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B&O BeoPlay E4 review: A viable alternative to Bose?

Christopher Minasians
13 Jul 2017
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
229
inc VAT

Impressive noise cancellation and decent sound quality is good, but not the most comfortable earphones to wear

Pros 
Impressive ANC capabilities
Great build quality and looks
Cons 
Uncomfortable
Expensive
Bloated mid-bass response
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Most people associate Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) with Bose, and rightfully so – the company produces some of the best ANC headphones in the business.

The technology works by counteracting external sounds, effectively blocking out external noise. Other companies have tried to use the same technology in earphones but they’ve never really had much success due to the lack of passive isolation and the poor implementation of ANC.

The Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay E4, a set of elegant earphones with ANC technology built in, aims to buck that trend. Can these be the in-ears that provide an alternative to the all-conquering Bose headphones?

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B&O BeoPlay E4 review: What you need to know

The short answer is yes. The ANC built into the BeoPlay E4 is impressive and I’d definitely recommend it as an alternative to Bose headphones for blocking out external noise. If you frequently commute or travel for business, you’ll notice the difference the E4s bring to the table.

The design of the E4 is what lets these earphones down, though, particularly the positioning of the battery box, which is too close to the 3.5mm plug for comfort, making the BeoPlay E4 uncomfortable to wear while you’re walking around. The price is quite high, too, although it’s the same as Bose’s rival ANC earphones, the QuietComfort 20.

B&O BeoPlay E4 review: Price and competition

You can find the B&O BeoPlay E4 for £229 on Amazon UK and $250 on Amazon USA. It has stiff competition from the established Bose QuietComfort 20 at £229, the much cheaper Audio-Technica ATH-ANC33IS at £65 and even its sibling, the B&O Beoplay H3, at £89.

Even though in-ears shouldn’t be compared to full-sized headphones, I think it’s a comparison worth making for anyone in the market for a pair of ANC-enabled headphones, with the Ausdom ANC7 at £70, Bose QuietComfort 35 at £330 and the Bose QuietComfort 25 at £270 all providing fantastic alternative choices.

B&O BeoPlay E4 review: Accessories and build quality

In the box, you’ll find the earphones with a set of XS, S, M and L silicone tips and a set of medium Comply T-200 foam tips. There’s also a soft carrying pouch, flight adapter and a micro-USB charging cable. The inclusion of Comply foam tips is a huge plus, since they isolate better than regular silicone tips and are much more comfortable to wear. Do remember that you’ll need to change your foam tips every couple of months, though, as they tend to get gunked up with ear wax.

The earpieces are finished in attractive matte-black stainless steel and they feel solid and durable. The cable is of a decent length at 1.3m but rather thick, which contributes to louder-than-usual microphonics as the cable rubs against your clothes. There’s no shirt clip included in the package to reduce the cable noise.

The cable leading to the left earpiece has a three-button remote on it, which also houses the headphones' microphone, and you can use this to adjust volume, play, pause, and skip tracks and answer calls. Calls and recordings are clear.

At the other end of the cable, near the right-angled 3.5mm plug, sits a larger box that houses the ANC electronics and controls, plus a micro-USB port for charging its 350mAh lithium-ion battery, which has a quoted lifespan of 20 hours.

On the plus side, the controls allow you to use the earphones without ANC, meaning you can extend that battery life; on the negative side, the positioning of the box, just a few centimetres from the 3.5mm plug can make the E4 uncomfortable to listen to while you’re walking around as it pulls on your ears.

There’s also no battery indicator on the unit or any audible indication as to how much battery is remaining, which is another source of irritation.

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B&O BeoPlay E4 review: ANC capabilities

The BeoPlay E4’s biggest selling point is its ANC technology and it works remarkably well. The E4s cancelled out much of the low-level rumble and clatter of my daily bus, train and Tube commute. Impressively, it also worked well in cancelling people’s voices, meaning I could enjoy my music without having to listen to random conversations.

You can hear a slight hiss when music is turned off, but this is to be expected with any ANC-enabled device. Weirdly, you can still hear the hiss when you turn off ANC, which can be distracting when listening to podcasts or music at low volume.

The E4’s also have “Transparency Mode”, which instantly mutes your music and amplifies external sound around you. It’s useful when you want to quickly pay for something in a shop and don’t want to remove your earphones, and it makes it easy to quickly listen in to station or airport announcements.

B&O BeoPlay E4 review: Sound quality

The B&O BeoPlay E4 employ electro-dynamic 10.8mm drivers, which deliver a serious punch. I found the sound quality to be very good compared with other Bluetooth headphones I’ve listened to, but not as good as wired non-ANC earphones of the same price.

For me, the bass is a bit too much, in fact, and there’s a heavy emphasis on the mid-bass frequencies that produce a flabby, uncontrolled sound and that overwhelms the mids. In Chris Brown's "Party", this mid-bass “leakage” is obvious, with the lows drowning out most of the vocals. On the plus side, the sub-bass has good extension and adds plenty of rumble to music.

Treble reproduction, on the other hand, is accurate and crisp and picks out an admirable amount of sonic detail. Unfortunately, the highs are rolled off a touch at the top end, which means you won’t always hear that hi-hat.

Finally, instrument separation is impressive, and the E4’s are able to reproduce a wide, deep and spacious soundstage. In Calvin Harris' "Feels", the guitar isn’t lost under the artists’ voices and the E4’s tonality really shines through.

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B&O BeoPlay E4 review: Verdict

The B&O BeoPlay E4 have great noise-cancelling capabilities and they look fantastic as well. However, overall sound quality isn’t perfect, with a bit too much uncontrolled bass for my tastes. The ANC control unit design makes them awkward and irritating to wear on the move, too.

It sounds like a small complaint, but for £230 I’d expect much better design than this, no matter how good the ANC might be.

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