a big improvement, particularly for Android users, because the original headset only supported Bluetooth 4.2 and skipped the high-end codecs.
Overall, the connection strength is pretty solid — I can’t recall a skip or stutter throughout my week of using Microsoft’s headset. These headphones also have the best multipoint setup I’ve ever seen. I paired them with both my phone and laptop and they switched between the two seamlessly. All I had to do was press play or pause on one, and the headphones did the rest.
However, you need to be running Windows 10 for all of the most advanced features according to the Windows website. I haven’t tested this on a Mac or on an older-generation Windows PC, but it’s something to keep in mind.
What is the battery life like on the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2?
One of the most important improvements from the original Microsoft Surface Headphones is battery life. The previous version claimed 15 hours while the new pair boosts its battery to 20 hours of playback. In my testing, I managed 17 hours, 47 minutes of battery life with active noise-cancelling on, which isn’t quite as long as advertised. If nothing else, they charge via USB-C; and five minutes of charging provides one hour of playback.
How is the microphone?
Phone calls and distractions are never great when you just want to get lost in your music, but the Surface Headphones 2 have a capable setup. They have a built-in microphone for calls and video conferences, and I never experienced any stutters or drops during my usage. That said, it’s not a perfect microphone as higher-pitched sounds are often emphasized over fundamental voice sounds. It’s not a problem for phone calls, but you’ll probably want to look elsewhere if you have to record your voice. Give it a listen down below:
Surface Headphones 2 demo:
Do you care about telephoto/periscope cameras on flagship phones?
Is the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 noise-cancelling good?
The fact that these headphones have 13 levels of noise-cancelling is pretty cool, and is great for remote workers who need to drown out their noisy roommates. I ran all of my tests cranked all the way to 13. There’s a noticeable difference between the ANC and passive isolation, which covers sounds above 1kHz. These do a great job taking care of sounds like the hum of an air conditioner without much trouble.
Microsoft’s Surface Headphones 2 won’t snatch the throne from the Sony WH-1000XM4 but they’re still more than a capable pair.
How do the headphones sound?
You buy headphones for sound, after all, so let’s bring this review home with the most important part. Sure, you can adjust the EQ in the Surface Audio app, but I kept mine on the default setting without any added emphasis. The bass bump is noticeable, and makes bass notes twice as loud as certain midrange notes (e.g., 250-600Hz).
Although this isn’t an audiophile sound signature, it is one that’s likely to excite general consumers: we’re accustomed to appreciating low-frequency emphasis. After all, bass notes add that extra “oomph” and “bump” to our favorite tunes. Some die-hard EDM fans may be disappointed by the extreme sub-bass response, which is de-emphasized, but you can always EQ it in the app.
Low vocals sound pretty good through the headset, thanks to the emphasis from 100-250Hz, but you may notice some “missing detail” during vocal harmonies or from typical string instruments. This is a consequence, again of that dip from 250-600Hz. Overall, you’re bound to be happy with the resulting sound.
Should you buy the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2?
We mentioned it briefly, but one of the biggest draws of the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 is the price. It comes in at just $250, which is a full $100 less than Sony’s and Bose’s competitors, and less than the original Surface Headphones. You essentially get a better battery life, better support, and the same classic style as the originals. There’s no reason to opt for the older cans if you want a pair of Microsoft headphones.
Even when you compare the Surface Headphones 2 to the Sony WH-1000XM4, we’d say they hold their own. The sound quality and noise-cancelling are solid and the multipoint connectivity is excellent — even slightly above Sony’s own. If you’re set on the best codecs and microphones, however, you’ll want to turn your attention elsewhere. Ultimately, if you want to save some cash, emphasize your style, and grab headphones that keep up with the competition, the Surface Headphones 2 are a great buy.