Dyson Zone hands-on: What it’s like to use air-purifying headphones

New York City is famous for not giving a damn, but I was still surprised that no passers-by gave me graceful glances as I walked down Fifth Avenue. To be clear, I don’t expect to turn heads every day. What’s more, I was wearing the $949 Dyson Zone, a giant pair of futuristic headphones with a glowing copper mask that floated over my nose and mouth. I felt like the cyberpunk love child of bat Man villain Bane and D.Va’s Supervision.

The Zone is Dyson’s first foray into both portable devices and audio. Simply put, it’s a high-end pair of noise-canceling headphones that attach to a magnetic visor (Dyson’s term) that sits in front of your face. Each of the earphones contains a compact electrostatic filter that removes contaminants from the air. That air is then channeled through the visor to create a pocket of purified air. The device also pairs with the MyDyson app where you can view the air quality and noise levels of your current environment.

For the record, the Zone only filters the air for pollutants, such as allergens or gases from construction sites. It does not filter viruses, especially since the visor does not make any contact with your face, and it does not filter the air you exhale.

The moment you pick up the Zone headphones, you can feel the weight and build quality. These are not “light” headphones like the AirPods Max or the Sony WH-1000XM5. They weigh 585 grams, almost 1.3 pounds, just for the headphones. Adding the visor brings it up to a whopping 670 grams. Despite the weight, they don’t feel too oppressive when you put them on. The ear cups are plush, as are the cushions attached to the bottom of the headband, which also houses the battery. Of course, I didn’t use the headphones for an extended period of time. It was probably about 20 minutes total between trying them out at the Dyson demo and while I was walking down Fifth Avenue.

They sound good too, and for close to $1,000, one should expect so. They’re not particularly bass-heavy, which Dyson says is intentional. The company opted for a more neutral sound profile. I couldn’t go through my favorite playlist, but what I did hear sounded crystal clear.

According to Dyson, the Zone can reduce noise by around 40 decibels: 38 decibels from the headphones’ ANC technology, and an additional two decibels simply by putting the headphones on. It was impressive in a quiet office, but even more so on a busy New York City street. With ANC on, I could barely hear the hustle and bustle of the city around me. Car engines, people yelling into cell phones, and everyday sounds fell silent. I could still hear taxi drivers honking aggressively and a passing fire truck, but they didn’t hurt my ears as much as usual.

A close up of the Dyson Zone filter with the headphones in the background

While the earcups are undoubtedly great, most people wouldn’t bother without the visor. Dyson says they anticipate most people will be using the headphones on their own, using the visor only when it makes sense, such as when going through a construction site or in particularly polluted areas.

The visor itself is quite light and sits higher than I thought, covering the nose and mouth but not the chin. It is nothing like the face masks we have been using for the past few years. Instead, it’s like having a vent that blows clean air into your face. It takes a bit of getting used to, especially if you choose a higher setting. For the most part, I kept it low.

The visor snaps into place via magnets and can be easily lowered when you need to interact with people. At this time, the headphones also automatically switch to a talk mode that pauses the music and makes it easier to hear what’s going on around you. When I tested this part, there was a one to two second delay, but otherwise it worked as intended. With noise cancellation on, it’s extremely difficult to hear conversations around you, so this is definitely a necessary feature for anyone wearing something like this in public.

The inside view of the Dyson Zone face shield

It’s too early to say what kind of impact Zone’s exorbitant price will have on sales. Sure, $949 seems absurd, but eye-popping prices haven’t necessarily spelled failure for Dyson. The Airwrap curling iron costs $600, while regular curling irons retail for as little as $50. And yet, the Airwrap is a viral sensation and is routinely out of stock.

Pre-orders for the Zone don’t open until March in the US, but Dyson says the US isn’t the only market it’s considering. In other parts of the world, air pollution is a much more serious concern, and one that other smart masks are targeting as well. Last year, I reviewed the $150 AirPop Active Plus Halo Smart Mask, another mask that connects to an app to help monitor the air quality around you. I found the skin too expensive for everyday life, especially since the tech component was a bit weird and the skin restrictions have since been eased.

The technological component of Zone is much more resourceful. While taking a ride in the Zone, I was able to see both the air quality and noise levels around me in real time on the MyDyson app. I’m not sure I’d keep my eyes glued to an app like this, especially when walking around, but it works much smoother than the AirPop app. Not to mention, at the very least, you get a high-end pair of headphones that work. The AirPop mask doesn’t really do anything else.

Side view of a woman wearing Dyson Zone headphones and visor in New York City

For me, the biggest challenge Zone faces is how other people will react when you use it. He wears smart glasses. Technological challenges aside, one of the main reasons smart glasses haven’t taken off is human vanity mixed with social stigma. You only have to remember how Google Glass users were called “Glassholes” or the way some people reacted to face masks during the pandemic to see why some people might not be interested in a device like Zone. There’s a primary concern that comes with technology obscuring your face, and that’s without adding considerations like privilege and cost.

While I wasn’t nervous trying out the Zone in the privacy of a conference room, heading out onto Fifth Avenue was another story. No one likes strange looks, and the Zone is the opposite of understated. I’ve worn devices like the Focals by North in public before, but they looked like a normal pair of Warby Parkers. But as I mentioned, no one seemed to care in the slightest. To be fair, I only walked a few blocks with the Zone on. I’d have to see how I’d feel wearing this thing for a full ride on the subway. Then again, as a New York native, I can attest to having seen and ignored much stranger things before.

Photography by Victoria Song / The Verge

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *