Bang & Olufsen (B&O) H2 On-ear Stereo Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Jan 16, 2015.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review:


    Sources: iPhone6+ with Portaphile Micro/PA2V2/Decware Zen Head amps using the LOD, various computers using Microstreamer/Beyer A200p/v-moda Verza DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the B&O H2 are based on direct comparisons to other headphones - the v-moda M100 and XS, the FAD Pandora VI and IV, the Beyerdynamic T1 and T90, the AKG K812 and K712, and notes that I've accumulated from many prior reviews. I'll describe how I relate to the H2 (i.e. my personal tastes and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    Most reviewers expect low-cost headphones** to have less fidelity than higher-price headphones, one reason being that the low cost of manufacturing doesn't allow the kind of detailed quality control in driver matching etc. to guarantee that the sound will be exactly the same (or close to it) from sample to sample. A second consideration for reviewers is the time invested in making the review, in hopes that the headphones the customers purchase sound the same as what the review describes. But I had two of the H6's (brown and agave green) before this, and I was curious as to whether B&O could maintain that level of quality (or something close to it) in a headphone half the price of the H6. A long story short: they did it.

    **The H2 at $200 USD might not be considered low cost, but for B&O it is.

    In many of my reviews I've used the Audioforge equalizer out of necessity, since many of those headphones have steep treble rolloffs, or less often, excessive treble brightness. In the case of the H2, we have only the small plus or minus 3-4 db variances that are typical of even the high-priced headphones, therefore I needn't comment further on EQ settings (although I do them anyway just to try to quantify the headphone's 'signature'). Out of the box**, the H2 sounds great. I can't say that it's average in its price class, since there are a lot of $200 headphones that don't sound very good. So I'll say as a point of comparison that the H2 is at least average within the set of the better $200 headphones, maybe the top 25 percent of those. The bass is very good in this class - better than the 'neutral' headphones I've owned, but not as detailed as the Beyer 'Tesla' series or the better AKG models.

    **Some of the very low-cost headphones I've had change noticeably during the burn-in process, but the H2 sound hasn't changed much at all.

    The H2's treble is a little soft - below 'neutral', but good enough for most critical listening, unless you have perfect pitch or require the full harmonic detail that's typical of the best open-back headphones. I wanted to determine how the H2 handles very loud and complex music passages, like what I hear in some of my versions of Beethoven's 9th symphony, where the orchestra and chorus are going full-tilt at the same time. The H2 seems better than average in this regard, with good separation of instruments and voices. One thing that reviewers mention frequently with small closed headphones is the 'constricted' sound coloration they usually have. I can't say whether the H2 is entirely free of that, but it's not something that stands out to me, and that's also better than average for this type of headphone.

    Isolation is about average for a small on-ear headphone (good I think), but the leakage is very low, so the H2 should be acceptable in offices, libraries, and on public transport, even at audiophile volume levels. The H2 is lightweight overall and the earpads are ideally soft and squishy, but the clamping force out of the box was surprisingly strong. Fortunately that clamp has lightened up on its own after a couple of days, and it's just enough to keep the headphone secure on my head now. I haven't experienced a headphone that changed clamping pressure this much of its own accord, so I'm curious as to how this happened and whether B&O designed it to automatically change that way. When a headband loses that much clamping force with no attention from me except for using it, I wonder whether it can maintain the current clamp from here on out, but all indications are that it will - it's a high-quality design.

    The H2 is an ideal portable headphone in the sense that it can be pulled off the head when not in use and worn around the neck with no comfort issues, with the earcups folded flat against the chest. This is important to me since the H2 does not come with a carry case of any kind, and I don't believe in packing a quality headphone into a backpack or luggage without a protective case. The range of adjustment for different head sizes is excellent - even better than many full-size headphones - about 1-3/4 inches on each side, where my average size head fits in the middle of that range. The cable is single-entry (ideal), it's detachable, and has a good durable thickness that doesn't add noticeable weight. The music player controls have a center button for stop/start and previous/next track, and buttons for volume up/down, for Apple i-devices at least (don't know about Android devices).

    In previous reviews I've included the following music examples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to those other reviews and see how the H2 compares with each individual track.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    B&O H2 review part 2 - music samples

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has excellent detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The H2 plays this very well.

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled perfectly by the H2.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note here are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts are soft and well in the background, but you can really feel the weight they carry with the H2.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Very good instrumental detail and the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The H2 plays this music smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Great sound quality - this is a good test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled extremely well by the H2.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The H2 plays the voices with enough low end warmth and weight to sound very natural, yet there is no added emphasis of the lower register of the male voices on this track.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The H2 reproduces the space and detail very well.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the H2 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The H2 plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are very detailed but not edgy - very musical in fact.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, and the tambourine is clearly recognizable.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The H2 reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The H2 plays this music perfectly.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the bass tones beginning around 0:45 have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound that indicates a solid deep-bass response. The H2 plays this music extremely well.

    Heaven 17 - Let Me Go (1980's New Wave/Techno): The bass instrument (guitar?) has excellent detail, and the voices and ambiance have a "you are there" quality that's uncommon in early 1980's pop music. The H2 plays this track perfectly.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track reproduce very well with the H2. This is a great recording for evaluating whether a headphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many headphones that have a weaker bass, the deep bass gets absorbed and mostly lost when the environment contains a lot of low-frequency energy.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has several loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical with some headphones. The H2 provides excellent reproduction. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for best-case detail. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrument separation and detail, and the H2 does those near-perfectly.

    Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek Michigan, Aeolian-Skinner Organ (1933) - Pedal, 32', Resultant, Arpeggio: This 16 hz organ pedal tone differs from other music tones in that you won't "hear" the tone - you'll only feel it. Although most music tones have harmonics (including this one), the harmonics from this tone will be too weak to provide any "feel", so whatever you actually hear would not be part of the fundamental 16 hz tone. There are ~30 hz sounds in the outdoor environment in big cities, generated by large trucks, buses, and subway trains, and they have a quality of "rumble" that's similar to some deep-bass tones found in music. This 16 hz organ tone is easily distinguished from those sounds when compared on a headphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz. The H2 plays this with enough weight and detail that you can hear/feel the 16 cycle per second "beats" of the fundamental tone.

    Mantovani - Sunrise Sunset (Easy Listening, ca. 1972): A master musician and conductor who specialized in light classics and orchestral pop music, Mantovani's accomplishments were overshadowed by music critics who couldn't tolerate the notion of "light classics" or "semi-classical" music, even when those recordings were no threat to the classical music genres. In any case the later Mantovani recordings from the mid-1960's through mid-1970's had the advantage of being mixed for much better hi-fi systems than those which the music critics possessed at the start of the Long Playing (LP) record cycle. Here in 2015, at least some of those digital remasters have improved the sound further, although it's not always the case. This track as played on the H2 is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and the weight of those impacts is subtle but appreciable with the H2.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the H2 renders this music as perfectly as I've heard an energetic pop-rock recording played with any headphone.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The H2 reproduces that sound effect perfectly.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The H2 conveys as much of that experience as is possible on a lightweight stereo headphone. The tympani also have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E H2 K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the H2 renders the tones and transients very well.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The H2's reproduction is near-perfect, and the close-miked piano is also a treat. For comparison, I have several Maynard Ferguson tracks that feature a similarly strong trumpet with lots of brassy bite.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are strong and work extremely well with the horns and other instruments. The H2 delivers the impacts with great weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.

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