Hed Unity review: Are Wi-Fi headphones really $2,000 better?

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Hed Unity Wi-Fi headphones.

“For deep-pocketed audiophiles, the Hed Unity makes the angelic beaker of wireless, lossless audio a reality.”

Pros

  • Excellent body quality
  • Class-leading sound
  • Top-notch materials
  • Cushy, comfortable comfort
  • Wi-Fi affiliation for lossless audio
  • Excellent wireless range

Cons

  • Sky-high price
  • Awkward set up and control
  • Limited alive casework for Wi-Fi
  • Poor array life
  • Software/features still beneath development

The Hed Unity headphones — the aboriginal artefact from Swiss audio aggregation Hed — are groundbreaking. They’re the aboriginal Bluetooth wireless headphones to additionally action a Wi-Fi connection, which brings two above advantages: absolutely lossless manual of audio — alike at actual aerial resolutions — and about absolute wireless range.

They additionally accept a groundbreaking amount of $2,199 — authoritative them the best big-ticket wireless headphones we’ve anytime reviewed. For that akin of investment, the Hed Unity are activity to accept to analysis a lot of boxes above lossless Wi-Fi.

After spending three weeks with them, I’m afflicted with what Hed has accomplished. But unless you accept a besetting charge to be on the bleeding bend (and the arbitrary banknote to abutment that compulsion) you may appetite to delay afore jumping into the apple of Wi-Fi headphones.

Hed Unity: why Wi-Fi?

Hed Unity.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Before we dive in, aloof a quick 101 on wireless audio: Bluetooth is the accepted wireless technology that connects headphones, earbuds, and speakers to your buzz or added accordant device. Its bandwidth (the aggregate of abstracts it can address per second) is bound and grows abate the added abroad you are from your phone. Although there are some appropriate Bluetooth codecs out there like LDAC, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, and others that affiance to bottle the detail begin in your music, the absoluteness is that none is perfect, and none is accepted — abnormally if you accept an iPhone, which doesn’t assignment with any of them.

On the added hand, Wi-Fi additionally has bandwidth limitations, but they’re annihilation compared to Bluetooth. Wi-Fi doesn’t charge appropriate codecs to advice bottle information, and as continued as you’re aural ambit of a Wi-Fi acceptance point, your affiliation affection should be actual good. These qualities accomplish Wi-Fi absolute for alive lossless, hi-res audio. It’s the technology acclimated by all of the best whole-home wireless speakers like Sonos, Bose, Bang & Olufsen, Sony, and abounding others.

But Wi-Fi is power-hungry, which has fabricated it a poor best for small, claimed audio articles like wireless headphones and earbuds. Wi-Fi audio articles crave added software, and, abundant of the time, they cannot affix to a buzz anon — they charge a wireless arrangement to act as the go-between.

Hed Unity: design

Hed Unity apparent with Apple MacBook Air.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Everyone has their own abstraction of what affluence should attending like. For me, it’s consistently looked like chaste simplicity. Top-notch abstracts and body quality. Clean curve — no fancy, adorned details. Think Porsche 911, not Ferrari Testarossa. By that standard, the Hed Unity are the apotheosis of affluence — aphotic blah anodized aluminum earcup shells that alloy about seamlessly into a analogous headband. The disposable anamnesis cream and microfiber-wrapped earcushions attending like accustomed extensions of the carbon-reinforced nylon body.

Except for the baby and tasteful accord logo and the four ascendancy buttons on the earcups, annihilation interrupts the flow. I anticipate they attending fantastic, and I’m abiding it’s no abstract that Hed chose an aluminum blush that complements Apple’s Space Gray MacBooks.

In some ways, the Hed Unity is added accumbent with Apple’s architecture accent than Apple’s own AirPods Max headphones.

If there’s one check to the Unity’s minimalism, it’s a absolute abridgement of hinges or pivots, which you’d acquisition on about any added set of wireless cans. Apart from the adjustable chaplet sliders, they don’t change appearance at all. This ability accept implications for abundance and fit — which I’ll blow on in a moment — but the better tradeoff is portability.

Hed ships the Unity with a biking and accumulator case fabricated from a actual failing yet accepted actual that provides — in Hed’s words — “military-grade protection.” But the Unity’s adamant architecture and the case’s architecture actualize a amalgamation that’s added than alert as blubbery as the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones — you’ll charge affluence of amplitude in your attache for these cans.

Included with the case is a baby annular zippered accessory absolute a braided USB-A-to-USB-C charging cable, a USB-C-to-USB-A adapter, and a USB-C-to-3.5mm analog ascribe dongle.

Hed Unity: comfort

Simon Cohen cutting the Hed Unity.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

At aloof a break beneath 1 batter (14.4 ounces), the Hed Unity are alike added than the ample AirPods Max (13.8 ounces), which is adage something, abnormally back the Sony WH-1000XM5 are aloof 8.8 ounces. And yet, admitting their weight and abridgement of adjustments, I begin them abundantly comfortable. That awareness alone added as I switched aback and alternating with some of the best wireless headphones on the market.

The earcups are ample and the anamnesis cream earcushions acquainted like they were giving my arch a bendable yet close hug. Even with some active arch movements, they backward put, but I acerb acclaim adjoin demography them to the gym or on runs (they accept no diaphoresis or baptize protection).

These Wi-Fi headphones appear with some weight to them.

The accumulation distribution, the chaplet width, and the anchor force are all awfully well-balanced. There’s no abstinent you’ll feel that about 1-pound weight over time. But alike afterwards two hours of ceaseless wear, I didn’t apprehension any burden points.

My alone admonition is for those of you with absolutely baby heads. At their aboriginal setting, they were absolute for me, which suggests that (despite my tiny cranium) some of you may acquisition them too big.

Hed Unity: controls and set up

Hed Unity appropriate earcup controls.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

The Unity’s controls are adequately accepted for wireless headphones. The appropriate earcup has a triple-button array that handles volume, playback, and calling functions, alternating with a fourth button committed to breath babble abandoning (ANC) mode. On the larboard earcup is a distinct button that handles power/Bluetooth/Wi-Fi and bond actions.

You should be acquainted of two notable omissions: there’s currently no way to activate your phone’s articulation assistant, and no auto-pause/resume affection for back you abolish the cans.

The controls are intuitive, but the triple-button array is catchy to use. The buttons are absolutely baby and actual abutting together, and the axial multifunction button is almost taller than the crabbed aggregate buttons, which makes it adamantine to locate with your thumb. I got acclimated to it, but I never got adequate with it.

The Hed Unity booty a whopping 44 abnormal to cossack up with Wi-Fi.

Another affair you’ll charge to get acclimated to is the time it takes to ability on the Unity. Most Bluetooth headphones booty beneath than 5 abnormal to ability up and affix to the aftermost accessory you used. The Unity, however, booty 44 abnormal from the time you long-press the ability button until the time you apprehend the “Unity is ready” bulletin in your ears. It’s not abnormal for Wi-Fi articles to booty best to cossack up than Bluetooth accessories — but this is long, alike for Wi-Fi.

Technically, the headphones reconnect over Bluetooth faster than that. But for Wi-Fi operation, you charge the abounding boot-up time.

If you appetite to carefully use the Unity as a set of Bluetooth headphones, you can do that appropriate out of the box. Just ability them on, and they’ll access Bluetooth bond mode. But that would defeat their capital affairs point. To get them alive with Wi-Fi, you’ll charge the Unity app (iOS/Android) and some patience.

The app makes the bureaucracy action assume simple enough, but I had to go through several circuit of abacus and removing the headphones from my iPhone’s Bluetooth card afore assuredly accepting them to be accustomed by the app. Once that happened, I was able to add the Unity to my Wi-Fi arrangement and configure the options. Not that you get many.

The Unity app currently has four capital functions: a array meter, a Wi-Fi agreement tool, a way to about-face ANC modes, and an blaster with a array of presets.

Originally, the Unity app was activity to be a one-stop boutique for all your music alive needs, agnate to the Sonos or BluOS apps. If you analysis out Hed’s website it still refers to a “multisource music player” aural the app. But things haven’t absolutely formed out as planned.

Instead, to beck music over Wi-Fi to the Unity headphones, you’ll charge to use altered third-party apps depending on area you get your tunes. Spotify and Tidal users will accept it accessible — the Unity headphones are accordant with the “Connect” affection in these apps. Simply baddest the Unity headphones from the account of accessible wireless speakers aural the app and you’re acceptable to go.

You ability not be able to use your admired music service.

Want to use added services? That ability be a problem. There’s currently no way to beck Apple Music, alike if you accept an iPhone. The Unity abutment Wi-Fi, but not Apple’s AirPlay 2 alive technology. It won’t assignment on Android either because Apple Music alone streams to Wi-Fi accessories that accept Chromecast built-in — which the Unity additionally lack. The aforementioned affair can be said for Amazon Music, YouTube Music, Pandora, and Deezer.

If you grab a third-party app like mConnect (iOS/Android) or BubbleUPnP (Android only) you can acceptance Qobuz — you’ll get three months of that free, by the way — additional your claimed library of agenda music as continued as it’s stored on a DLNA-compatible media server or device.

Hed didn’t action a specific timeline for bigger acceptance to music services, but it has said that it affairs to bury alive music adequacy anon into its app by April 2024. For now, it’s fair to say that the company’s affiance of “Your aftertaste is circuitous and diverse. Now, it can be served by one centralized platform” is added aspirational than achievable.

Hed Unity: abnormality about with Wi-Fi

Hed Unity with included accessories.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

The Hed Unity’s Bluetooth wireless ambit is about boilerplate for a set of wireless headphones. While abnormality amid floors of my house, it was about stable. But the added I roamed from my phone, the added the audio would alpha to breach up.

Wi-Fi, however, never faltered. I accept absolutely acceptable Wi-Fi advantage at home, and it showed. Things were abundant as continued as I was aural ambit of an acceptance point.

But they weren’t perfect. I accept a Netgear Orbi cobweb Wi-Fi arrangement with two acceptance points. As I drifted from the bend of one AP into the other, the Unity advised it like I was abutting a new Wi-Fi arrangement — anniversary time announcement “Wi-Fi connected.”

I additionally noticed that because the headphones advance Bluetooth and Wi-Fi access simultaneously, I’d get a “Bluetooth disconnected/connected” bulletin as I confused in and out of the Bluetooth ambit of my phone.

You could, I suppose, artlessly force the Unity to abstract from your phone’s Bluetooth. But if you do that, you lose the adeptness to assignment with the Unity app. For now, accustomed how little the app does, maybe that’s no hardship. It ability be a altered adventure in the future.

Hed Unity: complete quality

Hed Unity with earcushion removed from appropriate earcup.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Whether you’re application them to beck lossless, hi-res audio via Wi-Fi, lossy audio via Bluetooth, or clear arresting via the active dongle, the Hed Unity complete amazing. No, not $2,199 amazing — they don’t bear added than four times the audio affection of a Sony WH-1000XM5, Apple AirPods Max, or Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless — but they do complete decidedly bigger to me than all three of these accomplished wireless headphones.

From a complete signature standpoint, they are kissing cousins with superb Master & Dynamic MW75 — actual counterbalanced above the frequencies, with aloof the aboriginal adumbration of bass-forwardness. The Unity app contains a acceptable nine-band blaster with saveable settings, additional a accomplished host of presets. I’m captivated that these presets are labeled for what they do to the complete as against to music genre-based labels, which accept never fabricated abundant faculty to me. There’s a lot of ambit here, but I anticipate you’ll acquisition the adjustments are attenuate — aloof nice little tweaks to advice you get things dialed in the way you like them.

Some of the acclaim goes, I think, to the 40mm titanium-coated drivers: transients are fast and precise, highs are beautifully clear, and the midranges abound with detail. One of my admired advance for torture-testing any audio accessory is Billy Eilish’s Bad Guy. Being able to cede the punishingly low bass band while accompanying absolution Eilish’s whispery vocals float weightlessly on top is no accessible feat, yet the Unity handled it with ease.

Listening to Silver Springs by Matt Beringer — a clue that makes accomplished use of apparatus and articulate spatial accession — reveals the Unity’s soundstage. It’s not massively advanced or high, but it’s deeply controlled and actual precise. This bodes able-bodied for back Hed updates the headphones with its promised spatial audio compatibility.

Hed Unity in biking case with accent pouch.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

But here’s the absolute $2,199 question: does lossless Wi-Fi alive accomplish a apparent aberration against Bluetooth? Absolutely.

Compared to the Unity’s Bluetooth connection, Wi-Fi alive appear added detail and nuance, let the music relax, and alone the best annoying side-effects of compression — the bloating of bass and the cutting of highs.

But is that a fair comparison? After all, in Bluetooth mode, the Unity alone abutment SBC and AAC — both lossy and bound to 16-bit. Not absolutely Bluetooth at its best. In a absolute world, I could accept activated aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, or LDAC on these cans, but alas, no dice.

Wi-Fi music sounds better. Full stop. But bags of dollars better?

So I did the abutting best affair and compared them to the Master & Dynamic MW75 affiliated to a Motorola ThinkPhone via aptX Adaptive. Using Qobuz lossless advance with both setups, I could ascertain alone the atomic differences in detail. Given that these headphones are abutting — but not identical — it’s absurd to say if those differences were due to the wireless affiliation or any cardinal of added concrete and processing differences.

I’m affected to achieve that while Wi-Fi is, on paper, the best way to acquaintance wireless music, you don’t charge $2,199 headphones to accomplish a affection that is 99% as acceptable (to my aerial at least). Still, this doesn’t backbite from a key Unity benefit: for Bluetooth to admeasurement up, you charge codec affinity and you charge a actual able Bluetooth signal. Sony’s LDAC codec, for instance, is belled for not actuality able to advance its accomplished bitrate of 990kbps unless you’ve got about absolute conditions.

The Unity’s Wi-Fi affiliation lets you balloon about all of that. Even the weakest Wi-Fi arresting is acceptable to be abounding times faster than the best Bluetooth signal, and codec affinity is irrelevant. For association who like alive they’re consistently accepting the best audio possible, there’s absolute amount in Wi-Fi — I’m aloof not abiding it’s $2,199’s account of value.

Hed Unity: breath babble cancellation

Hed Unity.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

I’d altercate that the aggregate of the Unity’s acquiescent babble abreast — acknowledgment to those absurd earcushions — and their absorbing complete affection is so able you apparently won’t feel the charge to appoint ANC best of the time.

Still, it’s a nice affection to have, and it does do a acceptable job of acrid abounding lower-to-mid frequencies for a quieter alert environment. It’s not as able as the ANC you’ll get from Sony, Bose, or Apple. And if you’re not alert to any audio, you may apprehension a actual baby aggregate of hiss.

My alone absolute criticism is that Hed hasn’t added a accuracy approach yet (the aggregation says it’s on the way), and there’s no way to attenuate the articulation acknowledgment back you about-face ANC on and off — conceivably that will be adapted in the future, too.

Hed Unity: alarm quality

Hed Unity chaplet interior.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Up until one anniversary afore I got my appraisal model, the Hed Unity didn’t accept articulation calling over Bluetooth enabled. And based on my experience, Hed still has some assignment to do. The accretion on the mics is too low, authoritative your articulation adamantine to hear, there’s about no accomplishments babble cancellation, and wind babble is a absolute problem. Things were bigger indoors, after accomplishments noise, but boilerplate abreast what we should apprehend from a top-flight set of headphones.

In theory, these issues should be fixable. After all, the Hed Unity is able with an amazing 12 microphones — four of which are committed to calls. But for now, calling is not amid the Unity’s strengths.

Hed Unity: array life

Hed Unity larboard earcup with USB-C port.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Let’s aloof say it: the Hed Unity’s array activity is dismal. With a best breach of aloof eight hours — and that’s beneath optimal altitude with ANC off and alone alive over Bluetooth — you’d be hard-pressed to acquisition a set of wireless headphones with a beneath lifespan.

Why so short? The Unity are arranged with electronics. There’s a dual-core processor, a Wi-Fi transceiver, 16GB of storage, and a ton of motion sensors. This gives Hed a lot of allowance to accomplish the Unity bigger over time, but it additionally takes a abundant assessment on array life.

On the ablaze side, it doesn’t booty continued to allegation them up: 15 account gets you about 90 account of added playtime, and you can absolutely allegation them in 1.5 hours.

Hed Unity: beginning potential

Inside the Hed Unity are two technologies that are currently bare for use: 16GB of onboard accumulator for music and/or added apps, as able-bodied as a nine-axis motion sensor that’s advised for a approaching head-tracked spatial audio feature.

Being aboriginal about consistently comes with a exceptional price. The aboriginal Tesla, the aboriginal claret TV, the aboriginal folding buzz — if you capital to be the aboriginal amid your accompany to own these products, you would accept paid far added than the association who bought them two years later. That’s how it goes.

So, while the Hed Unity’s amount charcoal acutely out of ability for best buyers, I tend to anticipate of them as a affidavit of concept. If those who can acquiesce them buy them and like them, it won’t be continued afore the bazaar responds with added affordable alternatives. Some of those alternatives might appear as anon as 2024.

In the meantime, the company’s aboriginal barter are accepting aces body quality, best materials, comfortable comfort, and complete affection that has few equals in the wireless headphone world.

And of course, they’ll get the covering feature: Wi-fi connectivity that promises bit-perfect manual of lossless music anywhere in your home. Maybe that’s account the amount of admission.

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