When Phil Schiller announced that the iPhone would be moving away from the headphone jack last year, he claimed that Lightning was, from the start, designed to be a “great digital audio connector” that could provide clear audio, power, and digital music control where the headphone jack could not. Though the first pair of headphones mentioned during that keynote used Lightning, Apple changed the focus very quickly to Bluetooth. Though we have been impressed by the Lightning headphones we’ve reviewed since that announcement, the market seems not to have blown up like we had hoped. Enter Beem United, a new headphone company that surprised us with their excellent BeMe D200 ($170) Lightning IEMs with Active Noise Cancellation.
The D200 ships with an array of different tip sizes and a protective carry case. Its driver housings are small, with a classy circular design and attractive question-mark shaped strain reliefs. It’s also surprisingly light, despite its robust cable and four-button control pod that contains a DAC, amp, and ANC electronics. We found the D200 to be very comfortable and easy to fit for a good seal. The four-button control pod (volume up, play/pause, volume down, ANC) works flawlessly, though we would have preferred buttons that were easier to differentiate without looking. Slightly detracting from the D200’s otherwise thoughtful design were the right angles at the top of its control pod that caused snags on clothes and desks and its flat cables can be distractingly microphonic in motion.
The only design feature of the D200 that we don’t like is its inclusion of white lights on the rear of the driver housings. They illuminate continuously when plugged in, and seem to have no function other than signaling to passers-by that these are “special” headphones. We can understand why Beem would want to draw some attention to their product’s otherwise tastefully understated design, but we would prefer an option to turn the lights off, especially since lights use power and there’s still no way to charge the iPhone while Lightning headphones are in use.
The D200’s sound signature is, like many headphones we’ve tested lately, best suited to popular music. It has a warm sound with a heavy bass boost and sounds best with pop, hip-hop and EDM. Compared to headphones with a more balanced sound, we found that detail suffered with rock and metal music, especially fast-paced tracks. Treble seems to be significantly softened in the D200, which we thought made some EDM tracks less engaging – sometimes the highs are supposed to be sharp. Though this kind of a sound signature can have the effect of turning down the contrast in some music, the D200 more than makes up for it with its surprise feature – ANC.
The D200’s ANC works, and that’s a big deal. We tested the D200 extensively amid the cacophony of NYC streets and subways, and found that it handily strips away the loud, low frequencies that dominate these areas. Wind and higher-frequency sounds can still be heard (although attenuated by passive isolation), but this is common and probably unavoidable for an in-ear headphone. More good news – unlike other ANC we tested in previous years, there was nearly no difference in the sound of the music when switching ANC on. Even if we were thrown off in detecting these changes by the interrupting voice prompt, we are confident that any actual change is subtle enough to be ignored. Though a circumaural headphone would have isolated better, D200’s ANC does exactly what it was supposed to do – strip out ambient noise, allowing us to listen at lower volumes in noisy areas.
Additional features are available through Beem United’s free (and optional) companion app, available on the iOS App Store. The app detects that the D200 is connected and offers controls of ANC, two Ambient Aware modes, and Equalizer settings. We appreciate the inclusion of Ambient Aware, but didn’t find much use for it out in the world – playing music often overpowered any sound allowed in. There was one instance in our testing where the app failed to detect that the headphones were connected, though we suspect this was an iOS problem, since it was fixed with a restart. Though we are not heavy users of equalizer presets, we found it interesting that while there were presets for Dance, Classical, and Pop, there are no presets for Rock or Metal – perhaps metalheads are not the D200’s target market.
Using the D200’s ANC couldn’t be simpler – the last button on the control pod toggles ANC off, with a voice prompt played through the headphones. The voice prompt is longer and more intrusive than it needs to be – though the music is paused during the prompt, we wish it could be turned off or at least replaced with a shorter tone. That issue aside, it’s very refreshing to get full ANC functionality without having to manage the extra weight and range anxiety that comes with a battery. If there’s a tradeoff, it’s a small hit to battery life – in our testing with an iPhone 7 Plus, using the D200 at 50% volume with ANC activated, our iPhone’s battery dropped 20% in five hours of continuous use.
The BeMe D200 makes a great argument in support of Apple’s move away from the headphone jack. Though its sound signature isn’t ideal for some genres of music, we have no problem recommending the D200 for its comfort, affordability, light weight, and excellent ANC. We think Beem United has done very well with their first entry into the headphone market, and we’re excited to see what they come up with next.
Company and Price
Company: BEEM United
Model: BeMe D200