Lots of brands have a lot of wireless active noise-cancelling over-ear headphones at lots of different prices to sell you, but one brand has, until now, been conspicuous by its absence. Technics has been enjoying plenty of success with its wireless in-ear headphones lately, and now its headphones range is bolstered by these EAH-A800.
The EAH-A800 certainly look the part. A glance at the spec-sheet tells you they have what it takes to compete. They carry one of the more evocative brand logos in all of Electronics Land. But given the ferocity of the opposition they face, these Technics need to do plenty more than just show up looking good…
The Technics EAH-A800 are priced at £299 / $349 / AU$549. That’s a price that a) puts them in the thick of the ‘premium wireless over-ear noise-cancellers’ action, and b) handily undercuts our current reigning champion, the £379 / $399 / AU$549 Sony WH-1000XM5 (unless you’re in Australia).
Sony isn’t the only brand Technics needs to watch out for, though. Apple’s massive AirPods Max are no longer quite so massively priced (£429 / $549 / AU$709), Sennheiser’s Momentum 3 Wireless are almost a third cheaper than the Technics, and the not-long-for-this-world Bowers & Wilkins PX7 can be yours for less too. And that’s to mention just three very credible alternatives…
It’s not ‘unadventurous’ or ‘a missed opportunity’ to produce a pair of over-ear headphones that share the same broad design as every other pair – it’s utterly sensible. And so Technics, which is an utterly sensible brand, has delivered an upmarket, tactile and good-looking product in the EAH-A800 that’s recognisably a pair of over-ear headphones.
Both the silver and black finishes look good (although ‘black’ turns out to mean ‘dark grey’ in this instance), and the headphones are built with the sort of thoroughness we associate with the brand’s turntables. At 298g the EAH-A800 are a little heavier than the Sony XM5, but that doesn’t mean they’re heavy or any kind of burden to wear. And when you’re not wearing them, there’s enough articulation in the frame to let them fold into a fairly small, egg-shaped semi-hard carry-case.
The contact points (earpads and the inside of the headband) are of faux leather filled with memory foam. The materials resist absorbing body heat for a good while and, because the clamping force of the headband is so nicely judged, the A800 stay comfortable for ages at a time. The earpads are relatively soft, though, which means they’re more inclined to move about a little on your ears than most alternative designs.
There’s a 40mm free-edge dynamic driver inside each earcup, augmented by an ‘acoustic control chamber’ intended to control airflow and leave the driver free to do its thing. Technics is claiming a frequency response of 4Hz - 40kHz – which bodes well if the EAH-A800 can actually get anywhere near that sort of low- and high-frequency extension.
‘Dual hybrid noise-cancelling technology’ is the system Technics has left in charge of noise-cancellation for the EAH-A800. It uses an analogue filter with feedback mic, along with a digital filter with a feed-forward mic, in a drive to minimise noise invasion from both within and outside of the earcups. The intensity of the noise-cancellation, and of the amount of ambient sound the headphones will allow if you ask for it, can be specified in the ‘Audio Connect’ control app – there are 100 stages of adjustment available, which should be plenty for most users. Technics suggests the arrangement provides noise-cancellation that’s a match for the best of its rivals – which basically means Bose and, more recently, Sony.
In practice, though, the effectiveness of the system belongs in the ‘good’ rather than the ‘great’ category. In terms of maintaining their tonal attitude when the system is switched on, the Technics do well – and even with the noise-cancelling set at ‘100’ there’s no sensation of opposition or aural aftertaste introduced while the noise-cancellation circuitry does its thing. But while the EAH-A800 can (to an extent) do a job on external sounds, they can’t quite eliminate them in the way, say, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 can. ‘Reduce’ is what happens here, rather than ‘remove’.
Battery life 60 hours (max)
Dimensions (hwd) 19.6 x 17 x 8.5cm
Voice control Alexa; Siri
The Technics use Bluetooth 5.2 for wireless connectivity, with SBC, AAC and LDAC codec compatibility – which means owners of (most likely) Sony smartphones can enjoy some truly high-resolution streaming, while the rest of us are left to bemoan the lack of any aptX compatibility.
Bluetooth 5.2 is about as energy-efficient as they come, of course, and it plays its part in delivering some truly impressive battery-life figures. Use LDAC with noise-cancelling dialled all the way up and you can expect to go 30 hours between charges; use AAC with the ANC switched off and that number can confidently be doubled. Not many rivals, at any price, can live with these numbers – and if you’re negligent enough to let the worst happen, a 15-minute pit-stop will hold you for another 10 hours.
As far as control is concerned, you have a number of (well-implemented) options. On the right earcup there’s a capacitive touch surface of quite restricted functionality, along with the classic three-button strip of physical controls. These handle ‘play/pause’, ‘skip forwards/backwards’, ‘answer/end/reject call’ and ‘volume up/down’. There’s also a USB-C socket for charging, a 3.5mm analogue input for hard-wired use and a ‘power on/off/Bluetooth pairing’ button. The software seems less perfectly implemented than it might be, though – responses to the controls can charitably be described as ‘leisurely’, and occasionally a press to turn power ‘off’ doesn’t turn the A800 off at all. Slicker control software than this is routinely available elsewhere.
Amazon Alexa is built-in, which is handy for those of us already in that ecosystem – interaction proves reliable and responsive. Siri is available too – you can choose between the two in the Audio Connect app. As far as these things go, it’s very stable in operation – and is either clean and minimalist or rather austere, depending on your taste. It’s home to some EQ presets (as well as the option to use a five-band equaliser to create your own), and lets you specify the function (in the singular) of the touch surface. Here’s where you can select ‘transparent mode’ (intended to deliver the entirety of the ambient sounds you’re amongst) or ‘attention mode’ (which focuses on the midrange, making it easier to hear announcements or the like).
The EAH-A800 are compatible with multi-point pairing (so connecting to a smartphone and a laptop, say, at the same time is no problem), and have accelerometers that will pause music if you remove the headphones and start it again if you put them back on inside a minute.
So it’s basically ‘premium wireless active noise-cancelling over-ear headphones’ business as usual.
It’s not unusual to find headphones with EQ adjustment sound their best when EQs are left well alone, and the Technics EAH-A800 are another pair that simply cannot be sonically improved beyond the voicing their engineers gave them. Oh, you can make the A800 sound different – but better? No chance.
So with EQ settings untouched and a big Tidal Masters file of Every Day’s A Holiday, Every Night’s A Party by The Saints streaming, the A800 are a straightforward and generally enjoyable listen. Certainly they have some areas of performance that are a match for the best of their rivals.
Tonally, they’re convincingly naturalistic. The bottom of the frequency range is well controlled, properly deep and nicely shaped – bass is substantial but not overstated, and thanks to prompt attack and decay the song’s momentum is given good expression. The opposite end of the frequency range is equally accomplished – treble sounds are crisp but weighty, which makes the headphones sound both alert and informative. The top end can get a bit of a glint in its eye if music or source player is unsympathetic in high-frequency terms, but it never quite becomes coarse – it just threatens to.
In the midrange, there’s more than enough detail to give a singer’s character and attitude worthwhile expression. But though the midrange communicates well, it’s rather congested when compared to the top and bottom of the frequency range – despite the impressive detail levels, there’s not a lot of elbow-room on the soundstage for the midrange to operate. And this lack of breathing space can make the A800 sound slightly small-scale and crowded where their best rivals are expansive and clear.
The Technics have no problem handling the big dynamic shifts in The Four Horsemen by Aphrodite’s Child (featuring the late, lamented Vangelis) – some alternatives can put even greater distance between ‘almost silent’ and ‘great big finish’, but the EAH-A800 are no slouch in this regard. And they’re equally respectable where the more minor, but no less important, harmonic variations in the same song are concerned too.
This all assumes you’re sitting down or standing still to enjoy your listening, though. Despite what feels like perfectly robust build quality, the structure of the EAH-A800 is not silent – it transmits the noise of any movement a little too readily, particularly footfalls. Allied to the degree of movement allowed by the rather soft earpads, it makes truly mobile listening less of a pleasure here than it otherwise would be.
Good looks, impressive specification and straightforwardly epic battery life all carry the Technics EAH-A800 quite a distance – and there’s lots to admire in the way they sound, too. But the rather round-shouldered reproduction of the midrange, along with some very unwelcome inputs from the structure of the headphones itself, mean they’re not the most compelling proposition around.
- Sound 4
- Comfort 4
- Build 4
Read our review of the WH-1000XM5
Also consider the Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless