Bang & Olufsen is a Danish audio equipment manufacturer that followed the wave of hi-fi technology in the 1970s and 1980s with a penchant for exotic looking and sounding equipment.
The product with the B&O logo that we are looking at today has only a distant connection to that era, as it is next to a product for Cisco Systems, an American technology conglomerate.
Bang & Olufsen has been in trouble ever since people decided not to buy $15,000 TVs and $500 headphones from them, causing the stock value to drop.
Given those value-related issues, it seems odd that they would partner with Cisco for the specific purpose of selling, you guessed it, $500 headphones.
Price and availability
If you don’t like spills, don’t drink coffee while reading this section.
The Cisco suggested retail price of the 980 is a heartbreaking $549 USD. While it might not come as a surprise to mention, these aren’t the most expensive headphones with the Bang & Olufsen logo. The general Beoplay H95 costs an incredible $889 (£779) for those with unlimited cash.
But in the pantheon of business headphones, these are some of the most expensive available from any brand.
They are available worldwide, either direct from Cisco or through a wide range of partner stores.
When we first took these out of their reassuringly expensive case, we experienced a moment of déjà vu.
Because the design of the 980 bears an uncanny resemblance to the cheaper, but barely cheap, Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H8i headphones.
A deeper analysis reveals that the 980 has larger ear pads and a few more buttons, but shares the minimalist style of its retail sibling.
They have a similar high-grain leather, memory foam and aluminum structure, use Bluetooth and weigh almost the same amount.
Where the 980 differs is that they are designed more for business users, communicating with Cisco remote management tools and using Bluetooth 5.1, not the 4.2 version used in the H8i.
What the 980 also has are six MEMS speech microphones built into the earcups, four more than the H8i. There is no boom in picking up the wearer’s voice, which makes for a less cluttered look.
Conversely, they have many buttons, some that are visible and others that are subtly hidden.
The right earpiece houses the volume slider, a power button that doubles up for Bluetooth pairing, the USB-C port that can connect and/or charge the headset directly to a computer, and a 3.5mm audio socket for direct connection.
The 980 supports three simultaneous connections, allowing two Bluetooth devices to be paired and the USB-C or 3.5mm connection live and selectable.
The left earpiece has a mute button and a touch slider for adjusting the degree of noise cancellation.
On either side, the shiny metal end plates of the earcups are also buttons, even if it’s not obvious to the casual onlooker. Listening to music, left or right, can be used to play or pause the song by double tapping, and when you receive a call, the same action is accepted.
What’s missing here is any charging dock, like the one Jabra used on the Jabra Evolve2 75, a design with similar specs and a significantly lower cost. Adding a USB cable isn’t enough, considering the cost involved.
What is good about these headphones is the comfort level. They can easily be worn for quite some time without becoming irritating.
They are also easy to implement and the buttons are natural for both right and left handed users.
The call management functionality is designed to work with Cisco Webex, unsurprisingly, and they are also UC compatible. These also work with MS Teams, although they are not MS Team certified, Cisco says.
The Bluetooth implementation supports Apple Mfi (iPhone), Google Fast Pair and Microsoft Swift Pair standards, making the connection with Bluetooth devices using these protocols smoother.
Like many business headphones, the 980 has a voice guide that tells you the battery status when you turn them on and also beeps at various points to tell you other useful information. But this functionality cannot tell you everything it takes to use it.
Bang & Olufsen has a mobile application that manages the headphones remotely and keeps the firmware up to date with the latest release. While it is possible to use the 980 without the app, there are many critical aspects to having it on a mobile phone.
It is a requirement to access the listening modes and create your own, and it also provides quick access to the product manual.
As such, having this app is not only nice to have, but critical to getting the most out of this significant investment.
What’s worth accepting with most high-end business headsets intended for communications is that the audio model has been tweaked for clear sound, not impressive audio range.
That said, within the framework of those requirements, these usually sound great, although getting the whole experience relies on using the mobile application to put the headset into a music or cinema mode.
By default, the sound envelope lacks the extreme bass and treble that someone listening to music might appreciate, with performance concentrated in a narrower central spectrum.
The audio limitations of Bluetooth are well documented. For this technology to work, the audio data stream, and by definition waveforms, is both compressed and clipped to maximize fidelity within a relatively narrow bandwidth.
The Qualcomm-designed Bluetooth silicone supports SBC, AAC, Qualcomm aptX Adaptive, aptX HD and aptX Low Latency codecs, enabling them to provide the best sound quality under all conditions.
The default optimal mode is ideal for listening to a phone call or podcast, and combined with its excellent noise cancellation, they are a premium experience for those who spend their days chatting electronically with others.
I’m not sure if this product concept is from Bang & Olufsen or Cisco, but it seems Cisco wanted these high-concept products in its inventory.
Whatever their origin, these are high quality tins that look, sound and feel for the incredibly high asking price.
That’s great, but does it have to come at such a high price?
These are so expensive that unless bought exclusively for investment bankers, this expense is likely to be questioned by any finance department not in a coma at their desks.
As beautiful as these are presented and the undeniable quality of construction used in them, there are many cheaper headsets out there that are also very well made and offer good service.
Obviously if you can justify them to those who control spending and you want this particular branding, knock yourself out. But because they are completely objective, they have no significant advantage over other designs that makes them worthy of this premium.
For those who have invested heavily in Webex and Cisco management tools, these may have more value than other brands, but we can’t provide the economic rationale to validate that.
Companies not committed to Cisco Webex can find many products that offer comparable performance and comfort for a fraction of this cost.