Over the past weeks, I have no fewer than 3 pairs of true wireless earphones (TWE) for review (fourth one on its way). The B&O PLAY E8 was the first to arrive, so here’s my review. In case you are interested, the other TWE on hand for review are:
- Samsung Gear IconX 2018
- Jabra Elite Sport Upgraded 2017
- Jaybird RUN
Other TWE I have reviewed include:
- Erato Apollo 7
- Here One
- Bragi The Dash
- Bragi The Headphone
- GoldTouch Asia Insight
- A&D Jaap
- Samsung Gear IconX (Gen 1)
B&O PLAY or Beoplay
The formal name of this B&O series is B&O PLAY. To make the name keyword-friendly, the company romanised the brand to BEOPLAY (why not BNOPLAY? Dunno.). It became so successful that many marketing materials and websites displays “BEOPLAY” as the product brand name.
Beoplay (or B&O PLAY) is a sub-brand that reaches to the mass market with more affordable products. B&O has been categorising recent products with an alphabet followed by a number. The newest E-series stands for earphones, H-series stands for headphones.
Beoplay E8: B&O first true wireless earphones
Bang & Olufsen has over 90 years of expertise in sound and in design, and the E8 draws from this rich wealth to create the E8. I have to admit, among the TWE review units that I carry with me, the E8 is the one that I will always reach out to use instead of the others. I just love the design of both the earbuds and the carrying case.
Let’s start with the case. It is egg-shaped, compact, leather-covered, with stretchable nylon strap. It looks executive, professional, yet functional. I can throw the case in my bag and the case does not damage anything, neither does other stuff scratch the leather casually. The case opens without force, snaps gently with a single finger. The strap allows me to tie it easily on any hook or zipper.
Then, the earbuds. It is visibly prominent when worn on the ears, which may be a good thing as people can see that you are wearing earphones. The buds are not symmetrical like a bullet, which means if it happens to drop, the earbuds will not roll off uncontrollably.
The ergonomic design sits the earbuds snugly in your ears, exposing the sizable touch-panel that contours with the finger for optimal operation. The textured polymer and rubber coating is sweat resistant and achieves the right amount of friction for a more secure fit.
One of the challenges for true wireless earbuds is the battery life, and B&O designed the E8 to last 4 hours. The cradle allows 2 additional charges.
Connection Issues (and how to solve it)
Like many TWE, there is a companion app that connects to the earbuds to access additional settings, like adjusting Transparency Mode and EQ. Beoplay instructed me to download the Beoplay app and follow the on-screen instructions. This proves to be a mistake: I could never get it working as intended. During my review period, I was fortunate to have several brands of smartphones on review – Huawei Mate 10 Pro, Sony Xperia XA1 Plus, BlackBerry KEYone. All failed on first try, but out of luck, I managed to get one of them working. Thereafter, I stopped trying to test the pairing and got down into reviewing the earbuds.
Weeks later, I figured out the best way to set up the Beoplay E8 with the smartphone. And if you follow my instructions, it might just work better.
- Step 1: Pair the E8 to the smartphone using the normal Bluetooth settings. Once paired, the E8 will show on the Bluetooth setting as “connected”.
- Step 2: Start the Beoplay app and go through the new device setup process. You should be able to complete the wizard without hiccups.
Without physical buttons, controlling the playback is done by touching both earbuds. Adjust the volume by press-and-hold the earbuds – left to decrease, right to increase. Change the tracks by double-tap them – left to go previous, right to go next. Tap once on the right earbud to pause, and tap once on the left to activate Transparency Mode.
This mode turns on the microphone to let the user hear the surroundings. There are three preset options accessible from Beoplay app: Ambient option mutes the music, Social option plays with lower music volume, while Commuting option increase the music volume. When making calls with the E8, Transparency Mode is auto-activated so that you can be more aware of the surrounding while in a tele-conversation.
The mic pick-up from the transparency mode is compressed and does not sound clean. It is not ideal as a realistic feedback of ambient sound, and does not work well for me to wear it for conversations as it distorts the audio. This is in stark contrast to Here One that was built for the purpose.
Audio is transmitted from the audio device to the right earbud using Bluetooth 4.2, and synced between the 2 earbuds using NFMI (Near Field Magnetic Induction) technology. As the earbuds detect the proximity which is around 20cm, there are interesting interactions available. For instance, both earbuds touch panel must be pressed to activate Bluetooth pairing, which can occur any time during the operation, without the need to turn off and on again like most Bluetooth headsets require. When the left earbud is out of range beyond 20cm, the audio will be cut off from the left earbud.
Driven by 5.7mm electro-dynamic transducer, the E8 audio quality is transparent and bright, the bass has sufficient presence without sounding too overwhelming. It seems to align closely with the B&O sound signature which I noticed from other wireless Beoplay earphones like the H5 (review here). If you do not quite like the sound balancing, you can personalise it using the Beoplay app Tone Touch feature, by tapping on the quadrant marked as “warm”, “excited”, “relaxed” and “bright”. As I prefer the sound to have more substance at the midrange, I tweaked my sound by positioning the marker slightly towards the “warm” quadrant. The sound staging is slightly peculiar: the vocals are pin-point centre, almost mono, while the other instruments are spread in front of the ears.
As the E8 does not support advanced audio codec like aptX, there is a small chance that the audio streamed from your smartphone might not sound clean. Of all the smartphones I tested, only the Honor 8 Pro sounded the worst, with crackling lossy audio at the higher frequencies. Even on better players like Sony WM1Z, I can still hear slight compression cracks at the peak frequencies.
One year ago, I gave high marks for Erato Apollo 7 because of its sparkling audio quality. The Beoplay E8 also exhibits the similar audio clarity but with tamer treble, and if you pair it with a smartphone with good Bluetooth chip, they will shine. Beoplay E8 comes with five ear tips and charging cable in Black and Charcoal Sand, and retails for S$429. Both colours will be available at Analogue+, Apple Premium Resellers, Bang & Olufsen Store, Changi Airport Duty Free, Robinsons, Tangs and other leading independent retailers, as well as online stores like Lazada.