Are you looking for pair of wireless noise-canceling over-ear headphones? Just throw about $350 towards Bose, or Sony, or AKG, or Bowers & Wilkins, and the job’s done – some expensive, but perfect headphones are yours. But you might not be that cavalier. You may be a little more judicious – and after all, ‘the most expensive’ doesn’t necessarily equate to ‘the best’, and hardly ever equal ‘the best value.’ Today, we are were with our Philips PH805 Review.
So what can you do if you want the best value for a noise-canceling over-ear wireless headset without coming close to ‘the most expensive’? You should consider the latest Philips PH805s, that’s what. In terms of value for money, they’re about as good as new at the moment.
Philips PH805 Review: Design
Do you know how some films are ‘inspired’ by a book or ‘inspired’ by real events? Well, it seems that the Philips PH805s are ‘inspired’ by Sony’s acclaimed WH-1000XM3 wireless noise cancellers. Indeed, over-ear headphones often look the same, and it’s a brave (or silly) manufacturer who tries anything too radical in design. However, there is such a strong suggestion from the Sonys about the PH805s, especially around the contours of the ear cups, that it seems that Philips is not so much ‘inspired’ by the WH-1000XM3s as a tribute to them.
But in any case, the PH805s are handsome and beautifully understated. Everything meant to move is so smooth, and the quality of the materials used feels high. Admittedly, there is not the premium design that $399/£350/AU$599.95 spent on a pair of Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 you buy, but nothing about the way the Philips’ look or feel is going to make you wish you had spent twice as much money.
The headlines here are clear, right? These are wireless headphones, using Bluetooth 5.0 for connectivity – so high-resolution audio playback should be feasible. They are powered by a battery, using a single Lithium-Ion cell for up to 30 hours of playback time on a single charge. They also have onboard active noise cancellation, administered by a pair of microphones on each ear cup. There are three modes of noise cancellation: ‘on,’ ‘off,’ and ‘ambient noise.’
The first two modes should be self-explanatory, while ‘ambient noise’ provides a dramatic cancellation in music volume while giving a gentle stimulus to external sounds. Most interaction with the PH805 takes place using the correct auricle. There are some touch controls on the face of the ‘cup’ – swipe up to increase volume, swipe down to decrease volume, and tap once every three phases of noise cancellation. There is also a push/slide control on the back of the ear cup – press and hold to turn it on/off or give it a short press to start Bluetooth pairing.
If you are already paired, the same short press will call up your voice wizard of choice (again, there are microphones on both earcups to make this easier). The right earcup even has a 3.5mm input for use with the cable in case the worst happens, and your Philips runs out of power. On the left side, there is only a lone micro-USB connection – Philips thinks you can get two hours of playtime in the PH805’s with just five minutes of charge.
It doesn’t matter how you get the music aboard the PH805s; it’s supplied by a pair of 40mm free-edge full-range drivers. To keep those drivers at a comfortable distance from your head, the Philips ear cups are generously lined with memory foam, while the headband isn’t so generously lined either. It’s not difficult to sit comfortably in the PH805 – the weight of 235g makes that possible – although it has to be said that those ear cups seem to warm up a little faster than most competitive designs.
Philips PH805 Review: Performance
As noted, support for Bluetooth 5.0 can only be excellent. Not only does it provide superior battery life, but it’s also useful for getting full MQA-controlled TIDAL Masters files aboard the headset – so in the interest of giving the 805’s every chance, that’s how our tests begin. Stormzy’s Heavy Is the Head (via the TIDAL app on a Sony Xperia 5 Android smartphone) has a bit of everything. At the bottom, it’s big and bold, which is precisely how the Philips makes it sound – but the hefty low frequencies are well controlled, full of detail and texture, and don’t crack the information above them. Instead, they strike loud and fast and are no longer welcome.
On the other side of the frequency range, there’s also good news. Part of the high-frequency bite and crunch of this shot has just been completed by the 805’s, but there is still more than enough attack to make up for the slight lack of crispness. Between those extremes, the midrange is communicative, agile, and full of the kind of detail that gives a vocalist a real character. Every crease and sibilant, every breakneck twist of the phrase, every snigger and sneer is fully delivered and made explicit with his intentions. The Philips’ are well-balanced and controlled enough to make this colossal level of communication unhindered and easy to follow.
From those rolled highest frequencies to the heavy low-end stuff, the PH805s integrate the entire frequency range very well. It may seem obvious if a single full-range driver produces the whole frequency range, but there are enough headphones that don’t have such balanced frequency management to make the Philips sound impressive in this respect. Only the top is a little cautious – everything else is cohesive and unambiguous.
By resolutely moving away (both in terms of file size and recording quality) from a Spotify stream of The Velvet Underground’s unhinged I Heard Her Call My Name, the PH805s can double all their strengths while at the same time revealing a few occasional flaws. Bass power, midrange fidelity, and high-end good taste are all in evidence, even when the melody collapses periodically in a howl of electric noise-making. However, the best headphones give more expression to the wild dynamics of recording than the PH805s seem to be able to do.
This is a melody that intentionally loses control, and the best headphones can make it sound authentically oppressive and intimidating. The 805’s aren’t exactly relaxed when dealing with this song, but they don’t have the broad dynamic talent to make the most of the threat. During our Philips PH805 Review, the only area where Philips’ seems demonstrably less capable than the alternatives that cost twice as much is when it comes to their active noise-canceling.
There just isn’t what you might call a big difference between ‘off’ and ‘on’ – ‘on’ brings some cancellation in outside noise, yes, but it doesn’t come close to reducing the noise of a train or an airplane by a significant amount. If your priority is isolation rather than audio fidelity, the PH805s is almost certainly not for you. The rest of us should think about it, though. They don’t cost much more than half of what a pair of Sony WH-1000XM3s cost, they are very similar, and they are not far behind when it comes to sound.
Price and Availability
The Philips PH805 are available to buy for $199/£160. That’s about AU$290 based on current conversion rates, but we are still waiting for confirmation of Australian prices. That is cheaper than the best noise-canceling headphones in 2020, the Sony WH-1000XM3, which at a launch cost $349/£300 AU$499. They are closer to the JBL Live 650BTNC, which comes in at $200/£180/AU$250.
Philips PH805 Review: Conclusion
You get what you pay for’ isn’t always right, but in the case of the Philips PH805s, you get a lot more. The build quality and sound quality are imposing, and the battery life is also perfect. It’s only real when you consider that noise cancellation is an even more sensible way to spend more than this. But when it comes to sound quality, you won’t be disappointed with these high-quality wireless headphones. For more options, check our list of Best Noise Cancelling Headphones in 2020.
In terms of material, construction and sound, these Philips headphones are better than the price suggests. Active noise cancellation, however, leaves the side a bit in the lurch.
- Well made
- Good battery life
- Punchy, controlled, and detailed sound
- Noise-cancellation could be better
- Not the most dynamic sound