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Andy Boxall/Business Insider
- Kygo’s A11/800 headphones feature a fashionable design that all buyers can appreciate, but their style will appeal the most to fans of the Norwegian DJ behind the brand.
- With up to 40 hours of playback, the headphones’ battery life is more than enough to last a week, even with a lengthy commute or listening session each day.
- There’s plenty of volume and a rich sound with lots of bass, plus an app with an unusual graphic equalizer to help tailor the sound further.
- The regular $249 price is already a good value considering the features you get, but at a current sale price of just $170, the headphones are an even better buy.
A music producer making headphones? Well, it worked for Beats by Dre, so why not Norwegian DJ Kygo? In fact, I’ve only heard of Kygo due to his exploits in the world of tech, starting with headphones and speakers, and more recently a partnership with Skagen to produce a special edition Falster 3 smartwatch.
Kygo’s latest headphones are the A11/800, which sit at the top of the brand’s range. The headphones feature Bluetooth support and active noise cancelling technology, just like you’d expect from a pair of expensive cans. Except, at a regular price of $249 and frequent discounts below $200, the A11/800 undercut many competitors.
Should you be tempted? Apple’s Beats line has cornered the market in DJ-backed headphones, and has steadily grown into a mega-brand with the tech to match its bold and bassy sound. Can Kygo and the A11/800 compete? I’ve been listening for a week to see if Beats should beat it.
- Weight: 250 grams/8.8 ounces
- Drivers: 40mm
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, 3.5mm
- Codecs: AptX, AptX LL, AAC
- Battery: 40 hours without ANC, 19 hours with ANC, two hours charging using USB Type-C
- App: Kygo Life for iOS and Android
The Kygo A11/800 are made from plastic with faux leather covering their memory foam ear cups, and a soft padded headband. My review model is in a stark white, and a black version is also available. The construction is solid, in that they don’t feel badly made, but they do creak and groan when flexed and folded up. I noticed this especially when out walking and listening to spoken word, moving my head quickly when listening at home, and when unfolding the headphones before putting them on.
I like the simple, minimalist design. The all-white body looks cool, and the large Xs on each ear cup gives the headphones some visual interest, without going overboard with the branding. Wearing them isn’t going to suddenly promote you as a huge Kygo fan, which increases the appeal to those who don’t know who the DJ is. The cups are just the right size too, perfectly maintaining a sleek profile on your head, while the headphones fold down into a handy size when you’re done.
They have a vice-like grip on your head so they won’t come loose. With that said, they aren’t really suited for use in the gym or while exercising, as the ear cups quickly make your ears sweat. Combine this with the heavier than expected weight and a grip that won’t give up, and the A11/800s aren’t great for extended listening sessions. On the plus side, they don’t pull on my glasses much, which is a pleasant change compared to other tightly fitting headphones.
Controls are located on the right ear cup and are a mixture of physical and touch sensitive buttons. The power, ANC, and ambient sound modes are controlled by three physical buttons on the side of the cup. These are easily located and you’re told through the headphones the mode you’re in, which is very helpful.
The touch controls are less successful with an unacceptably slow reaction time, meaning I get caught in an endless play/pause loop. There’s a proximity sensor to pause the music when you take the headphones off. This works well but only when you take the headphones off completely, not just off your ears to leave the headphones hanging around your neck.
Annoying creaks and limpet-like fit aside, the Kygo A11/800s are a stylish, fashionable pair of headphones that I’m proud to wear out and about.
There is a 40mm driver inside each ear cup, and they are capable of delivering ear-splitting levels of volume. It’s not the most detailed sound, but there’s no question these are seriously loud. When listening to Spotify on an iPhone 11 Pro I have no need to take the headphones above half volume. This isn’t really a complaint. It’s nice to wear a pair of headphones that has power in reserve for when I really want to block out the world.
The balanced sound they deliver is really great, and the headphones clearly define vocals, mids, and bass in the soundstage. Where your typical Beats headphones prioritize the bass, the A11/800s add a similar degree of punch to a beautifully rounded soundstage. If my sweaty ears didn’t make me take the Kygo’s off after a bit, I probably wouldn’t want to. The engaging, bright sound is really addictive.
I listened to Twice’s entire new “More & More” EP, with the excellent Shadow being the standout track. The A11/800s center the stunning, crystal clear lead vocals, and excite with some superb stereo separation. Listening to Clozee’s “Inner Peace” further demonstrates the A11/800s’ strengths, resulting in solid, punchy bass, bright mids, and a tight center-biased soundstage. Blackpink’s bombastic “Kill This Love” encourages you to turn up the volume, and from the angry lyrics to the stream of low bass towards the end of the track, it sounds fantastic when you do.
Performance isn’t perfect though. I’m not hearing anything new through the A11/800s, and the sound can get muddled and harsh at higher volumes when listening to complex tracks. There is noticeable background hiss between tracks which concerns me, and with the ANC on it gets even worse. I don’t think it makes any difference to the music, but it does make me concerned about why it’s there in the first place. In addition to AptX, it’s good to see AptX LL, the low latency codec designed for gaming, ensuring even with a wireless connection the on-screen action syncs with the audio.
Noise cancellation and app
The sound quality is affected when you switch on the ANC, and worse, there is a noticeable increase in pressure around the ears when you use ANC. The Kygo A11/800s tightly seal around your ears and you definitely notice the change when the ANC kicks in. When out walking, the ANC minimizes the sound from traffic around me, but not as effectively as Sony’s WH-1000XM3. In the home, the Kygos remove voices around you, and the ambient sound of washing machines and kettles.
They provide a good escape, but the extra pressure does affect the sound quality a little too much. The sound is fuller, brighter, and more enjoyable with ANC off, and with deeper bass response when on. Download the Kygo Life app and you can switch on the ANC through it instead of using the button on the headphones. The app also allows you to activate the headphones’ Awareness or Ambient mode. Awareness lets in 50% of the surrounding noise and all the voices, while nothing is filtered out using Ambient mode.
The main reason you’ll want to download the app is for the equalizer, but don’t think you’re going to get a few sliders and that’s it. Instead of this, there are four cities (stay with me here) on the four sides of the screen — New York, Ibiza, Los Angeles, and Bergen. You move a spot around the screen to tune the sound, which Kygo says matches the vibe of the city, or something. It’s partially successful, and I did manage to find a setting that sounds better than the flat curve, but most spots sound pretty bad otherwise. Overall, I recommend just leaving the equalizer settings as they come out of the box.
Battery life and connection
Connection is quick and simple, and doesn’t require the app if you don’t want to download it. With that said, firmware updates may be delivered through the app in the future, so it’s probably worth downloading either way. The Kygo A11/800s use Bluetooth 5.0 but I’ve found the range to be a little shorter than other headphones. I encounter stutters and pauses around 26 feet away from the device. However, with my phone in my pocket, the connection is rock-steady.
The battery life is supposed to be around 40 hours without ANC, or 19 hours with ANC. I’ve used a mixture of modes during my review and the headphones passed 30 hours, which is excellent. I’ve only had to charge them once and that was after more than a week of daily use. Charge time is two hours and performed using a USB Type-C cable. A 3.5mm cable is included if the headphones run out of power and you still want to listen. The battery life is a serious benefit here, and I’m constantly surprised by how slowly the battery meter in the Kygo Life app seems to decrease.
Andy Boxall/Business Insider
The bottom line
Ignore the creaky chassis and annoying background hiss, and the Kygo A11/800s deliver a fun, enjoyable sound with more volume than you’ll ever want. The battery life is excellent and will definitely appeal to those who either forget to charge headphones, or want a set that lasts a week of lengthy commuting. The ANC works well, but does affect the sound, and these aren’t the most detailed headphones available. For the price, the Kygo A11/800s are a good value, but if you spend more you can find a pair of headphones with much better sound quality.
What are your alternatives?
The $299 Beats Solo Pro are the obvious competitor, sharing the ANC feature and delivering a bass-heavy sound with a lifestyle-driven design. The Sony WH-1000XM3s have better ANC and a sweet, detailed sound, but they will cost you around $350.
We really like the sound delivered by Master & Dynamic’s over-ear headphones as well, and recommend the $249 MH40s, but if you want ANC you’ll have to splash out $499 for the MW65s. Sennheiser’s $350 Momentum 3 headphones are very impressive all round, but are much larger and more expensive.
Though overall performance isn’t as strong as the competitors listed above, the Kygo A11/800 headphones offer a lot of value for their price. Buyers who want the best noise cancellation performance and sound quality will have to spend more, but the Kygo A11/800 are a solid purchase for listeners with less demanding audio needs.
For even more headphone recommendations, check out our best noise-cancelling headphones guide.
Pros: Reasonably priced, effective noise cancellation, lots of volume, long battery life
Cons: Plastic case creaks, background hiss frustrates, can cause ears to get hot