Dyson goes for headphones in the best possible way: the Zone, a pair of noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones with built-in air-purifying technology, thanks to a bizarre-looking magnetic face visor. It’s both the strangest and most ambitious product the company has ever made.
Today’s announcement is just a first reveal of the Zone headphones ahead of a fall release date, and Dyson isn’t giving specific details like price or specs (including how much the headphones weigh or how long the battery lasts) at this time.
The aim of the zone is to make urban living more comfortable by attempting to reduce both air and noise pollution.
The Zone’s air purification half doesn’t reinvent the wheel for Dyson. Instead, it miniaturizes the company’s existing air filter technology into a unique form factor. The Zone pulls air through each earbud with a pair of tiny compressors. The air is then filtered and passed through the (slightly bizarre looking) ‘visor’ for the user to breathe in – devoid of most particles and pollutants.
Despite what it looks like, the visor doesn’t touch your face like a mask. Instead, it sits in front of your face, creating a gap for a bubble of clean air to collect and breathe in. (The company showed off a separate attachment that can be slipped on in cases where you might need a proper full contact as well as a face mask)
The visor snaps into place by a series of magnets, allowing it to be removed if you wish to use the headphones as headphones only. It also has hinges that fold it down so you can talk to people normally without having to take the entire device off. The Zone’s filtration system also offers multiple settings for different levels of exposure. For example, when you walk up a flight of stairs or try to catch a bus, you breathe heavier (and need more air) than when you take a leisurely stroll. There’s even an auto setting that uses accelerometers to automatically adjust airflow.
According to Dyson, the zone can filter out up to 99 per cent of particulate pollution – although the filters are not reusable and will need to be replaced after around a year. (The company says the exact length of time depends on how much air pollution you encounter and how actively you use the headphones.)
The headphone portion is a bit more traditional despite being a new product category for Dyson. The company says its goal with the Zone is to create “faithful” reproductions of a musician’s original tracks. Noise-cancellation is provided by a mix of passive cancellation from the overall design and active noise-cancellation provided by an array of microphones.
There are three different noise cancellation modes on the Zone. In isolation mode, ANC is active when the face shield is raised. Lowering the visor automatically switches to talk mode, which disables ANC so you can hear the person you’re talking to. There’s also a transparency mode that filters out important noises like car horns and sirens. Charging is via USB-C, and the headphones connect to a Dyson Link app, which can provide more detailed information about the air quality around you.
I was able to try out a prototype of the Zone a few weeks ago and it certainly seems to do what the company claims it does. I could feel the jets of air being pumped in front of my face – even though I was inside, it was hard to tell how much cleaner it was.
ANC also worked well (again, a quiet hotel room isn’t the best testing scenario), and audio quality for music was good with no particularly dramatic bass (which was arguably the company’s goal).
On the other hand, there are also the Zone headphones very large and remarkably heavy. Dyson has done an admirable job of cramming all this technology into a pair of headphones, but they’re still comparatively larger and bulkier than, say, a pair of Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones. Plus, the whirr of the superchargers was still easily audible when the engines were running at higher speeds and I wasn’t listening to music to drown it out, despite the noise-cancellation.
The Zone is certainly one of the most unique products from Dyson (or probably any company) that we’ll see this year. There are still many key details we don’t know – including price and battery life. And while mask-wearing has normalized considerably in the last two years, we’ll have to see if customers are ready to embrace this extremely odd-looking product.