Microsoft’s Surface Headphones 2 are probably my favourite over-ear active noise-cancelling headphones. They strike an almost perfect balance between design, sound quality, and price. If you’re looking for a pair of premium over-ear headphones, the Surface Headphones 2 are the ones I’d most likely recommend.
Let’s start on my absolute favourite thing about the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2. The design. No one can deny how good they look. The original Surface Headphones only came in silver which, don’t get me wrong, looked good. The Surface Headphones 2 added a new matte black colour and it takes them from looking good to looking best in class. The materials used all feel super-premium and are extremely comfortable in use. The ear-cups are very soft, and there’s a strip of comfortable soft material on the band that rests on the top of your head.
The part of the Surface Headphones 2’s design which I’m most impressed by though is the controls. They’ve kept the same ring controls on each ear-cup for volume and noise cancellation. The right ear-cup controls the volume, and the left controls noise cancellation, and it’s brilliant. There’s something so lovely about having a tactile analogue control for volume, it makes the headphones feel weirdly retro in a digital age.
The active noise cancellation works in a similar way, there are 13 different levels of noise cancellation which can be cycled through using the ring. Now, Microsoft didn’t need to include 13 different levels of noise cancellation, honestly, the fact there are so many can make it a bit fiddly to get the exact amount of noise cancellation that you want. But there’s something so cool about turning the dial from 0 to 13 and slowly hearing all the background noise around you fade away. During my time using the Surface Headphones ANC was always set to either full or off. As well as the rings there are the standard touch controls that anyone who’s used a modern pair of ANC headphones will be used to at this point. You tap to play and pause, and swipe to change track forward and back. Simple stuff.
On the side of the headphones, there’s also a dedicated ‘mute microphone’ button. This is super handy, especially during lockdown when people are making more video calls than ever. And on that point, calls using the Surface Headphones 2 are excellent. The microphone quality is as good as any other pair of headphones I’ve used. There’s also a button which you can use to activate your A.I assistant of choice which is nice to have. Battery life on the Surface Headphones 2 is the first place where they fall slightly below the competition.
They last about 20 hours on a single charge, which is 10 hours less than the Sony WH-1000XM4s which they are competing with. But thanks to USB-C fast charging that isn’t too big a deal. A couple of minutes charging can get you a couple of hours listening time.
Now let’s talk about sound. The Surface Headphones 2 sound very good. They aren’t the best sounding headphones in this category, that’s still the Sonys. But unless you have an extremely sensitive ear to this sort of thing, it’s difficult to notice. The highs, lows, and mids all sound very good and full. And, as you’d expect on a pair of premium headphones, the instrument separation is brilliant, so you can really properly hear every facet buried deep in your music. They also get really loud, something which can be handy, as the noise cancellation isn’t quite as good as on some other pairs of ANC headphones I’ve used.
But the high volume more than makes up for that. The Surface Headphones app also adds an extra dimension to the sound quality of the Surface Headphones 2. There’s an EQ in the app which is easy to control, and allows you to tune your sound however you want.
So in terms of design, the Surface Headphones 2 are the best you can currently get, the controls are an absolute joy to use, and while they don’t sound quite as good as some of the competition, they do sound brilliant. The big difference between the Surface Headphones 2 and the competition though is the price. They are currently retailing at £239.99, that’s £110 cheaper than the Sony WH-1000XM4s and £60 cheaper than the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. And while those two pairs of headphones sound very slightly better, they don’t sound £110 or £60 better. And the Surface Headphones look better, and control better than both of them. If you really really care about sound quality, and have a big budget, then look no further than the WH-1000XM4s. But if you also care about how good you look with your headphones on, have a slightly slimmer budget, and also want a pair of truly brilliant sounding headphones, the Surface Headphones 2 are definitely for you.