The Surface Headphones 2 sound absurdly good, are shockingly affordable

Microsoft's second-gen headphones are the most underrated gadget of the year. They're comfy, have excellent sound and noise-cancellation, last 20 hours, and cost less than Bose or Sony headphones.

Can 2020 get more strange? Out of all the words I have typed on Input this year I don’t think I ever expected to crown Microsoft — Windows behemoth and king of word processing and spreadsheets — with the best over-ear headphones with noise-cancellation. That’s just how good the Surface Headphones 2 are.

As good as the sound quality was on the original Surface Headphones, I don’t think many people got to enjoy them. They were expensive ($350), had shorter battery life compared to a pair of Bose or Sony headphones, and didn’t come in black.

Whoever worked on the Surface Headphones 2 deserves a fat raise because these cans check off all the boxes and cost $100 less this time around. With school returning soon (even if it’s virtual), you’d be stupid not to buy these noise cancellation headphones.

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They come in black — Thank you, thank you, thank you. It’s not that I didn’t like the light gray color that the first Surface Headphones came in, but matte black is so much stealthier. They’re less prone to getting dirty over time, too. Light gray is still available as a color option, but matte black is the way to go in my opinion.

Clean design.Raymond Wong / Input

Superior controls — I can’t stress enough how nice all of the controls on the Surface Headphones 2 are. The fiddly gesture controls are really the only thing I don’t like about my Bose 700 ANC headphones; I always get the gestures mixed up whenever I switch between headphones. Is it a swipe up or forward to adjust the volume? Or is it a tap? On the left or the right touchpads?

The Surface Headphones 2 controls are not confusing. Each ear cup has a touchpad and the controls are ones that have already been established by many other headphone makers: single tap to play/pause, double tap for next track/answer and end call, triple tap for previous track. The only odd control is the touch-and-hold to decline a call (fortunately, I don’t have to do that often). All of these controls work reliably. Sometimes they’re a touch too sensitive; occasionally, a light graze of the touchpad gets registered as a tap.

The ring controls for volume and noise-cancellation are awesome.Raymond Wong / Input

The real winners are the ring controls on each ear cup. The right ring adjusts volume and the left controls the amount of noise cancellation that you want. I’ve been working from home and my desk is right in front of the air conditioner installed in my window. It’s really convenient being able to quickly dial up the noise cancellation to help me focus on writing and dial it down when I'm cooking a meal and need to hear my Alexa timer go off. Other ANC headphones like my Bose 700 only have an on/off ambient mode and force you to open an app to adjust the levels. Putting the ambient level controls right on the Surface Headphones 2 is genius and other companies should copy it.

That's the correct charging port.Raymond Wong / Input

Ultra comfy — Microsoft nailed the fit of the Surface Headphones 2. The ear cups are soft and the insides are angled. The headband has less padding, but they actually feel comfier than my Bose 700 which have more padding. (Also, less padding is good for not flattening your hair so much!). Over-ear headphones usually start to feel like they’re clamping my skull after about 4 to 5 hours, but not the Surface Headphones 2. I’ve worn them for 10 hours straight on some days and they’ve never felt constricting. Taking the headphones off also pauses your music to conserve power.

Some people might be annoyed that the Headphones 2 don’t fold up. I’m not bothered by it. The headphones can rotate 90 degrees in two directions to sit flat around your neck. They also come with a nice hardshell case for storage in a backpack.

You’d be stupid not to buy these noise cancellation headphones.

Crazy long battery life — Battery life has jumped from 15 hours of continuous listening with noise-cancellation to 20 hours. Sony’s excellent WH-1000XM3 (and the WH-1000XM2) are still the stamina king with up to 30 hours of battery life with noise-cancellation. But the Surface Headphone 2’s 20 hours is at least equal to the Bose 700.

Most people aren’t going to be using the Headphones 2 for 20 hours straight. But for those long days when I needed hours of music to keep me going, and had to hop on a handful of Zoom calls for work and FaceTime with my mom, the long battery life was reassuring. You’re not going to have to charge them up (USB-C!) more often than every 2 to 3 days unless you’ve become a monster like me with ears that are basically taped to headphones at all times now.

Really good sound — Normally, for headphones, I waste no time telling you how they sound. They’re headphones — a product you buy to listen to things. But because the Surface Headphones already sounded great and Microsoft didn’t improve the drivers or anything, there’s honestly nothing new to say about the Headphones 2. They sound really great; the noise cancellation is excellent.

The Surface Headphones 2 and the Bose 700.Raymond Wong / Input

Comparing them with my Bose 700, the Headphones 2 don’t sound as rich out of the box. The bass doesn’t pound as much, nor do the mids or highs sound as bright. Nothing that can’t be tweaked with the equalizer in the Surface Audio app for iOS and Android. Truthfully, I’ve got no issue with the default tuned sound. I’m listening to music on Spotify and YouTube, not Tidal so I’m not too picky.

An excellent value — If Microsoft had stuck with the $350 price, I would be like hell no to the Surface Headphones 2. At $250, they’re an unignorable value for over-ear headphones with noise-cancellation, good sound, and excellent controls.

They’re $150 less than the Bose 700, $50 cheaper than the Sony WH-1000XM3, and $50 less than the Beats Solo Pro.

If you’re shopping for over-ear headphones with noise-cancellation, I can’t recommend the Surface Headphones 2 enough. They’re at the top of my list. Easily one of the most underrated gadgets released in this very strange year.