The concept looks ridiculous. It also sounds crazy. But that’s just the initial perspective. Is it actually futuristic and sensible – inevitable, even?
We tried out a prototype model behind closed doors at Dyson HQ in Malmesbury to find out what the Zone is really like, and whether we think it could catch on.
Surprisingly, the Zone isn’t as bonkers as we thought when we first saw the release and accompanying pictures.
Back then, we imagined air jets firing across your face as if you were standing in front of one of the company’s driers. However, the overall effect is much more subtle than that, and we suspect it will be refined over time if there’s enough interest.
We’re still very much in the prototype stage here, after all, with no price or release date yet announced.
So, while it certainly won’t be for everyone, we can definitely see some in urban areas wearing the Zone in order to combat pollution.
- Purifies the air you breathe
- Active noise cancelling
- Will monitor the air around you
- Visor is detachable
- Replaceable filters
- Bulky design
- Heavy to wear
- Requires plenty of confidence
A polarising design
The Dyson Zone headphones follow the standard design for a pair of headphones, as you might expect.
There are two very large earcups, a well-padded headband that hides the battery within its cushions and various touch-sensitive buttons to let you control the ANC options.
It’s the moment you magnetically attach the mouthguard to the headphones that things start to get a bit more interesting.
It is this visor, hovering mere centimetres from your face, that catches the air pumped in through two hidden motors sitting in the earcups that allow you to breathe clean air. The motors, which are miniaturised versions of what’s found in the company’s vacuum cleaners, sit behind two filters and purify the air as it’s pulled into the system.
In theory, it’s all very straightforward. However, this has taken more than five years to develop, with over 500 prototypes in that time leading to the one we eventually tested. The design itself, even without the visor attached, is polarising. Since they’re housing speaker drivers, as well as motors and filters, the earcups protrude quite far from the side of your head.
This is a big pair of headphones, and, once in the accompanying case, are actually worthy of their own bag. This isn’t a pair, then, that you’ll be able to slip into your regular backpack.
It’s not just the look, either – all the parts and batteries quickly weigh up. Given the task at hand, Dyson has done the best it can, but the Zone is by no means lightweight. And while that padded headband helps a lot, we would say they still feel heavier than the Apple AirPods Max, and certainly heavier than the Sony WH-1000XM4.
Dyson has yet to share the official weight. This is a prototype, after all, and therefore still subject to change. In fact, it’s noticeably different to the official press photos released back in March.
Wearing the Dyson Zone
Despite the look and the weight, the fit is incredibly comfortable. It’s tight enough to create a good seal, but it isn’t overly compressing. Once on, you connect the visor magnetically to the earcups, and it can be easily moved away from your face without falling off, allowing you to talk, eat, or drink.
Of course, it’s still big enough for you to always be aware of it, but it’s not as oppressive as we were expecting. It’s also not as uncomfortable as wearing a face mask – partly because it never actually touches your face and merely hovers in front of it.
Snapping it into place automatically turns on the active noise control, too, playing music if you’re listening to something as the air purification begins. The whole movement is subtle. There are no jets of air blasting you as if you’re in a wind tunnel, but you do instantly notice something is different.
We wore the Dyson Zone only for a matter of minutes – mainly to assess the fit and feel, rather than to test performance. And, in that sense, it will be interesting to see how it copes in a real-world environment and not just a conference room.
On the audio front, Dyson says it has gone for a neutral sound, although you will be able to adjust it via the Dyson Link app when it eventually launches. The track we listened to – Graceland by Paul Simon – sounded good, but this was by no means an extensive or definitive way to test the audio performance of the Zone.
The ANC, which works via eight microphones placed around the headphones, did a good job of cutting out the ambient noise of others in the room talking. This meant the whir of the motors wasn’t as noticeable as we were expecting – especially if the volume was turned up.
Again, this could change for better or worse as the Dyson Zone continues to develop. As the company told us, though, it’s very aware that there are two noisy motors next to your ears, and it’s doing everything it can to combat that.
Dyson Zone specs we do know about
With no official specs, a lot could still change. However, a 45-minute run-through with one of the lead Dyson engineers involved in the project did fill in some of the blanks.
There will be three active noise cancelling modes, for example – On, Transparent and Conversation.
The filters will also be replaceable with different recommendations based on where you live on the planet. UK customers should be able to use it for a year before needing to change the filters, for example, but Dyson is likely to recommend users in China change the filters more frequently than that, and customers in India even more so.
The accompanying app will give you real-time pollution data via sensors in the earcups so you can see how well the Zone is working for you, and also what part of your journey is most affected.
The company is also exploring the possibility of using this monitoring system to send you pollution alerts, potentially giving you the option to then put on the detachable visor if you aren’t already wearing it.
We also know it will be chargeable via USB-C, offering a recharging feature that Dyson claims will get the Zone up and running again rapidly. At this stage, however, we don’t know how quickly it will actually recharge, or how long that battery will last.
The most pertinent question surrounding the Zone, of course, is why it actually exists in the first place. After all, with the last two years dominated by fabric face masks, why would you – or should you – be clambering to wear something in front of your face once more.
The answer, says Dyson, is pollution – especially in urban areas. A whopping 92 per cent of the world’s population lives in places where air quality levels exceed the World Health Organisation’s Ambient Air quality guidelines.
While most of the UK and the US aren’t in that danger zone, places like India, China and the Far East certainly are.
Put that into real terms, WHO suspects that around 3 million deaths per year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution can be just as deadly. In 2012, WHO estimated that 6.5 million deaths (11.6 per cent of all global deaths) were associated with indoor and outdoor air pollution together.
The idea, Dyson says, is that wearing a personal purifier might be the best solution until we can solve the pollution issue.
The Dyson Zone air-purifying headphones will be available online from Autumn 2022 and in Dyson Demo Stores.
Pricing has yet to be revealed.
We’re still very much in the prototype stage here, with no price or release date in sight, but we can certainly see people wearing this if it solves the problem of pollution in urban areas.
Writing by Stuart Miles. Editing by Rik Henderson.