The ANC works extremely well, and, while the headphones aren’t the loudest I’ve ever used, there’s a good balance between noise canceling, sound isolation, and music to drown out the din on one of the noisiest sections of the entire Underground system. With the visor in position, however, the cool breeze flowing across my mouth really is rather pleasant.
If I pause my music, I am vaguely aware of the fans whirring in my ears, but it is nowhere near as noticeable, and unacceptable, as it is in the office. This is a relief, but there’s no question that from an audio perspective, the fan’s motor does cloud the audio quality. Is it a compromise you might be willing to make for a blast of fresh air?
The fan noise is considerably louder if you happen to be sitting next to someone wearing the Dyson Zone. No, it’s not as irritating as someone playing music through a phone speaker, or, for that matter, standard headphone sound leakage—but it’s there. There’s something uncomfortably selfish about an expensive personal air purifier that actually produces noise pollution.
App and Air Quality
As mentioned, having cool air blown across my nose and mouth (especially on public transport) is a rather nice sensation. Of the four levels, the most powerful was my go-to, despite the added battery drain, because at lower speeds I could barely feel the breeze. Auto mode adjusts according to air quality around me, but it never clicked out of the lowest speed, despite being in some pretty grotty conditions.
Which brings us to the question: How do you know if they’re working? The app has plenty of data for you to dive into, with regional air-quality reports and real-time NO2 monitoring, with a traffic-light system showing how bad the air quality is. But the real-time readout only kicks into gear when you’re wearing the headphones, and, bafflingly, there are no poor air quality alerts, which feels like a missed opportunity.
This is especially noteworthy as Dyson has admitted that it (possibly after the industry-wide bemusement following the original product reveal?) sees the Zone as a “headphone first” product, with the air purifier bit as a nice-to-have extra. Regardless, being told when to wear the visor should definitely be on the features list.
The filters last a whole year, and you’re reminded to buy more via the app, but when it comes to just how well the negatively charged electrostatic filters and potassium-enriched carbon layer work, we have to take Dyson’s word for it.
It’s also worth noting that when standing at Oxford Circus in central London—one of the UK’s most polluted streets that has broken legal limits of air quality—the app never registered more than the “green” base rate of 0.5. I dread to think how bad the air quality would need to be to get into the red rate.
If somehow you couldn’t tell from this review so far, let me be clear: I did not enjoy my time in public testing the Dyson Zone. They’re oversized, overpriced, and over-the-top. Maybe one day we will all be wearing personal air purifiers? Covid did teach us how quickly what “normal” looks like can change. But, for now, I can’t look past them as an elitist symbol of late-stage capitalism. Quite frankly, I’m amazed they exist.
But that doesn’t mean they’re not an engineering marvel, and they could well find themselves an audience, and you can’t but applaud Dyson’s ability to squeeze all that technology into a pair of headphones.
Indeed, if Dyson feels inclined, it could design a superb pair of headphones, with best-in-class noise canceling, impressive talk-through transparency, solid audio quality, and head-turning looks. Get rid of the filters, fans, and visor—which would significantly reduce the overall size, weight, and price—and it would have a hit on its hands. Asking the public to drop up to $1,000 for them, with an ostentatious air-purifying visor as a bonus feature, is farcical.
At nearly twice the cost of AirPods Max, however much Dyson wants to spin this product as being “headphones first,” the Zone’s raison d’être is to provide portable clean air while we walk about our polluted planet. But it’s purer air for the well-off, for those who likely live in better, cleaner environments already, who want protection when they venture into nasty urban places. And that’s an uncomfortable thought. A thought that’s almost as troubling as wearing the Zones themselves.