The ANC works extremely well, and while the headphones aren’t the loudest I’ve ever used, there’s a good balance of noise canceling, sound isolating, and music to drown out the din in one of the noisier sections of the entire underground system. However, with the visor on, the cool breeze flowing through my mouth is quite pleasant.
If I stop my music, I’m vaguely aware of the hum from the fans in my ears, but it’s not as noticeable and unacceptable as it is at the office. This is a relief, but there’s no question that from an audio perspective, the fan motor tarnishes audio quality. Is it a compromise you might be willing to make for a breath of fresh air?
Fan noise is considerably louder if you are sitting next to someone using the Dyson Zone. No, it’s not nearly as irritating as someone playing music through a phone speaker, or standard headphone sound leakage for that matter, but it’s there. There’s something uncomfortably selfish about an expensive personal air purifier that actually produces noise pollution.
Application and air quality
As mentioned, having fresh air in your nose and mouth (especially in public transport) is quite a nice feeling. Of the four levels, the most powerful was my choice, despite the extra drain on the battery, because at lower speeds I could barely feel a breeze. Auto mode adjusts according to the air quality around me, but it never got out of the lowest gear, despite being in some pretty nasty conditions.
Which brings us to the question: How do you know if they are working? The app has a lot of data you can dive into, with regional air quality reports and NOT real-time.2 monitoring, with a traffic light system that shows how bad the air quality is. But real-time reading only kicks in when you’re wearing the headphones, and disconcertingly, there are no poor air quality alerts, which seems like a missed opportunity.
This is especially noteworthy since Dyson has admitted that (possibly after the industry-wide uproar that followed the original product reveal?) it sees the Zone as a “headphones first” product, with the air purifier being the a nice extra. Regardless, being told when to wear the visor should definitely be on the feature list.
The filters last a full year, and you’re reminded to buy more via the app, but when it comes to how well the negatively charged electrostatic filters and potassium-enriched carbon bed work, we’ve got to take their word for it. Dyson.
It’s also worth noting that standing in Oxford Circus in central London, one of the most polluted streets in the UK to have broken legal boundaries of air quality: the app never registered more than the “green” base rate of 0.5. It terrifies me to think how bad the air quality would have to be to get into the red rate.
If you’ve somehow missed this review by now, let me be clear: I didn’t enjoy my time in public testing the Dyson Zone. They are too big, expensive and exaggerated. Maybe one day we will all use personal air purifiers? Covid taught us how quickly what seems “normal” can change. But for now, I can’t help but see them as an elitist symbol of late-stage capitalism. Frankly, I’m surprised they exist.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t an engineering marvel, and could very well become an audience, and you can’t help but applaud Dyson’s ability to cram all that technology into one pair of headphones.
In fact, if Dyson feels inclined, they could craft an excellent pair of headphones, with best-in-class noise cancellation, impressive speech transparency, solid audio quality, and striking good looks. He would ditch the filters, fans, and visor, which would significantly reduce the overall size, weight, and price, and he would have a hit on his hands. Asking the public to deposit up to $1,000 for them, with a flashy air-purifying visor as an added feature, is a sham.
At nearly double the cost of AirPods Max, as much as Dyson wants to spin this product as “headphones first,” the Zone’s raison d’être is to provide portable clean air as we walk our polluted planet. But it’s cleaner air for the wealthy, for those who probably already live in better and cleaner environments, who want protection when venturing into unsavory urban settings. And that’s an uncomfortable thought. A thought that is almost as worrisome as using the Zones themselves.