Noise Canceling Immersion Part 3 - B&O BeoPlay H3 ANC

February 04, 2016

Bang & Olufsen are relative newcomers to the noise canceling domain. Their BeoPlay H8, announced in early 2015, was their first venture into active noise canceling (ANC) headphones and the BeoPlay H3 ANC (SGD 379) followed hot on its heels in September.

As Part 3 of the Noise Canceling Immersion series of articles, we give a full breakdown of what the BeoPlay H3 ANC offers.

Pros (+): Incredibly well balanced sound quality; Comply Foam tips.
Cons (-): Passable noise canceling; in-line remote build; no clothing clip.

As soon as we received the Gunmetal Grey H3 ANC (the only color in case you're asking), we gleefully ripped open the shrink wrap and indulged in a full teardown of the packaging.

Flipping open the top cover reveals just the 2 earbuds, clothed in plastic wrap, lying on a spartan plastic layer. Ah, and there's a transparent tab too. Let's pull it upward.

The tab pulls up an entire grey wrap of paper along with the plastic top. Flipping the paper open gets you access to the BeoPlay H3 ANC cables. The battery module (that circular box) is fully covered with a peelable protective layer.

At the bottom of the box, we pop open a tab to access the inner sanctum to reveal... the accessories!

After digging everything out and taking away the plastic wraps and seals, the full packaging content reveals:
- B&O BeoPlay H3 ANC earphones
- 5 x Ear tips (XS / S / M / L / Comply Foam T-200 M)
- Charging cable
- Carrying pouch
- Travel adapter
- Quick start guide

Now to the BeoPlay H3 ANC - The Jakob Wagner designed unit sports an earbud housing built with a scratch-resistant metal, punctuated by 29 ventilation holes. However, its 40g heft is quite the norm among its noise canceling peers that sport similar battery units. Its 1.35m cable is sturdy and thankfully doesn't tangle easily

The carrying pouch is practically designed - there's an inner compartment within to allow you to store earphones on one side and charging cable and/or ear tips in the other. 

The BeoPlay H3 ANC is a noise canceling unit but it remains to be seen if it's a carbon copy of the H3 with ANC conveniently fitted in. Noise canceling is achieved by the use of microphones to capture incoming sound. The signal processing takes the incoming sound and generates inverse waves almost instantly. We dive more on this in a bit.

The iPhone-friendly in-line remote hangs on the left side, sporting the standard volume buttons with the B&O logo marking the multi-function button actuation point. Build-wise, the remote really did not give an assuring firm click that we'd have expected. 

Moving down, you get a Y-connector and right at the other end of the cable, there's a very sturdy L-shaped 3.5mm jack and the distinctly shaped circular battery unit. 

Just slide and hold the switch for 1s to activate the ANC. The single multi-color LED serves as follows:
1. White - ANC is on
2. Red - Battery power is below 10%
3. Orange (pulsating) - Charging in progress (and yes, ANC can be used in this mode)
4. Green - Battery fully charged

B&O threw in 5 sets of ear tips to cover practically the whole spectrum of ear hole sizes. 4 pairs are silicon and range from XS, S, M and L. The 5th is the Comply Foam T-200 M-size that is fitted on the unit by default. 

We tried the noise canceling in three areas:
1. Inside a controlled environment (a car) where Stereolab's Parsec was playing in the vehicle.
2. At the back of a bus where the engine is revving frequently.
3. Tested at a bus stop with helluva lot of traffic (buses coming and going)
In these conditions, we did not play music in order to test the active noise canceling.

Bang & Olufsen's quest was apparently to strike a balance 'between sound, noise and silence' to attain 'a noise canceling product focused on sound aesthetics'. 

That said, when testing with the Comply Foam tips alone, the noise isolation provided was decent. Once the ANC is activated, the bass in the car from Parsec still squeezes through. The low frequencies such as bus accelerations in the 2nd and 3rd instance, while considerably blocked, are still audible.

However, this is made up for as the audio quality is actually surprisingly well balanced. We say this 'cos the focus of noise canceling units is usually on the ANC...and for noise canceling units, something's got to give. Hozier's Take Me To Church can be heard with good clarity and warm bass. After swapping the Comply Foam with the silicon tips, the overall audio quality is considerably clearer. From B&O's standpoint, it appears that their emphasis was more on the sound quality with the noise canceling built around it. If this is correct, then the BeoPlay H3 ANC embodies this philosophy.

Strangely, there's no clothing clip that one would expect from a noise canceling unit. The idea of a noise canceling pair of earphones is actually to allow you to listen with minimal sound distractions. The lack of a clip actually makes the cable rustle / microphonics quite apparent with brisk walking.

The travel adapter is meant to be used on flights, a handy accessory that fits perfectly fine. We did not have the chance to test this but here's how it looks fitted on the audio jack.

Charging the 350mAh Lithium-Ion battery, when flat, takes 2.5h and the noise canceling can last a very agreeable 20h. 
One way to charge and listen using your MacBook Air...and btw, the remote is compatible. 

The Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay H3 ANC is neat looking pair of in-ears, no doubt inspired by B&O's resident industrial designer. If your purpose is purely for noise cancelation, there are other options out there. However, if you want a unit with well balanced and good sound quality that delivers a sufficient blockage of ambient noise around you, the BeoPlay H3 ANC is a great choice.

Where To Buy
If you like this product, feel free to support me by buying via this Amazon affiliate link. Pricing is from USD 249. 
B&O BeoPlay H3 ANC
(Gunmetal Gray)
USD 249
Audio Sources
Take Me To Church - Hozier (Tidal 1411kbps FLAC) on iPhone 6S
Wake Me Up - Avicii (320kbps) on Samsung Galaxy S4
Parsec - Stereolab (Tidal 1411kbps FLAC) in the car / Samsung Galaxy S4

Credit to Bang & Olufsen and Brand Inc. for an evaluation unit.

Noise Canceling Immersion - A 3-Part Series 
Part 1 - Sony h.ear in NC (MDR-EX750NA)
Part 2 - Bose QuietComfort 20 (QC 20)
Part 3 - Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay H3 ANC
The Verdict 

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