There’s a whopper volume of headphones hitting the market these days. It’s well-timed too. Not all office workplaces encourage headphones, but with more people working from home and seeking the ability to “get in the zone” with noisy surroundings, people want good audio equipment. The Kygo A11/800 headphones are one of the latest pairs of noise-cancelling headphones to land on my desk. I’ve given them a test drive and here’s what I think about them.
Who Is Kygo?
Truth be told, these are the reviews I hate. I hate them because they make me realise I’m getting on in years. I’d never heard of DJ Kygo, a Norwegian DJ and music producer, real name Kyrre Gørvell-Dahll. Let’s face it, I’m pretty sure I won’t like his music. And even though he bounded to fame back in 2013 for remixing an Ed Sheeran song, I was going to be judging his headphones purely based on their audio quality and not his clout. So, after getting that rant off my chest, I realise I’m going to enjoy this review because it all comes back to the tech!
X by Kygo is a range of headphones which the Norwegian producer is happy to put his name to. I doubt he was in his bedroom with a soldering iron making them, but he was heavily involved in their creation process. More specifically, his input really shaped the app. More on that later.
In a spiel on the box, the creator says the headphones are an extension of his approach to everything, “always driven to improve”. I won’t lie. The whole thing struck me as a modern-day product with lots of talk and nothing to back it up. That fear was largely instiled with one look at the perfectly crafted Instagram page that supports the brand. It’s all very pretty and Insta-friendly. But is it all very good?
Let’s not mess about and get straight into the sound. The A11/800 sound great out of the box, while not as crisp as some other headphones I’ve tested with a bit of bleed between treble, mid and bass. Still, nothing that would make most users fire the headphones off in disgust. I listen to a diverse range of music, from Queens of the Stone Age to The Scratch and I found the headphones to deliver everything I would expect from this price range. I got a bit adventurous in the app which allows you to tweak sound preferences. Not an unusual addition and usually quite welcome, but Kygo’s input here is obvious.
Changing Sounds In The App
The app allows you to customise the sounds to four locations: Bergen, Los Angeles, New York and Ibiza. Why you might ask? I know I did. The four locations are places which influenced Kygo the most. The Bergen setting represents his hometown and is stripped back and best suited to chilling with some acoustic sets. If you’re getting more into dance, flick over to Ibiza.
At first I thought this a novel idea but also a bit gimmicking. I found it outright awful when it came to listening to Irish music like The Scratch and just left the headphones in default mode where they were best suited for this. However, when you play music from the genres Kygo has tailored these equaliser settings the headphones come alive. Again, showing my age, when you say electro-house, I can only think of things like Wolfgang Gartner and Anthem by Miles Dyson. These were tracks I would mess around with on a set of decks I bought with the money from my 21st before I started DJing the birthdays of others.
For The Few Not The Many
When you get into tracks like these, the audio quality is excellent. Take my ever-trustworthy benchmark for audio, the Bose QC35 II. These are incredible and I, to this day, cannot fault them. Every song I listen to them sounds great. I thought those classic electro tracks sounded great on them too, but when I set the Kygo A11/800 to Ibiza and cranked out Anthem I experienced something special. These cans are not for the audiophiles but for the dance music and hip-hop lovers. They are for a niche, to please the few not the many and that’s a very good thing.
One additional tick in the box of good vibes is that these headphones support Qualcomm’s aptX.
Let’s step away from the important stuff and focus on what Kygo probably thought to be equally as important as sound; design. As I said, these are very Instagram friendly in terms of their branding. The black headphones I tested were quite subtle but they do come in a much more, visually, loud white colour too.
They’re a bit plasticky if I’m honest considering you’re paying a premium price for these headphones. Now, no more plastic than the Bose cans but the aforementioned JBL Club One headphones do give you a bit more premium for your buck. The headband is a slim profile and offers generous cushioning which makes them comfy. In fact, they’re very comfy. They sit snugly on your head and while I didn’t run test these myself they would be a somewhat acceptable headphone for a quick morning job. Especially if you’re a good looking Scandanavian. You may hear the joints creaking a little the more you move but overall, you’re not buying these as a running headset. You just might go for a jaunt with them.
The ear-cups, while nice and soft aren’t the biggest. I don’t think I have particulary big ears, but if you know you do these might not be the comfiest.
The last port of call for these headphones is functionality. I’ve already discussed the app and don’t really have anything else to say about it. It’s a unique way of helping you improve your sounds and once you’re looking to enjoy the music that aligns it’s excellent. Otherwise, you can just keep it middle of the road and you’ve still got a great pair of headphones. Some other features.
Active Noise Cancelling
Normally, I’d be throwing this into my backpack along with my Bose cans and on a flight to somewhere giving them a quick noise-cancelling test. For obvious reasons, the ability to do flight tests has been dramatically curtailed these days. But I found a way when reviewing the excellent Huawei FreeBuds 3i. The extractor fan in my kitchen is ancient and very noisy. Hello there jet-engine substitute.
The active noise cancelling is ok. The “MacGuyver jet engine test” is very fair because it’s a droll monotonous sound. Exactly the kind of sound active noise cancelling should be able to wipe out. It does a decent job of this but it doesn’t compare to the likes of the Bose or the surprisingly brilliant JBL Club One ANC headphones, more on them soon.
I usually look at a pair of headphones and prefer to see more buttons. Less buttons means a gesture pad and gesture pads are typically horrible to use. The Kygo A11/800 has a gesture pad and sure enough, it’s not that intuitive at the start. The good news is after you figure it out or read the manual (not my strength) it’s quite a good gesture pad. Swipe up from the centre to increase volume. Down to decrease, left to skip back and right to skip forward. Tap in the centra to pause and play.
In addition, there’s a power button and buttons to control active noise cancelling and awareness mode. The latter is great if you’re walking through the city or going for a jog as you can still hear bits of the world around you. A nice feature that.
Finally, you have two additional ports. One for USB-C charging and ther other for an options 3.5mm headphone jack.
The headphones are advertised with a 40 hours battery life or 19 hour playtime battery life. As with all battery ratings, I didn’t that from them but the reality is that you’ll rarely feel a battery life which really only achieves 14 to 16 hours. These will get you through most long-haul flights and their noise cancelling will do enough to take the edge off those engines. Whenever we’re allowed do all of that again.
Final few bits to mention. As you’d expect at this price point, you do get a nice carry case with a carabiner to clip onto your backpack. In the case, you’ll find a USB-C charge cable and 3.5mm cable with an in-line mic for calls. The last feature I didn’t really call out was the auto-pause feature.
There’s a proximity sensor which detects if the headphones are on your head. Take them off and auto-pause kicks in. These a similar feature on the Sennheiser Momentum 3 which is awful but I do think the Kygo A11/800 actually pulls this feature off a little better. My concern is that if you do have smaller ears or wear glasses and have issues with the sensor, there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to disable this feature. On the Sennheisers, I could turn it off but if you have trouble with it here, you’re stuck with it. Thankfully, I didn’t have any issues so hopefully it’s the same for you.
Kygo A11/800: The Verdict
At €249 these are not aiming to be a quick cash-in on Kygo’s fame. I say fame there assuming he’s fairly well known. Instead, these are a very real attempt at a premium pair of headphones. They deliver on quite a few areas and are a great pair of headphones in their own right. However, when you look at the market – it’s vicious. Right now you can get the stupendous Sony WH-1000XM3 for the same price. If you’re an all-round music lover, they’ve still got to be your first choice but if you’re big into your electro-house and want a bit more style than substance (and I say that with no disrespect intended), the Kygo A11/800 are not a bad pair of headphones at all.
The Kygo A11/800 are available directly from their dedicated website and often have discount codes on their Instagram page.