It's a bold brand that tries to break into the premium bluetooth headphone market. There are some seriously well established names there - and for good reason. For years they've been honing the art of combining the best bluetooth codecs available, with excellent Active Noise Cancelling, better and better battery life and stylish design that looks good but is still comfortable and durable.
These things don't happen by accident - consumer success on a large scale is rarely achieved on a first attempt; rather it tends to be an evolutionary process, developing brand loyalty over years.
Of course, Technics has a slight advantage; the brand itself has been around a very long time. It's just the headphones that are new.
For whatever reason, Technics has suddenly decided to give this bluetooth ear-wear thing a really good bash. We've already seen the new range of true wireless buds, including the AZ40's which looked a bit odd but actually fit brilliantly and sounded awesome. So now we have some over-ears; the EAH-A800 headset and it's time to see if Technics can hit it out of the park on its first attempt... again.
I certainly can't fault the physical appearance. There's nothing particularly flashy here - although perhaps the silver model stands out a bit more than the black alternative I was sent - but everything looks and feels as premium as the NZ$499.00 price-tag suggests. The outer covers on the earcups have been machined in a circular way, reminiscent of the fine grooves on a record. There's just the right amount of flex in the headband without any nervous creaking. The earcups extend from that headband to the length required with satisfyingly chunky clicks.
There appears to be no particular compromise in the name of foldable portability - yes they fold into a luxurious soft-touch hard case but it's not especially compact - or even symmetrical - more of an unusual upside-down egg shape that's just as big as it needs to be, with plenty of room to store the included charging cable, aeroplane adapter and AUX cable. That AUX cable is really my only disappointment in terms of build quality - nice gold plugs but too thin, too flimsy and at only one metre, far, far too short.
Technics isn't the only manufacturer guilty of assuming we'll only use that AUX cable on planes or if we run out of battery. In fact, these days many premium headsets don't even have an AUX option at all which means I can't use them at work, monitoring the network radio show I operate. I simply can't plug into my sound desk via bluetooth - not without crippling lag anyway - a pair of hardwired cans is my only option.
So I found a longer, compatible lead and used that instead. Because as it happens my radio show is a great place to try out headphones, especially to test comfort and noise cancellation.
At almost 300grams, the A800 is not the lightest headset around but I can't complain about the fit. The balance, cushioning and softness of both the headband and earcups is up there with any other headphones I've worn - and I have to wear them for hours on end, every single day. They're a pleasure.
The ANC is also top class. The ultimate test of this is if I can hear my Executive Producer talking to me while I have the live radio show in one ear and different audio previewed in the other. The answer is, I can't hear him at all. Perfect.
Connection to bluetooth devices used to be a bit of a process. Then for a while it got really easy. Now it seems to have become somewhat complicated again. Back in the day, connections all had to be established manually and often with a special code to ensure you were connecting the right devices. Even then, it wasn't uncommon for those pairings to become lost, forgotten or just drop out.
Then, as more manufacturers turned to their purpose-built apps for customisation and pairing, and new bluetooth codecs evolved, setting up devices became a lot more streamlined - some gadgets will even provide an on-screen prompt to connect just by turning them on, although that still depends heavily on which brand of device you're trying to team together - some manufacturers play well with others, some prefer to keep to themselves.
And of course, some devices can even create a bluetooth pairing with an NFC tap, just like PayWave.
But now multi-point pairing is a thing, it's all got a bit confusing again. Although technically you can pair the A800's with up to 10 different source devices, I've found the setup process to be rather temperamental. If you're already actively connected to one device, you can't seem to pair with another until you disconnect from the original source. Confused? I was.
You'll get there in the end, especially if you follow the prompts in the app precisely but I would have thought in 2022, things shouldn't be quite so tricky.
Oh - and don't be misled; just because the A800 can be paired with 10 different sources, it can only actually connect to two of them simultaneously. Ow, my head hurts.
I'm not in love with the on-board controls either. This is another criticism that's definitely not exclusive to these Technics headphones - I don't know if any manufacturer has got this right yet and I honestly can't understand why it's so difficult.
To be fair, there aren't a lot of controls on the A800's - a power button, a three-point rocker for play/pause, volume and skipping along with a programmable capacitive tap on the righthand earcup. In fact, for some reason, all the controls are on the righthand earcup, meaning the physical buttons are all jammed in together above the AUX jack. This makes it virtually impossible to press the right one on your first attempt - at least while you're developing the muscle memory to control these things more effortlessly.
I honestly don't get why so many headphone makers get this wrong - you've got two earcups, why not spread things out a bit? I also don't understand why there's a touch control at all. Here it's set for ANC/Ambient Sound by default. A double tap can be designated to toggle any or all of these noise cancelling settings on or off but a double tap on the earcup is also way more annoying than a button press. Just put a button on the lefthand earcup or something. Why does it have to be so fancy?
Customisations like that are made using the obligatory app of course. The Technics one is called Audio Connect and you can do far more than just program controls and perform firmware updates. The Ambient Sound setting can let all sound through or just voices - your choice. The level of ANC applied is up to you too. There are all kinds of little tweaks - even a voice test so you can check all the built-in beamforming mics are doing their job on your voice calls.
Let's be honest though; it's all about the sound, right?
The retro R&B groove, "Alright" by L.A.B. is all about the bass line and this punched through powerfully yet warmly as did the lead vocals. Meanwhile, the more complex Pink Floyd number, "Wearing the Inside Out" seemed a little flatter - everything was there but there was a dryness to the default EQ that left some of the legendary Pink Floyd production effort out of the mix somehow. There's a preset EQ labelled "Dynamic" in the sound settings section of the app which made a big difference, bringing a lot more mids and highs through - suddenly the snare drum and BV's were more distinct.
Technics claims to have spent a long time coming up with a pure default EQ, one that honestly represents the mix each artist and engineer intended. I guess everyone has a personal preference, so it's good you can dig into the EQ and tweak it to your liking - choosing from the presets or adjusting it manually. By the time Stephen Day's jazzy, funky, Hammond organ-filled, "Sour Inside" appeared in my playlist, I really had things popping, making the most of the track's fun dynamic contrasts.
I can't resist slipping in one more reference track here; "Alive" by Rüfüs Du Sol, a fairly sparse electronic number right up till the inevitable beat drop. Inevitable maybe but on these headphones, it sounded so warm and full it gave me goosebumps.
There's no arguing the A800's sound a bit better when connected to devices via the more high-res LDAC bluetooth codec, which is bad news for iPhone users because their handsets don't support it. Even on my Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, I had to dig into the phone's bluetooth settings to turn LDAC on. It's not the end of the world but when I listened to the same tracks back-to-back on both the Note 20 and iPhone 13, I could definitely pick up more detail on the Android device. And obviously, if you subscribe to a high-res service like Deezer, Tidal or Qobuz, you'll reap even more benefits.
At NZ$499.00, the A800's are certainly at the upper end of the price range - perhaps ambitiously so given the Technics brand hasn't really been seen on a high-end pair of bluetooth headphones before. However, as far as I'm concerned they've checked all the boxes. They sound fantastic - especially if you take a minute or two to tweak the EQ in the app. That app is comprehensive - you can even turn off the utterly pointless flashing bluetooth LED, yay! They look good, feel even better and you'll get about fifty hours playback from a single charge - and that's with ANC on. The controls aren't perfect but then, I've yet to find any headphones with all the buttons in the right place.
There's no arguing with the pedigree of the Technics brand and these headphones definitely live up to that name.
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