Hands-on review: Dyson Zone
Image credit: Dyson
This combination of premium headphones and personal air filter lets you create your own personal bubble at home or on the move, but what will other people make of the pioneering design? Our reviewer hit the streets to find out.
Do you remember when Google launched its now-discontinued Glass wearable computer? The entire world acted like mean schoolkids, rounding on early adopters of the tech and calling them Glassholes. The response was predictable, awful, hilarious. Well, Dyson’s new wearable is technologically impressive but equally Marmitey and puts you at risk of playground insults. Will wearers have Zoned out?
Dyson Zone is the company’s first audio product and first wearable. It combines high-end headphones with personal air filtration. As the former, Zone just looks like big headphones but as the latter, with a metallic visor in front of your mouth, it looks full-on. My teenagers thought I looked like Bane from Batman. I was thinking more Daft Punk or MF Doom. Either way, it’s a strong look.
Dyson started developing Zone in those halcyon days before the Covid-19 pandemic. Face masks weren’t a thing. And the Zone’s visor definitely isn’t a face mask. But we are now more conscious of airborne germs, as well as the air quality emergency in our cities, and we’re a bit more used to wearing things on our faces. So is Dyson Zone an idea that will have its moment?
Historically, Dyson has taken its engineering tech from vacuum cleaners into hairdryers, hand dryers, fans and air purifiers for the home. It’s known for its powerful motors, air filtration and innovative designs, then. So the Zone concept was always about wearable air purification.
Designers started with a concept for big headphones that could filter air. Around each earcup is a large annulus where air is drawn in by a compressor, through a dual-layer filter. Adding active noise cancellation, then, was essential to cut out the sound of the compressors.
The visor part, to deliver filtered air to your nose and mouth, is optional. It attaches easily, magnetically and without contact. It’s adjustable and sits just a fraction off your face, so it doesn’t touch you or get sweaty. Without the visor, Zone acts as high-end headphones without air filtration.
Dyson Zone in bright blue and silver cost £749.99 at the time of writing. This comes with one pair of dual-layer air filters, a carry case, a soft sleeve to stow the visor in when not in use, cleaning brush and charging cable (USB-C to USB-C).
I tested the Dyson Zone Absolute+ which costs £70 more at £819.99. This comes in a more muted blue with silver and copper. It also comes with a second set of air filters, a USB to headphone jack cable with an in-flight adaptor (the sort with twin plugs for in-flight entertainment) and two types of case.
The build quality is luxe. The hard case looks like one for premium binoculars, complete with braided strap, and the soft case is so velvety that you want to lean your face on it and fall asleep. As befits a gadget this pricey, they feel like the sort of headphones you’d carry if you turn left when boarding the plane.
Audio is delivered by 40mm, 16 Ohm, neodymium drivers with ultra-low distortion. Three EQ options in the app let you tailor the sound. Bluetooth pairing with the MyDyson app is a doddle and the headphones work smoothly. Turn them on and they pair reliably. Battery life is up to 50 hours of high-end audio or up to 4 hours of audio with air purification. And the battery charges to 100 per cent in just 3 hours.
The headphones are supremely comfortable and, although they’re huge and weigh 600g (675g with visor), they don’t feel heavy. The over-ear design doesn’t play well with big earrings but it’s fine with spectacles. The design encloses the ears and offers a high amount of passive noise cancellation – acting like ear defenders. The noise of the outside world is immediately reduced. I could hear my own pulse.
A quick double-tap on the centre of either earcup changes from ‘transparency’ to ‘isolation’ mode. You hear a little ‘thunk’ sound and then golden silence, thanks to ANC (active noise cancellation). It’s ridiculously peaceful in comparison, with the white noise of everyday life cut out and other sounds muted.
The headphones feature 11 microphones and ANC uses eight of them to monitor background sounds (384,000 times a second), then the headphones play their inverse, to cancel them out. This reduces the sound of city life by up to 38dB.
Frequency response is 6Hz-21kHz, a wider range than human hearing, so you lose nothing from your music. You can enjoy music with or without ANC, again by double-tapping. You don’t need to be in a loud environment to benefit. You will notice the difference, a lack of audible distractions, whatever you’re doing. For example, listening to mellow, acoustic music with ANC on, I could barely hear fingers tapping on the keys of a laptop. Weirdly, I could also hardly hear myself sing.
I listened to Stornoway’s glorious acoustic album ‘Bonxie Unplucked’ and could pick out spine-tingling details that I’d never heard before, with headphones or speakers. As the old joke goes: “these make it feel like the band’s in the room with you… which is great unless you’re listening to The Pogues”.
Telephony-wise, dual beamforming microphones combine signals to pick up your voice while rejecting other sounds, for clear voice calls. The tech’s also handy for voice recording and voice assistants.
Audio controls are outstanding, thanks to a clever little joystick on the back of the right earcup. Press it to play or pause. Up and down change volume, left and right change track. A long press engages your chosen audio assistant. It’s intuitive.
The MyDyson app shows a real-time graph of sound levels inside and outside the headphones, in decibels. It also shows how they compare with the recommended 85dB limit. So, on a noisy train, you can see how the loud external noise is reduced. And in any setting, you can see how ANC lets you lose yourself in music without it being loud enough to damage hearing.
The app also monitors air quality (NO2 level) when you’re using the Dyson Zone’s visor. The visor is lightweight and attaches magnetically to the two sides of the headphones. The size adjusts so it shouldn’t touch your face at all. It sits in front of your face, covering from nose to chin, like the bottom bit of a motorcycle helmet. Then it supplies filtered air to just in front of your mouth and nose – it feels like a cool breeze. There’s an airflow button on the back of the left earcup to cycle between levels: auto-1-2-3-off. Keep it on auto: a built-in accelerometer knows when you’re running for the bus and boosts your air supply. Higher levels obviously reduce battery life.
To me, it was simply a cool breeze to breathe. But Dyson’s blurb tells me that the negatively charged electrostatic filter on each side captures 99 per cent of particle pollution as small as 0.1 microns (PM0.1), including ultrafine particles that have a long-term impact on health, such as allergens, brake dust, combustion and construction. The second layer, K-Carbon, is a potassium-enriched carbon filter which specifically captures city gas pollutants like NO2, SO2 and O3, vehicle fumes as well as nasty odours. Filters have a lifespan of around a year, depending on usage and location, with app alerts to tell you when to replace them.
Dyson Zone is huge but feels comfortable. You soon forget you’re wearing it… but to anyone else, it looks ridiculous with the visor. The fact that I didn’t want to wear it out of the house, to see what people’s reactions were like, says everything.
But I duly wore it on the street, bus and train in the name of gadget journalism. And the result was… nothing. No funny looks, no comments, no questions. It was disregarded. Even babies didn’t give me a second glance. To be fair, this was in London, where people rarely speak to strangers, even strangers walking down the street in their pants.
Noise cancellation was good, but internal sounds, like my own footsteps, sounded louder because of the silence. Playing music was better. It was peaceful in my bubble. In a shop, noise cancellation did a great job of nixing the machine noise of refrigerators.
For phone calls and voice notes, the mic picked up more wind noise than expected. But call quality wasn’t bad: my voice was thinner than calling on the handset but not head-in-a-bucket.
I even went into Lidl, hoping to bump into a shopper blunt enough to tell me how daft I looked. Nothing. As I walked down the hallowed middle aisle, I realised that it was just one more in a sea of weird products.
Maybe I looked unapproachable in my copper face-cocoon? But a man on the train spoke to me. I could barely hear him, so I flipped down the visor. Although the connection is only magnetic, you can flip down the visor to pause music and air purification, flip it back up to resume. It’s intuitive but there’s a delay of just over a second (this might improve with firmware updates, which the app installs seamlessly). Sadly the man was asking about my dog and made no mention of the Dyson.
Walking down the street (still no comments from passers-by) the Dyson Zone felt cool, not sweaty, and light to wear. I noticed my chin sometimes touched the bottom of the visor. Walk fast and the fan ramps up and is more audible.
The visor’s clean air delivery felt more useful indoors, less useful outdoors. Even the slightest wind feels like it interferes with it anyway. So I think I’d only bother with it on public transport.
My only teething trouble was the battery going flat if I left it for days between uses. It turned out that I was missing a trick. It was going into standby mode but if you want to completely power it down, you have to hold down the airflow button on the back of the left earcup until it flashes white. Problem solved.
If money is no object, and you don’t mind their size, Dyson Zone are glorious headphones. You can shut yourself off from the world and lose yourself in music, the soundscape of your choosing, even silence. They’re like a flotation tank for the ears. It’s tempting to don a blindfold too: they’d be fantastic on a plane or train journey, when you just want to be in a bubble of your own.
If you’re someone who wants a personal bubble in the workplace, that works too. But wearing the Dyson Zone’s visor is more debatable. It’s a personal question and your answer might vary. For example, you might only want to wear it to purify the air on flights but be too self-conscious on public transport. Or you might find yourself using it for city life full stop. Dyson Zone may look daft but it’s a way to cope with the horrendous double problem of noise and air pollution.
The design and engineering are utterly impressive. The only thing that’s questionable is the visor’s aesthetics. The headphones look fine, if chunky. But would you be too embarrassed to wear the visor? But if you can’t magically fix the air and noise pollution of city life, you may as well filter it out. And crucially, if celebrities and influencers start sporting Dyson Zone, to create their own personal bubbles, it will become a status symbol, rather than an embarrassment.
From £749.99 dyson.co.uk
Bose QuietComfort 45
These Bose headphones are popular with frequent flyers for their combination of noise cancelling, audio performance, and comfort. You can also adjust the EQ to get the sound exactly how you want it. Battery life of up to 22 hours.
Bowers & Wilkins Px8
B&W’s flagship wireless over-ear headphones offer noise cancellation and high-resolution audio anywhere. With aptX and Digital Signal Processing for 24-bit sound from suitable streaming services. Battery life of up to 30 hours.
Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless
Wireless, over-ear, noise cancelling, and again with an app that lets you select EQ. An outstanding battery life of 60 hours and you can fully charge it in just 2 hours.
Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.