Dyson Zone review: We test the $1,000 air-purifying headphones
There are a lot of things that I like about the Dyson Zone headphones. They have great sound and excellent noise cancellation. Then there’s the addition of the visor that filters urban pollution to help you breathe more comfortably. But at $1,000, they’re a tough sell, especially for those who don’t live or work in a place like a big city, where air pollution is more of an issue. Many helmet users simply won’t benefit from the air filtration system at the heart of the Zone.
Video: Dyson Zone headphones review: Great sound despite the weight
Having spent some time with my review model, I’m impressed with them as earphones, with the audio quality and noise cancellation comfortably rivaling Apple’s AirPods Max, but their heavy weight, odd appearance and their limited appeal make them hard to recommend, at least to most people. Those of you with deep pockets who walk or cycle the busy streets of New York might well see the value in these unusual headphones. All others will be better served by noise canceling headphones.
Dyson’s Zone headphones are currently on sale in the US for $1,000 (£749, or about AU$1,395 converted), directly from the Dyson website.
Dyson introduced the Zone headphones for the first time last year and frankly we didn’t know what to think. These are huge over-ear headphones with metal grilles and a quirky removable face shield that sends purified air to your mouth and nose using micro-compressors and filters inside the earcups . It’s certainly a first of its kind, and Dyson thinks it’s onto something.
- Great sound quality
- Excellent active noise cancellation
- Generous battery life for music
- Air filtration could help reduce respiratory problems in big cities
Do not like
- High price
- Extremely heavy
- Built-in filtration has limited appeal beyond wealthy city dwellers
The Zone is designed for urban use, for those of you who walk or cycle through the world’s megacities where breathing air pollution at ground level is a serious problem. Then there are the pollutants in underground subways, which can be worse than at street level. Dyson says its filtration system captures 99% of airborne pollutant particles, including nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and airborne dust, which are particularly problematic in cities.
Now I can’t give a verdict on how this In fact works because oddly enough I don’t have my own particle lab to test it scientifically. But I went to Dyson’s labs in the UK, where it spent more than six years testing and refining the Zone using medical-grade mechanical lungs on mannequins in rooms full of pollutants to measure how much bad gases actually get into those lungs. They also test how it works on heads of different shapes and how effective it is in different wind conditions.
Video: Dyson for your face? Zone Air Mask and Helmet Explained
Wearing the visor is a little weird, but it’s not uncomfortable. It magnetically snaps onto the earcups and sits slightly in front of your face to blow a stream of cool air around your mouth and nostrils. It’s nice.
Airflow is powered by the smallest motors Dyson has ever made – one motor in each ear cup – but having them so close to your ears is a bit like having two hair dryers strapped to your head. Canceling helps reduce this noise, but you can still hear it, especially if you’re listening to soft music or podcasts. I listen to a lot of metal from bands like Periphery, Tesseract and Dream Theater and it definitely drowned out the engines when I turned the volume up. Even Taylor Swift’s most upbeat hits managed to block out fan noise, when loud enough.
The biggest issue for me, however, is that I personally feel a bit silly wearing the visor everywhere. I feel remarkable, and it certainly got a lot of weird looks while I was testing it. That said, I live in Edinburgh, a relatively clean city that isn’t the Zone’s target, so there’s no need to wear them here. I may feel differently on the streets of Paris or Beijing. I also found that my goggles fogged up when using them, which is an issue I frequently encountered when wearing regular face masks.
But it’s new and everything new often looks a bit strange First of all. Face masks weren’t common on Western streets until the pandemic hit and now they’re perfectly normal to see, so maybe this kind of technology is something we’ll eventually get used to seeing. And Dyson has a good track record of taking its unusual products mainstream, with its bladeless fans and hand dryers becoming commonplace, and its Air Wrap hairstylist dominating TikTok beauty feeds the world.
The filters are easy to access under the metal grilles of the earcups, and Dyson says each set should last around a year before needing to be replaced. The Dyson app tells you when they need to be replaced, as well as providing information on the air quality in your area.
Remove the face mask and they simply become a standard – albeit great – pair of headphones. Thanks to these motors which remain attached inside the ear cups, they weigh almost 600 grams (21 ounces), which makes them extremely heavy. Significantly heavier than Apple AirPods Max, which we criticized for being too heavy – and they weigh just 390 grams (13.6 ounces). Even so, the earcups are deeply padded, making them comfortable to wear for a few hours at a time. The headband fits securely making them lighter than they are. I never felt that they were in danger of slipping while walking.
I would be interested in a version where not only the filters and the visor are removable, but where the whole filter unit can be disconnected when not needed. This would make the headphones more comfortable for general use – say, sitting at your desk for eight hours or watching a movie at home – when you don’t have to worry about breathing in outdoor pollution. It could also make it possible to sell models without filtration for less money, while allowing you to purchase the optional filtration system if you decide you need it. I’ll definitely be interested to see what a second-gen zone looks like.
Active noise cancellation is excellent though, with road noise kept to a minimum and general background noise in cafes and bars suppressed almost entirely.
They also deliver great balanced tonality, with 40mm drivers providing excellent bass that deliver a meaty yet controlled kick on EDM tracks that doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the tones. As a result, the higher frequencies of acoustic guitars, cymbals or strings sound crystal clear. Tesseract’s Hexes track was reproduced with rich, warm bass, powerful bass drum hits, and clear, defined cymbals and vocals.
Meanwhile, the scintillating high notes of the acoustic guitars and close vocals in the acoustic version of Enter Shikari from Dreamer’s Hotel sounded superb.
Battery life for audio is a generous 50 hours, although that drops to between 90 minutes and four hours with air filtration turned on. But that should be enough for your trip to the office, where you can plug them into a charger for your trip home. Dyson says they can handle being worn in the rain, but there’s no official water resistance rating here. So keep them sheltered during torrential downpours and try not to take them swimming.
So there’s no doubt that the Dyson Zone works well as a helmet, but the fact remains that $1,000 is a lot of money and a lot of that cost is for the system of air filtration. So you really need to consider how important this is to you in your day-to-day life. If you commute daily through the heart of polluted megacities walking alongside traffic or experiencing the stale air of a subway for hours every day, this could be a good investment for your long-term health. If you just want a pair of headphones, you can save yourself a bundle and look elsewhere.