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Roadtesting the bonkers Dyson Zone air-purifying headphones in London

It takes a bold soul to stride around town while sporting headphones with a metallic grille that will make you look like the missing member of Daft Punk. Indeed, when Dyson floated the idea of exotic cans with a built-in air purification system back in spring 2022, the whole thing felt like an April Fool’s joke.

And yet, here we are, with this radical concept now conjured into reality. The engineering giant has kindly provided the finished article for me to showcase to the London public. Put simply, it’s time to rock and roll.

For those who’ve not been following this story, Dyson’s vision was to shoe-horn a powerful motor into each earcup of these bold commuter headphones, which then suck air through replaceable filters. This newly purified air is then channelled directly into the wearer’s nose and mouth via the funky clip-on visor.

It’s a good job there is a posh noise-cancelling feature, because each motor spins at up to 9,750 revolutions per minute, depending on your level of physical exertion at any given moment. You can leave this setting on automatic if it makes your head hurt to even think about what that means.

In all my years as a tech journalist, this is the first time a brand has insisted on meeting to fit a pair of headphones. Thankfully, this proves a simple task. I’m shown how to attach the visor, which snaps into place with a satisfying magnetic click and can then easily swing open, or be removed entirely while not in use. Within minutes, I am hot to trot.

The first thing you notice about these Dyson Zone cans is their sheer heft. Even compared to audiophile models, these feel chunky – and I find myself clanking against the glass partitions of the train carriage on the Piccadilly Line as I adjust to my head’s newly widened dimensions amid a throng of commuters.

Coming in strong at 670g with the visor attached, these weigh almost three times as much as their wildly popular (and admittedly featherweight) Sony WH-1000XM5 rival. You might not feel this immediately, because Dyson has done such a fine job of making them feel comfy. After a while, though, you’ll need to neck muscles of a Formula One driver not to realise that you have something akin to the weight of small cantaloupe melon perched on your bonce.

The Dyson Zone headphones can be worn with the visor down or even removed (Evening Standard)
The Dyson Zone headphones can be worn with the visor down or even removed (Evening Standard)

Surprisingly, the visor itself does not contribute much to this, as it’s only plastic. If anything, this feels like it’d easily break if you treat it roughly, which is fairly likely, as it’s not designed to be attached most of the time and will flump about in your bag or pocket. The air-purification system reduces the battery life from 50 hours per recharge down to four and so it’s intended for occasional use when you need clean air. It also looks weird.

Speaking of which, there’s no denying that most folks are gobsmacked to see me parade around in something that looks like a spare prop from Tron. I make a point of gauging the vibe in the room as I saunter through town and stop for banter with the more curious passers-by, of whom there are plenty.

As Jacob Collins, a paralegal en route to his graduation ceremony generously puts it: “change always does look strange to start off with”. Others were considerably less charitable, looking either weirded-out or distinctly amused. It takes something special to make Londoners rubberneck as you walk past them.

Most people simply wanted to know the price. Since you ask, the standard model costs £750 and the snazzier Absolute+ version shown here is a whopping £820, although you do get a luxurious case in the bundle. This carry case is so large I needed to take a separate bag to tote it around all day. Oh, the irony.

The Dyson Zone Absolute + version of these headphones come with a carry case (Evening Standard)
The Dyson Zone Absolute + version of these headphones come with a carry case (Evening Standard)

My initial impressions are largely positive. You can barely hear the fans whir, mostly due to impressive noise-reduction and it’s refreshing to feel a constant waft of clean air while navigating the bowels of the Tube. The Dyson app monitors air-quality around you to show how much difference the filters make but I’m all-too-aware of how much more tolerable it is to breathe within the rank tunnels of Kings Cross station.

The sound quality is solid too. Admittedly, it’s not on par with the Sony WH-1000XM5, which are less than half the cost, never mind similarly priced models, such as the excellent Focal Bathys. To be picky, the Dyson Zone lacks a little dynamism or refinement with some types of music and its features are comparatively modest.

And yet all of that misses the point. Those who suffer from hayfever or struggle to tolerate pollutants will be chuffed to know there is a way forward. I predict plenty will be sold to affluent people who live in cities with awful air-quality. The fact that the Dyson Zone went on sale in Asia prior to Europe or the US tells its own story.

Yes, this feels like a first-generation product. Even so, Dyson deserves kudos for daring to be different and showing that what sounded like an impossible feat of engineering is entirely viable. Whether it’s practical remains to be seen.

The Dyson Zone headphones go on sale in the UK today (17 May, 2023). You can buy them now from Dyson, with prices starting at £749.99.