Bang and Olufsen A8 Earphones: The Luxury of Audiophile-Grade Sound
Jan 27, 2006 (Updated Aug 24, 2006)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:impeccable and durable build quality, custom fit, crisp-clear highs, plentiful and warm lows, colorful midrange
Cons:if you wear glasses, you might want to try these on first
The Bottom Line: For $160 MSRP, you get to own earphones engineered to perfection by a reputed European AV giant, which provide powerful, live quality sound and excellent durability.
Bang and who?
Recommend this product?
Bang and Olufsen company is the Aston Martin of audio-visual equipment. Based in Europe, B&O manufactures a wide array of equipment ranging from telephones and earphones to plasma screens and audiophile home theater systems. With a hefty price tag to suit, the B&O-branded electronics is built to the highest standards of quality, reliability, and technological advancement.
How the purchase came about
At this stage of my life, I cannot yet afford their 300-dollar telephone, not even to speak of their multi-thousand-dollar home sound system. However, I do love music and can appreciate the best in sound technology. When I saw the B&O A8 Earphones in the SWISS Air in-flight Duty Free catalog at a reduced price, I decided to gamble on B&O's excellent reputation and buy the earphones.
What you get in your purchase
The headphones came sealed in a plain and inconspicuous small cardboard box, with a Bang & Olufsen logo on it. The box contained the headphones, an extension cord for the headphone plug, a leather storage pouch, an extra set of foam pads for the earphones, and a 2-prong airplane adapter to allow you to plug into the 2-outlet sound systems on some planes. Everything was packed neatly and securely.
Construction of the earphones
Without a picture posted above, it might be a bit of a challenge to provide a visual description, but bare with me (or look up a picture of these on the Bang & Olufsen website). Basically, the round plastic pod containing the speaker that is supposed to sit on your ear's external auditory canal is attached by a metal beam to an arc-and-pole construct that is also made of metal throughout. The arc sits around the back of your earlobe to secure the earphone assembly in place. Toward the front of the earlobe, the arc is joined to a vertical pole by a pivoting joint, meaning that the angle between the arc and the pole can be adjusted. The metal beam that attaches the speaker pod to the pole can slide up or down the pole on the vertical axis or rotate around the pole azimuthally.
Confused? Let me try that again. There are two joints in the earphone construct: the arc-to-pole pivoting joint toward the top and the pole-to-(earpod beam) joint that both slides and pivots. This way, you can adjust how snug you wish the arc to sit against the back of your earlobe, and you can adjust exactly where your ear canal is located in relation to the rest of your earlobe. Basically, the B&O A8 earphones are so adjustable that they can custom-fit any human ear, no matter if your earlobes are different or extra-small or extra-large or whatever. This way, you can position the speaker pod exactly on *your* ear canal and fit it snugly, so that there is minimal sound leakage from the speaker.
As I mentioned, the construct is sturdy, made of, probably, machined aluminum to keep the weight down. The arc is covered in very soft, fine rubber or silicone, so it won't feel cold against your ears and provide enough wearing comfort. The pole and the beam are not covered, but they generally do not touch your skin, the way the construct is designed, so that is just as well. The joints are all metal as well. The arc-to-pole joint a precision feel when you adjust it - not too hard, not too soft. It will stay in place, but it's also easy to adjust it while on your ear without wrangling the assembly all around. The pole-to-earpod beam slider has an excellent feel to it as well: two precision-machined surfaced sliding against each other in a controlled, smooth, viscous motion. Again, you can adjust the slider right on your ear. The earpod is made out of sturdy plastic and covered in a foam pad.
The build quality is overall fantastic, and B&O certainly does not seem to have spared any expense even on the smallest details. The chords are well-protected, come with soft-feeling sleeves made of either quality rubber or silicone. The plugs click into place securely, and you can feel when they are fully inserted. The leather pouch that comes with the package is rather tough, which is good for protecting your headphones in storage or transport (although can be a bit cumbersome to use all the time).
B&O A8 fits perfectly, such that the speaker pod sits exactly on your ear canal and angled as perpendicular to your canal as possible without putting any strain on the earphone assembly. B&O got this exactly right, and when I say precision engineering, I mean you can simply sit and marvel at these earphones: the detail with which they were designed, machined, and assembled is second to absolutely none. This looks and fits exactly like a fully adjustable 160-dollar earphone should.
The earphones feel comfortable and light on my earlobes. If you make the arc too snug, it might start hurting your earlobe after prolonged wearing, but as you get more experienced with adjusting your earphone construct, that no longer is a problem. I have to say, however, that I do not wear glasses in general. I am not certain how glasses might affect wear comfort. I am sure B&O tried to account for that in their design, but I would be cautious if I were wearing glasses - perhaps try them on before you buy them and see whether they interfere with your glasses or not.
Along higher frequencies, the A8s provide sharp, crisp, precisely clear sound. The detail in imaging is stunning: you can hear the most subtle of effects in percussion and drums. If the recording equipment could pick up those minute sounds, the A8 earphones will make sure you get to hear them. Whenever the drummer hits those cymbals, you can enjoy listening to the pristine ripples of all the echos so generated. Accoustic instruments can generate a lot of natural high-frequency ripples and echos, and if the recording equipment picked them up, you'll hear them beautifully detailed on the B&O A8s. Such high-quality treble spectrum benefits all "non-synthetic" instruments, such as piano, guitar, drums, horns, violins, and many others. Needless to say, classical music sounds sharp, and so does well-recorded jazz. In jazz, you can hear the tiniest movement of the drummer's brushes, and you get to experience the horns slice the air or sax deliver the most romantically intricate "breath" notes.
Along the middle of the spectrum, the B&O takes a well-balanced approach. There can be two main shortfalls with the midrange, vacuum or over-brightness, and the A8 earphones manage to avoid them both. Instead, their midrange spectrum combines the rich and colorful rainbow of discriminating sound with a good measure of control to keep the midrange from being over-bright. The result is natural, precise, live-quality sound that captures the intricacies of piano chords without muddling, the subtle touches of violin, the understated harmony of rhythm guitars, the different tones of saxophone, the pristinely clear and colorful yet controlled harmonica, and the list goes on. Classical music will sound natural, like it should in a concert hall, without the usual distortion of the audio output equipment. Jazz regains its heat and vigor. When the record production is of good quality and the masters are playing, the A8s will reproduce the sound with stunning clarity, richness, and detail. The midrange has definitely been engineered for an audiophile.
Near the bottom of the sound spectrum, where the lows live, is where most of the headphones miss the mark, even some of the very expensive full-size headphones. In the most common cases, the bass is either lacking or it is so overcompensated that it booms out of control and muddles everything else on records that have even a hint of bass. Then there's the B&O A8 earphones, which are designed to keep even the most discerning music enthusiast satisfied. Indeed, B&O did a stellar job in the low-frequency spectrum: the bass is stunningly powerful while remaining tight, clear, unmuddled, and well-controlled. Sound too good to be true? Perhaps it is too good to be true, but this is what you get with the B&O A8s. The low-end of the drum beat is rich, tight, and warm. The sound from accoustic bass is excellent as well because you can actually hear the string instrument behind it rather than mud. This especially goes for jazz, where accoustic jazz is prominent occurrence. Nonetheless, every music genre benefits from rich and accurate bass response. R&B/Soul and rap, which are often exceedingly rich in bass, get to hear their bass, rich and warm, but without the common muddling effect.
Another feature I enjoy about the A8s is their wide power band of distortion-free sound output. As the sound level is stepped up, you can go from whisper-quiet to nearly deafening sound output without the noisy distortion. As the power to the headphones is ramped up, they can take full advantage of the extra power and still provide tight and crisp-clear sound. What I find fascinating is that the bass still does not rattle even at high volumes even on bass-rich recordings. Perhaps I find listening to the A8s at higher volumes especially enjoyable, but not too long, as I don't want to cause damage to my ears. When using the A8s, I did not experiment with adding an inline headphone amplifier. Personally, I did not feel the need for any better sound, but judging from how these earphones seem to like extra power, it could be conceivable that a good headphone amplifier could be a plausible addition to the listening set-up.
What does all this amount to? Perfection, for some. Darn near perfection, to others. The Bang & Olufsen A8 earphones are precision-built in and out. They have extremely durable construction which was manufactured to such high standard of engineering and class that you may want to put them in your hand and admire them like a piece of jewelry. When you play well-recorded music with a good sound source, the A8s will output live-quality sound, which will make you think you're among the band, with every detail heard in the colorful and well-balanced midrange, with the bass rich and tight, and with the treble sharp and clear enough to image the sound of a pin drop.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is the Aston Martin of sound, indeed. When I gambled on the reputation of Bang and Olufsen and bought these earphones without knowing anything abou them or reading any reviews about them, I could not have made a better decision. Ever since the beginning of my ownership in February '06 (nearly 7 months at the time of this writing), I have not a single complaint. The B&O A8s have met my need for top-of-the-line sound reproduction and balance, and they can easily rival or stand up to much more expensive sound output equipment, despite their miniature size.
For $160 MSRP, the Bang and Olufsen A8 Earphones are worth every penny for any music enthusiast and/or audiophile.
Links to my other audio equipment reviews:
Onkyo CS-V720 DVD Receiver (completely updated!)
Onkyo SKW-200 Subwoofer
Beyerdynamic DT 250-80 Headphones
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