It’s been just a little over two weeks since Microsoft launched its first official wireless headset for Xbox (unsurprisingly named the Xbox Wireless Headset) to widely positive reviews and a seemingly ravenous public demand.
Coming in at just $99.99 USD (or $129.99 in our local Canuck-bucks) but offering a level of design, quality and suite of features typical of gaming headsets that cost at least $70 more, the Xbox Wireless Headset flew off store shelves almost immediately and has been sold out at all major Canadian retailers since. Despite this being Microsoft’s first foray into the wireless gaming headset space dominated by its many third-party partners such as ASTRO, Turtle Beach, Arctis and others, the company appears to have hit a legitimate home run with its new debut product as far as the average Xbox consumer is concerned.
However, as Microsoft made clear last September when it first announced the “Designed for Xbox” initiative (which included a partnership roster reveal of over 34 gaming and lifestyle brands), the software giant isn’t content with targeting just Xbox consumers with modest pocketbooks and unrefined eardrums; there are also Xbox gamers out there that are far more demanding of their audio products, and it is for these discerning individuals that the just-announced that the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay Portal Headphones have been designed.
In a detailed post on Xbox Wire, Designed for Xbox Senior Business and Strategy Lead Alex Nunn describes the Beoplay Portal as “the perfect combination of technology, design and craftsmanship providing an immaculate audio experience for gaming and everyday activities.” It is also the first product under the “Designed for Xbox” line that has been given the the additional “Limited Series” designation on its label, further emphasizing its intended purpose as a premium, bespoke device for Xbox fans that also happen to be diehard audiophiles. As one would expect, that kind of quality, particularly from the likes of the Denmark-based, high-end consumer electronics company Bang & Olufsen, doesn’t come cheap. The Beoplay Portal headphones can be pre-ordered now on the Microsoft Store for $549.00 CAD and can be purchased in three elegant-looking (and sounding) colorways, Black Anthracite, Grey Mist and Navy Brass. Expected delivery of said headsets are expected to be as early as the end of April for the Black variant, while the Grey and Navy colours should arrive sometime in May.
So what exactly is one getting for their $550 here that the “lowly” Xbox Wireless Headset doesn’t offer? Well, the first obvious step-up is in the materials and design; the Beoplay Portal “(features) ear cushions with built-in jaw support, crafted from lambskin over memory foam,” as well as a calfskin leather exterior headband with an inner-band made from a high quality, lightweight bamboo fibre textile and a center-relief pillow lining designed made to reduce stress on the wearer’s head. More immediately noticeable however is the absence of a boom arm microphone. Instead, an array of beamforming microphones on the headset work in concert to isolate and amplify the voice of the user while cancelling out background noise, creating a “virtual boom arm”. All of these choices result in a headphone design that is much more in line with the stylish sophistication that one usually expects of elite audio headwear, not to mention a look that is “street ready”. Another small yet meaningful convenience that only Bang & Olufsen’s website happens to mention is that the Beoplay Portal also comes with a 3.5 mm mini-jack and accompanying audio cable in the box, so it can be used as a traditional pair of wired headphones in addition to wired USB-C and wireless connectivity (the Xbox Wireless Headset only uses USB-C for charging).
Of course, it’s not just all about the looks. The Beoplay Portal’s real difference maker is naturally the sound, supporting multiple, high end audio codecs such as SBC, AAC and aptX Adaptive, as well as featuring Adaptive Noise Cancellation (ANC). Like the Xbox Wireless Headset the Beoplay Portal supports both Xbox Wireless and Bluetooth, and that the most crucial gaming-related features, such as adjusting the game/chat balance, mute and volume can be accessed directly on the headset itself, but in a much fancier way thanks to capacitive couch controls found on each earcup. These settings can also be adjusted via the Bang & Olufsen audio app, which also grants access to the equalizer and device settings for fine-tuning one’s audio experience, such as swapping between pre-set game and audio-listening modes, creating personalized audio mixes, adjusting ANC, updating the headset firmware, and more.
As a gaming headset the Beoplay Portal is no slouch either. Compatible with Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S consoles, the headset connects via lossless 2.4 GHz Xbox Wireless connectivity and comes packaged with Dolby Atmos for Headphones for immersive, spatial audio. Mention of support for an “optional PC dongle” on the Bang & Olufsen website also appears to suggest that the Beoplay Portal will be compatible with the Xbox Wirless Adapter, potentially opening up similar fidelity on Windows devices.
Finally, there’s the battery life. On paper, the Beoplay Portal’s 12 hour total play-time via Xbox Wireless falls a tad short of the Xbox Wireless Headset’s 15 hours (in any mode), but when using only Bluetooth it far outshines its simpler Xbox cousin, offering up to 24 hours of use with ANC active. This makes the Beoplay Portal a much more attractive product to the uncompromising Xbox gamer that also wants to get the most use out of their headset on the road…and is willing to pay the money for it.
Snazzy, high-end features aside, it is probably for the best that Microsoft wisely chose to reveal the Beoplay Portal Headphones after the successful launch of the much less expensive Xbox Wireless Headset, as the resulting optics would have been disastrous had the reveal of these two products been reversed. The still unsatiated demand for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series consoles may have recently normalized the $500+ USD price tag within the console industry as acceptable, but without viewing the Beoplay Portal thorugh the lens of a modern-day audiophile, the release of a gaming headset that practically costs just as much as the game console you are planning to use it with still runs the risk of seeming completely tone-deaf towards the consumer.
That said, I still kinda want one!