Technics, the venerable Japanese high-end audio brand, came out of retirement in 2014 and has been building back with new takes on iconic turntable designs like the legendary SL-1200 DJ model. Lately the company has been stretching out into new categories, with a handful of full-featured headphones joining the lineup.
The EAH-A800 are the company’s entry into the over-ear Bluetooth flagship arena, offering similar features to Sony, Apple, Bose and the rest, at a slightly lower price. Out of the box, the EAH-A800 seem tailored more to “bassheads” than some of its rivals, though Technics adds an impressively full-featured app that lets you tailor almost everything about the headphones to your taste, along with seriously impressive battery life, making the EAH-A800 a compelling choice for anyone into their unique sound and design
What we liked about them
The EAH-A800’s default voicing is decidedly bass-forward, and while mids and highs sound very nice, they are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of low-end energy, making anything with a lot going on down low overly cloudy, especially in the upper bass — reminiscent, somewhat, of the early Beats designs. Massive Attack’s menacing “Angel,” for instance, felt too soft, losing its low-end punch and midrange snap in murky boominess.
This was before I installed the Technics Audio Connect app (which lets you alter things quite a bit). First off, the app gives you a fully user-programmable five-band EQ, which lets you tailor things to your taste. Beyond that, it lets you tune the onboard buffer to minimize latency (for watching videos) or interruptions (for music or calls), offers fine-grained, variable control of active noise cancellation (ANC) strength and the transparency setting (including an option to emphasize voices while using the ambient pass-through mode). It’s a lot of control — more granular, and just more of it than most of the competition.
Once tuned to suit (largely a matter of cutting the low band of the EQ by a few decibels), we found the EAH-A800 a lot more enjoyable to listen to, though still bass-rich. (If you’re looking for an overall brighter headphone in this category, you’ll want to check out the Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2.) The EAH-A800 are just so bass-forward that you may find yourself pulling the low EQ slider down to the bottom regardless.
ANC is very effective as well, reducing steady state air conditioner and fan noise (we used a high-flow commercial-style range-hood fan) significantly enough that it receded into the background and wasn’t perceptible with music playing. It isn’t as effective as the Sony XM5 or Bose, but nearly on par, and the amount of fine-tuning (variable in 100 steps, plus an optimization sequence that lets you tailor the overall response to your environment) is very nice to have access to if you don’t need the full effect and you’re sensitive to the slight coloration and artifacting that noise cancellation typically introduces to the material it isn’t filtering out.
Call quality is good as well, and as with the listening mode there’s a ton of adjustment available. A listening test lets you figure out whether you’ll need to use the four-mic driven noise suppression mode or not (nice to be able to check before hopping on a meeting from a remote location); you can also choose between a strong and mild noise suppression mode. Voice quality is of course much better without the noise suppression on at all, but speech is very intelligible with it enabled, though artifacts are audible — it’s roughly on par with the competition.
The wear sensor works well, playing and pausing whatever we were listening to nearly as quickly as Apple’s AirPods Max when putting on and taking off the headphones — overall, Technics has really done a great job on the software/firmware end of these headphones. It’s a more complete set of useful features than most of the competition offers, and lets you tailor your listening quickly and fairly easily (though, if you’re like us, you’ll find yourself using the app more than you might with other headphones in this class).
Battery life is best in class, even compared to other more energy-efficient Bluetooth 5.2 models. Technics claims 50 hours of playback with ANC switched on (that’s playing back AAC over Bluetooth, battery life drops to 40 hours if playing back via LDAC, Sony’s high-res codec, from a Sony or Samsung phone). Indeed we listened for several days straight before the voice assistant told us anything other than “Battery High” on shutdown; finally after a few days we were informed we’d reached “Battery Medium,” but it seems doubtful you’ll ever be left with a dead battery so long as you remember to charge every now and again. If you forget, like all of the headphones in this class there’s a fast charging routine here as is expected these days as well, giving you a claimed 10 hours of listening after a 15-minute charge (a full charge takes three hours)
You can run these wired too, via the 3.5 mm analog jack. It even works if you power the headphones down, which obviously bypasses the internal amplifier and controls (meaning no microphone or volume and track controls — they actually sound pretty good used this way). But if you manage to run down the battery (or want to save battery life for later) the option is there, and you get a cable and an airline adapter in the case.
What we didn’t like about them
While you can tame the EAH-A800 with the EQ, the fact that you need to do it to suit what you’re listening to makes them a little more fiddly a proposition than some of the high-end competition, which just sound better out of the box. There’s a lot in these headphones, but you do need to work for it.
The EQ interacts relatively strongly with the ANC and ambient modes (especially if you use the voice-enhancement feature with the latter, which boosts the upper mids) so you may find yourself fiddling even more as you switch modes. Even if the EAH-A800 can compete with their peers sonically if you take the time, that’s just not for everyone, and some will want more immediate gratification.
While this is clearly a high-end headphone, the overall industrial design isn’t quite as refined or as low profile as the Sony XM5 or Boxe 700, with old-school plastic arches mounting the ear cups, and the overall fit and finish of those connections isn’t as slick as the AirPods Max or Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 — there are some rough edges here in the molding, and the plastic frame is a little creaky compared to the more expensive models. That said, the flexibility and hinged ear cup attachments mean the EAH-A800 do fold up quite into a very small travel case, and the case itself has nifty embossed instructions should you forget which direction to fold it up into.
Most importantly — and with the understanding that this is subjective — we didn’t find the EAH-A800 as comfortable as the competition. The pleather over memory foam ear pads and band are very soft and conform to the shape of your ears much as a memory-foam pillow does to your noggin. In practice, this means that even with gentle clamping force the padding is so cushy that the pads tend to collapse flat onto your earlobes, and in our case that meant they got warm and uncomfortable when worn for long periods (something we didn’t experience with the superficially similar pads on the Jabra Elite 85h, Sony XM5 and Bose 700). Counterintuitively, firmer pads like those used on the AirPods Max and deeper ear cups with thicker, firmer pads like those used by Bowers & Wilkins avoided this issue for us. That said, if you’re into the feel of memory foam pillows you may like these ear pads quite a lot.
The EAH-A800 are a compelling pair of headphones, especially considering it is the first major product in this class from Technics. That said, it may not be for everybody; if you want a lot of low end, or you’re a demanding listener who likes to tinker and appreciates having access to a lot more fine-tuning than most similar headphones offer, these are worth your time and money.
If you’re just looking for great sound out of the box and a more refined design, the EAH-A800 are not quite on the level of the Sony XM5, Bose 700, Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 or Apple AirPods Max. They do come in a few bucks cheaper than some of the direct competition, but if you’re just looking to save money and you aren’t a serious optimizer, you might want to look at the Jabra Elite 85h. What you do get with EAH-A800 is unparalleled battery life and adjustability, so if you think you’re going to make use of those features (road warrior audiophiles take note), these may well be your next pair of headphones.