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what, a review?
yes, a review. a review of the newly released surface headphones!

Surface Headphones Review
I needed to replace my Sennheiser PXC 300 on-ear headphones because the ear pieces were slowly disintegrating after more than a decade of heavy use (probably purchased in 2004 or 2005). When I learnt that Microsoft was going to release their Surface Headphones I got excited because I am fully vested in all things Microsoft: SurfaceBook for me, a new Surface Laptop 2 with Surface Headphones on the way for my wife, 2 SurfacePro 4s for the kids, and Lumia smartphones for everybody. I carefully looked at the first professional reviews and they all seemed to be positive, comparisons with top-of-the-line headphones from Bose and Sony were made, which made me slightly more skeptical than excited.

However, when Microsoft released their Surface Headphones for pre-ordering on Thursday November 15, I bought a pair. Priced at $349.99 it does fall right in line with other grade A brands. I received the wonderfully boxed headphones on Tuesday November 20 and clearly Microsoft has been taking a page out of the Apple playbook for packaging their premium products. The box is heavy and minimalist and contained nothing more or less than absolutely needed: the hard headphones case; the case itself contained the headphones, the USB-C charging cord, the 3.5mm audio cable, and instruction & warranty booklets.


The headphones themselves look quite polished and simple, but they feel “heavy” and well-built.

First order of business was to charge the headphones with the USB-C cable. A charge from empty to full takes approximately 3.5 hours. For fastest charge use a wall outlet with USB plug rather than charging through a computer.
Second step was to pair the headphones through Bluetooth with my SurfaceBook which was quick and easy.
Third was to download the Cortana Device Setup app, which included software controls for the Surface Headphones (other devices are the Harman Kardon Cortana speaker and the GLAS thermostat by Johnson Controls). This app is also the location to reset the headphones, install firmware updates, and to manage the 5-band equalizer. You can also change the device name, which of course is the most important thing of all …!


Fourth and final step was to test the quality, sound and otherwise, of the headphones.
The headband adjusts with small increments, so it is easy to get the right fit. The headphones do feel a little heavy while wearing it, especially in contrast with the usual ear buds, but that is just a matter of getting used to. The cans nicely cup the ears without any vacuum/suction issues. After wearing this for extensive periods the weight does not leave a lasting impact.
The one innovative feature of these headphones is that all the controls are on the cans of the headphones rather than on a wired remote or app!
Left ear: dial forward to create active noise canceling with several levels, or dial backwards to amplify ambient sound.
Right ear: dial forward to increase and dial backward to decrease the volume.
The right ear also contains the following: on/off button, a mute button, USB charging port, and a 3.5mm audio jack. Both ears have a touch pad with which you can control playback or make calls or use Cortana.


Now, the sound quality is surprisingly good, even though I have not yet tested them through audio cable and direct playback through CD player and amplifier. I quality tested them through YouTube videos as well as mp3 playback. For a range of different music styles, the output is well-balanced out of the box (when equalizer = flat) but increases in quality once equalizer is set to one's liking. I like mine bass-heavy, but not overbearing, with treble increased as well. Across classical, jazz, electronica, and rock the sound is very clear and detailed, leaving plenty of space; I was even picking up subtle nuances I had not heard previously!

Here are the videos I listened to on my test drive:
Koop - Waltz For Koop (entire album)
Jazzanova - In Between (entire album)
Carl Orff's O Fortuna!
Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries
Smetana's Vltava
Dukas' Sorcerer's Apprentice
Tchaikovsky's Overture 1812
GoGo Penguin - Window (my current obsession)
NPR Tiny Desk with GoGo Penguin
NPR Tiny Desk with Robert Glasper
NPR Tiny Desk with August Greene
NPR Tiny Desk with The Roots & Bilal
Three Trapped Tigers - Reset
The Internet - Dontcha
Kaskade - Seeing Julie
Francis and the Lights - Etc
Christopher Cross - The Light Is On
Steely Dan - Aja
Flying Lotus featuring Kendrick Lamar - Never Catch Me
Queens Of The Stone Age - No One Knows
Foo Fighters - Outside
Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Fanfare for the Common Man
Rhye - The Fall
David Sylvian - I Surrender
Especially the Tiny Desk concerts sound good, because they are of near perfect audio engineering quality!

The noise canceling is very effective: with music playing it creates a quiet environment to bring rich audio; without music it drowns out ambient noise dramatically, as in not being able to hear someone standing right next to you talking. Conversely, the ambient sound amplifier does really well increasing the volume of whatever is heard in the direct vicinity. This means you can use both volume and noise canceling/amplication depending on the environment you are in!
There is very little sound leakage outside of the earphones, which means that you are not loudly broadcasting whatever you are listening to to the people around you.
The Bluetooth reaches quite far as well; my office and Surface Book are on the third floor of a (not-so) standard American single-family home and I was able to walk to the first floor for a coffee refill only for the connection to drop intermittently while being farthest away from the source.
The headphones also have an Auto-Off setting, which means they will turn off after 15 minutes of inactivity, saving battery life. The battery life itself seems to be pretty reasonable: about 14 hours on Bluetooth.



All in all, my first impression of the Surface Headphones is that these are really good headphones, at least on par but possible better than my Sennheiser PXC 300s! For a non-headphone manufacturer that is quite an accomplishment! Come on Microsoft, now finally make that Surface Phone!

Get yours here.

Disclaimer 1: One feature I did not test is the full Cortana integration, including making (Skype) calls. I will update this note once I have been able to test Cortana as well as after a longer period of using my Surface Headphones.
Disclaimer 2: I am hearing impaired which means my listening experience is vastly different from those without.
Disclaimer 3: I am not affiliated and/or endorsed by Microsoft, or any of the other brands mentioned. I wish …

friday november 23, 2018

blog/website update, again
so yeah, the social media plugins are not happening. i do not see a need for them and the implementation is just a little bit too much for my limited programming skills.
but fear not, i will keep adding photos to the portfolio and i will keep updating my travel schedule blog throughout the year.
and, just because it has been almost 2 years since i have shown you an updated playlist, click here to see my most recent winamp/onedrive/USB playlist. (yes, i do have 331 incognito songs, why do you ask?)

monday october 1, 2018

blog/website update
you are still waiting for the blog redesign, including social media, as well as another invisible update to the entire website (thanks to the microsoft edge page analyzer extension), but in the meantime you can see the most awesomest recent weirdzune playlist here.

monday october 17, 2016

the emperor can haz new clothes?
at this point i am seriously wondering if i will get a social media plugin on my website and the main reason is that there simply is not much to comment on. the blog would be the only place where visitors could leave comments, but i may as well just post a link to the blog on facebook if i want to elicit comments. right?
over the past few weeks i did make some under the hood updates to the website, though, most noticeably the orange background color. on some pages it fades from white to orange in left to right direction, on other pages it radially fades from white to orange from top left to bottom right.
other enhancements i made are updating most html tags to be html5 compliant. i used the following online tool to check the code on each page: markup validation service by the body that governs the world wide web.
there are a couple of things left i still need to do, which is to clean up image hyperlinks to not have spaces in the filename and a HTML5 compliant lightbox or gallery functionality. i will get to this in due time.
for now, keep enjoying my virtual home on the range.

sunday march 22, 2015

blog - updated
while waiting for the blog redesign including social media, why don't you click here to see a fairly recent zune playlist update.
update saturday january 26, 2014:
upon cursory research it is not easy to have more than 1 facebook comment box on a single webpage. it is possible by adding "/#comments2", "/#comments3" to the url section of the facebook developer page, but i was thinking of an unlimited number of posts. this would make maintaining the number of comment boxes and urls difficult. it would become even more difficult if i would want to archive one, or more, blog posts. sadly, this means i need to take some more time to architecture the blog layout as well as finding out how i can transfer commented posts. grrrr, i've got to remind myself: tech is fun, tech is fun, tech is fun ...

since my previous entry (now in random archive) i have been working on getting the 4 blog archives, linked in the top bar, up and running. all photos are now served from dreamhost's servers and all photos are visible through the activex-powered lightbox. there are still a few links to video files and one to an audio file that i need to work out a solution for, but that is the least of my concerns. first, now the blog is up, i want to add the facebook social plugin, so viewers will be able to comment on my blog entries. also, over time i will make sure to rectify any dead links in the archives, but at least all links open in a new tab, so you can continue reading/viewing the blog archive and come back to the opened links later. anyway, i am glad i got this overhaul done, because that was a mountain of work i had been postponing since forever.

sunday january 19, 2014

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