It’s the most controversial Dyson product ever conceived which Australians are now one step closer to getting their hands on it with confirmation it’s coming Down Under.
The Dyson Zone noise cancelling headphones claim to clean the air while you listen to music.
That’s all very fine, but it’s the look of them – with a chunky Mad Max-esque visor wrapping around your mouth and nose – that has seen critics’ cackle, rivals’ raise eyebrows and the product labelled as “bizarre” and even “absurd”.
News.com.au is one of the few media outlets to be able to test run the Dyson Zone ahead of its global launch. So what’s the truth of this divisive product – is it the next big thing in tech or are the barbs borne out in reality?
In reality, it works way better than you may think if you’re judging it on looks alone. And it sports a number of nifty features that may be convincing enough for you to consider shelling out $1400 when it makes it to Australia debut later in the year.
Secret product not yet launched
News.com.au got access to the Dyson Zone on the sidelines of CES, the world’s largest consumer technology show, held in Las Vegas.
So secretive is the Dyson Zone it was nowhere to be seen in the main CES conference hall. Rather, it was squirrelled away in a hotel suite overlooking the Las Vegas casinos with first looks on a strictly invite only basis. It’s usually film stars spruiking new movies that get this treatment, not some headphones.
There’s no doubt about it – the Dyson Zone is a visually confronting and chunky bit of kit. It’s a love it or loathe it vibe.
With almost 700 grams of plastic, it’s heavier than most large headphones and certainly more than a pair of Apple Air Pods which are a mere 4 grams.
Its earphones protrude, it has puffy pads to fit around the head and of course there’s the visor. But while the detachable mask adds to the Zone’s visual heft it’s actually the lightest bit.
Put the Dyson Zone on and you barely feel the weight, such is the padding and the ergonomic design. Although you might not want to do vigorous exercise as it could have a habit of moving around.
‘Clean breathing bubble’
Dyson senior design manager David Hill said that while it may seem like a product borne of the pandemic, development began six years ago and the main impetus was to enable people to protect themselves from the everyday city pollution all around us.
In practice, its air filtration systems has as much to do with the headphones as the visor. Air is sucked in through the ear pieces by a compressor fan which is then funnelled through a series of filters. Dyson knows a thing about filters given that’s what they use in all those vacuums.
These filters capture, Dyson claims, around 99 per cent of particles down to 0.1 microns in size. If you’re not au fait with your microns that’s smaller than exhaust fumes which are generally around 2.5 microns in size.
Dyson also reckons it can filter out the H1N1 flu virus – but it’s making no claims about Covid-19.
The cleaned air is then sent down to the visor which blows it up in a cool breeze to your nose and mouth.
The air flow rate is adjustable via a button on one ear piece. The feeling is of a cool breeze and it’s really quite refreshing. Although in a cold Las Vegas rainstorm, it was almost a bit nippy.
Here’s one of the surprises of the Zone – it doesn’t actually fit flush onto your face.
Instead, “It creates a clean breathing bubble”, said Mr Hill.
Asked if the lack of a flush fit might mean all the fancy filtration work could be undone, Mr Hill said the filtered air that escaped around the edges actually pushed the exterior air away.
The visor is not even mean to be used all the time.
“You might not use the visor outside, then clip it on when you head down to the Subway or Tube, and then take it off again,” Mr Hill told news.com.au.
“It’s providing a flexibility of protection”.
Indeed, sans visor, the Zone looks simply like top of the range headphones.
Visor snaps into place
The visor attaches via magnets. You push it towards the headphones and it snaps into place. It’s super easy.
You can swing the visor down if you need to have a brief conversation with someone – like to order a coffee. That automatically turns off the air flow and any music. Flip it back into place and the jet stream is back on.
Something else remarkable: the visor make look solid but it’s incredibly flexible and almost crush proof. You can bend it, fold it and – said Dyson – stomp on it and it’ll stay intact.
A tap on the headphone changes the sound profile from “isolation,” – just you in a bubble of your own – to “transparent” where outside sounds can creep in such as when you’re navigating multi lane highways in Nevada.
Dyson has said that it designed the compressor fan to minimise noise. Additionally, it’s gone to great pains to make the Zone noise cancelling. The product features no fewer than 11 microphones, two of which are dedicated to cancelling the noise from the filtration system. The mics scan surrounding sounds 384,000 times a second and Dyson has said it can reduce background noise by up to 38 decibels. And not just white noise like aircraft engines but also intermittent noise like tyre screeches.
Fan is noticeable when up high
But as the fan is right up by your ear there is still a slight buzz which increases the more you crank up the flow.
Indoors it’s noticeable; outdoors with the din of the Las Vegas strip behind it was far less so and with the music blaring it may as well not be there.
Dyson aren’t known for audio; but Mr Hill insisted the British company had laboured over the sound quality for years and it was now best in class. It claims to goes beyond the audible to reproduce frequencies from 6 Hz – 21 kHz, “ensuring every note or word is heard”.
And there’s no doubt about it – on the quick test run news.com.au had, the sound quality was top notch.
The Zone should last for 50 hours between charges,
Dyson is confident there is a market for bulbous headphones with plastic mask attachments that make you look like a bit like Bane from The Dark Knight Rises.
There needs to be, because at the moment the unique nature of the product means there is no way to make it smaller. All those filters, microphones, compressors and what not are the reason the Zone is such as beast. If Dyson wanted to just make a standard pair of headphones they could have gone way smaller.
Big asking price
Although a launch date and pricing for Australia hasn’t been released it will go on sale in the United States in March priced at $US949. That converts to around $1400.
Tech website The Verge said the price was “more abused than the device itself”.
If you’re chief concern is listening to crisp, clear music while not choking on traffic fumes there are cheaper options. A top of the range Bang and Olufsen pair of ‘phones from JB HiFi will set you back $849 while a pack of 10 N95 masks from Chemist Warehouse is $20. There’s still about $500 less than the Zone. But then where’s the fun in that?
The Dyson Zone is a quality bit of kit, with great sounds and some cool features. And the design is just as eye opening in the flesh as it is in pictures.
This time next year we should know if the Zone was an aesthetic step too far or if, like Bluetooth headpieces, it’s a bit of tech we’ll all get used to surprisingly swiftly.