We’ve been awash in active noise cancelling (ANC) tech in the past year or so. There’s the veteran, Bose, and there’s the young blood, Sony with its WH-1000XM3 wireless headphones (SGD 549) and terrific follow-up WF-1000XM3 true wireless ANC earbuds (SGD 349).
There’s also the revolutionary AirPods Pro (SGD 379) by Apple. A white, tiny, tough rectangle slipped easily into the tiny “watch” pocket in my jeans. Both the Lagoon ANC and AirPods Pro accompanied me on my 17-odd hour flight to Los Angeles.
Beyerdynamic’s Lagoon ANC might be considered premium, and competitors in this space include the likes of Sennheiser’s Momentum Wireless (SGD 599 / ~USD 439), Bowers & Wilkins’ PX7 (USD 399.99 / ~SGD 545) and Bang & Olfusen’s Beoplay H9i (~SGD 538 / ~USD 395).
I draw a line between the high-end products by brands like Bose, Sony and Apple, against more specialist, legacy names like Sennheiser, Bowers & Wilkins and Bang & Olufsen. Beyerdynamic, the world’s oldest surviving audio company, has a high bar to clear in terms of audio quality.
At SGD 599 / USD 399, Beyerdynamic with the Lagoon ANC sure isn’t looking to out-cheap its formidable foes. Instead, it offers software smarts in the form of MOSAYC sound personalisation, audiophile-grade wireless audio experience and superb comfort.
Form factor and first impressions
The unboxing experience wasn’t much different than with the Sony WH-1000XM3. Within, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the tear-shaped carrying case was markedly smaller than the one Sony and Jabra includes with its competing products.
There’s also a USB-A to USB-C charging cable and a 3.5mm to 3.5mm audio cable, perfect for flights or for use when the battery is flat. However, Beyerdynamic didn’t include a two-pin to single 3.5mm flight adapter.
The Lagoon ANC itself was constructed of plastic and had a satin finish that stood reasonably well against fingerprints and daily grime. I received for review the Lagoon ANC in Explorer, with black hardware and brown cushions. It is also available in Traveller, a fully-black version.
Ergonomics & Functionality
Incredibly plush, the earpads on the Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC were an absolute joy to wear and keep on – perhaps one of the best ear cushion experiences I’ve had. With an 18-hour flight from Singapore to Los Angeles inclusive of a two-hour layover at Tokyo Narita, the Lagoon ANC wore with superb comfort and few complaints for most of the journey.
They went on four hours into the flight when the AirPods Pro I originally wore through customs had to be returned to their case for a top-up, and they stayed on.
Made from high-quality spring steel, the headband provided the perfect amount of flex, and sliders adjusted with satisfying clicks. The yoke design allowed for free three-axis tilt.
One gripe – and a big one – is that the seal was broken with my spectacle armbands, noticeably affecting the noise cancellation. It was frustrating, but I got around it by – you guessed it – removing my spectacles.
There’s a sizeable population of bespectacled headphones wearers, and my in-flight experience with the Sony WH-1000XM3 and Jabra Elite 85h wasn’t affected by the same pair of spectacles that posed an issue for the Lagoon ANC.
On the outside of the right ear cup is a touch-sensitive control pad. It’s the usual set-up: up/down for volume, forwards/backwards to skip and rewind the track. Touch to pause, play or pick up calls. They didn’t have any issues save the rare accidental activation when adjusting the ear cups.
What I struggled with more in my limited time with these cans was the positioning of the on / off / Bluetooth pairing and Noise Cancelling off / level 1 / level 2 switches. The pair of switches are both located along the edge of the right ear cup, operated via thumb. Problem: they feel identical and are both three-stage switches, so hilarity ensues.
It’s not a big deal, though. I usually keep noise cancelling on to the max and turn off the headphones only when they’re going to be removed anyway.
A few more gripes: there aren’t any sensors to detect when you’ve put on or taken off the headphones – not even the tacky ones that turn on the headphones when unfolded from the case.
There’s also no transparency mode, so you’ve got to resort to the good old one-handed lift to hear what’s going on around you. I personally didn’t like the transparency mode on the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones and the WF-1000XM3 wireless earbuds, but the Apple AirPods Pro set a crazy benchmark for the functionality for that functionality.
Apart from some potential seal issues for spectacle wearers, the Lagoon ANC’s ANC is not the best. But to be fair – the best really is the best. Sony’s WH-1000XM3 took a handful of iterations despite the company’s massive US$8.51 trillion market cap. For Beyerdynamic’s noise-cancelling debut, I’d say the Lagoon ANC is a valiant first attempt.
In fact, I’d say the ANC was about on par as the AirPods Pro, but with better elimination of higher-pitched sounds. Rumbles and drones were dealt with the best, but so were whines and whistling noises.
I felt the Lagoon ANC provided a very natural-feeling noise-cancelling experience, subduing the worst of environmental noise to a minimum. Its top mainstream competitors suck the noise out completely, and the resultant vacuum-like sensation can be disconcerting.
Lucky for us, three wailing babies joined me on my flight. I heard them, but it wasn’t piercing or loud enough to perturb me from my blissful slumber. Then again, I’m a tech journalist. I sleep easy.
Two levels of noise-cancelling is a welcome option to have, but I never bothered to switch to the lower Level I. I couldn’t switch between Level I and Level II directly, however – the headphones only registered the change when I switched it off first.
While the noise cancelling on the Lagoon ANC isn’t the best, its sound quality is superb. Again, seal issues might occur for bespectacled listeners: the sound felt much airier and flaccid but was again easily resolved by removing my spectacles.
Beyerdynamic is the world’s oldest surviving audio company, and audio quality is definitely a focus for the brand. The Lagoon ANC has slightly dated Bluetooth 4.2 Class 1 connectivity, and suffers from the same debilitation as the Sony WH-1000XM3 – I could only get it to pair with one device at a time, which was immensely annoying given that I switch between media consumption on my iPad and iPhone several times in a flight.
Bluetooth codec support, however, is impressive. The Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC supports aptX Low Latency, aptX and AAC. Between pure music listening, catching up on Netflix and enjoying Apple Arcade, the Lagoon ANC performed perfectly.
The audio experience on the Lagoon ANC starts with a deep, punchy, visceral bass. The iconic bass ostinato on Billie Eilish’s bad guy rumbled with a texture that could be felt, not just heard. It’s immediately apparent that the Lagoon ANC is bass-heavy but I personally felt that the bass had plenty of nuance and personality.
The bass line on Drake’s God’s Plan kicks in after the first verse with powerful kicks without distortion, keeping their tone and timbre even at higher volumes.
Anderson .Paak’s tenor vocals in ‘Til It’s Over sounded perfectly soulful, and the Lagoon ANC conveyed .Paak’s aspirated timbre in an absolutely life-like manner.
Classical instrumentals stood up well on the Lagoon ANC. Take the I Musici De Montréal recording of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major, Op. 102: I. Allegro (which happens to be conducted by his son Maxim Shostakovich and features his grandson Dmitri Shostakovich Jr on the piano).
Here, the headphones evidently also focus on the midrange, delivering clear instrumentals and bringing the horns and bassoons to the forefront. Harmonics that define the tone and timbre of these instruments are also favoured. Dips in some parts of the frequency response help avoid distortion despite the resonant recording space.
There’s also the noise-customising MIY app, which adapts the audio from the headphone to your unique hearing capabilities. All it takes is a five-minute test where you hold on a large orange circle when you can hear modulating high-pitched beeps and let go when you don’t.
I still pretty young and didn’t have issues with most of the high-pitched noises, although I wished the app delivered a listening test report at the end so I could boast about my immaculate hearing. Truth be told, I couldn’t tell the difference in audio with the MIY customisation on or off.
Because of its massive focus on bass, I’ll struggle to call the Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC audiophile-grade. But it does reproduce audio in a very pleasant way, and it would be a struggle to find faults with how enjoyable the Lagoon ANC can be, musically.
This unique and thoroughly enjoyable listening experience is its greatest merit, alongside its immensely comfortable fit made possible with protein leather ear cushions. The smaller hard carrying case and rigid build fly under the radar but are definitely plus-points for the Lagoon ANC.
But at its premium price tag of SGD 599, the Lagoon ANC does put itself up for additional scrutiny. The headphones only pair with one device at a time, requiring troublesome re-pairing whenever I switched between my iPhone, iPad and laptop.
Seal issues aren’t unique to the Lagoon ANC. But with its mild noise cancellation, the audio on the Lagoon ANC can sound thin and airy due to outside ambient noise leaking in when wearing spectacles or shades. I also attribute some of this to the material, which though soft and extremely comfortable, conforms to the outside of the spectacle arms and leaves an air gap instead of mashing them up against my head.
For Beyerdynamic’s inaugural noise cancelling headphone attempt, it had nailed comfort and sound, done decently for aesthetics and build, and perhaps should focus on noise cancellation performance and a more inclusive fit for future iterations.