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Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Plus review

One step forward, two steps back

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Plus
(Image: © Regan Coule/Future)

Laptop Mag Verdict

The Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Plus makes a compromise between performance and popular features for conferencing convenience.

Pros

  • +

    Excellent for voice and video calls

  • +

    Rich, bass-forward sound

  • +

    Effective ANC

  • +

    Microsoft 365 and Teams integration

Cons

  • -

    Still short on battery life

  • -

    Missing common features

  • -

    Very buggy

  • -

    Too expensive

A year after dropping the widely praised Surface Headphones 2, Microsoft saw the need to put out an updated version called the Surface Headphones 2 Plus. What does the Plus stand for? Microsoft Teams certification. It makes sense from a business standpoint since competitors like Bose (check out the 700 UC (opens in new tab)) are capitalizing on the work-from-home market by updating their flagship headphones with video conferencing integration.

Other than a dedicated button to take Teams calls from anywhere and a USB dongle to bypass Bluetooth for wireless connectivity, the Surface Headphones 2 Plus isn’t that much different than the standard version. At least that’s what Microsoft led us to believe.

After thorough testing, it turns out this re-release has some noticeable differences compared its predecessor. Have things improved or worsened? Our full Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Plus review breaks it all down.

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Plus review: Availability and price

The $299 Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Plus can be purchased at select retailers, including B&H (opens in new tab) and Staples, or directly from Microsoft (opens in new tab). It is only sold in one color: Black. Inside the box are a carrying case, USB charging cable, aux cable, quick start guide, warranty, and a Surface USB link (USB-A).

We’re talking a $50 increase from the standard version. On the flip side, these headphones are less expensive than the $400 Bose 700 UC, as well as the category-leading $349 Sony WH-1000XM4.

Be sure to bookmark our headphone deals page for the latest sales.

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Plus review: Design and comfort

The same attractive detailing, materials, and silhouette of the Surface Headphones 2
have been applied to the Surface Headphones 2 Plus. Craftsmanship is superb with sturdy, soft-touch plastic and aluminum used to cover the entire frame. Faux leather with plush padding makes up the ear pads.

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Plus review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Microsoft hit a home run with the extenders, which feature an arc-like design that gives the headphones some distinction. The fact that there are no visible screws or seams shows how committed the design team was to creating a sophisticated and unique-looking pair of wireless cans. Bravo, Microsoft.

Even the carry case feels premium. The exterior is composed of a durable woven fabric and has the company logo plastered right on the front for instant recognition. Not only are the headphones displayed handsomely on the inside, but so are the accessories, which are stored in the mesh sleeve at the top.

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Plus review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

The Surface Headphones 2 Plus is a comfortable wear when working from home, though you’ll need to use them sparingly. I felt the leather heat up after a while, plus the headband applies pressure atop the skull, but only when the extenders are on the shortest setting (1). There are 10 settings to accommodate listeners with larger skulls.

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Plus review: Controls

Microsoft has the coolest control scheme of any wireless headphones ever created. Period. A combination of physical buttons, touch panels, and dials grant you multiple ways to engage with the headphones. Most importantly, a full suite of controls is at your disposal, or so the quick guide sleeve suggests. 

Playback and call management are assigned to the touch panels, which are responsive to single and multi-tap input. The two buttons on the rear of the right ear cup are for power/pairing and enabling Microsoft Teams. Each ear cup has a dial for seamless control over volume (right) and noise-cancelling (left) levels. All the controls are reliable and fun to operate.

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Plus review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Motion detection to auto-pause when taking off the headphones is available, but it works about 40% of the time and suffers from lag.

Oddly, it seems like Microsoft stripped these headphones of one function: the digital assistant. The video tutorials claim it’s available. My testing showed otherwise. Executing the assigned input method (tap and hold) to fire up Siri, Google Assistant or Bixby never worked.

I reached out to Microsoft, and they confirmed that “there was no tap combination added for digital assistant on Surface Headphones 2 Plus.” If there is any way to enable the native assistant on my devices, I’m still waiting on a clear answer from Microsoft.

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Plus review: Audio quality

Music, movies, podcasts, and games all sound as fantastic as they did on the first- and second-gen Surface Headphones. However, I did hear a buzzing noise coming through the Surface Headphones 2 Plus when listening with ANC on.

Sound is flat right out of the box, but Microsoft kept the customizable EQ intact to either create your own sound profile or select from a handful of EQ settings: Classical, Jazz, Pop, and Rock.

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Plus review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Out of curiosity, I tested some of the tracks my editor played during her review of the Surface Headphones 2 and got similar results. The electric guitar and drums on Jay-Z’s “Guns & Roses” sounded dull until I switched the EQ to Rock, which emphasized the low end for a punchier presence. Slick Rick’s “Sittin’ In My Car” was a bittersweet listen that fed my ears punchy bass, but also came on too aggressive and muffled the chorus.

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Plus review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

I thought Pop would have given the mid-range more clarity, but it bloated up the soundscape on both hip-hop tracks.

For Sade’s “Jezebel,” the headphones reproduced the acoustic guitar and mournful sax incredibly well, complementing the singer’s soulful vocals for what felt like a live, face-to-face performance. That same vibrance carried over to orchestral records, which sounded identical on different EQs, but most favorable when set to Jazz. The clinky cymbals and reverberation from the double bass on Miles Davis’ “Footprints” showed me the Surface Headphones 2 Plus could deliver solid frequency range, granted it depends on the song.

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Plus review: Active noise cancellation

ANC is on par with what past Surface Headphones offered. You still get 13 levels of ANC that can be manually adjusted by turning the dial. Unfortunately, that option is no longer available in the companion app, which has also undergone a change (more on that in the next section).

There are now five preset ANC levels to choose from in the app: Low, Mid, High, Passthrough, and Ambient. I understand that Microsoft did this to make ANC selection simpler, but one can also understand people becoming confused since the company is also marketing 13 settings.

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Plus review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

As expected, High is most effective for neutralizing external sounds and handles low and mid frequencies with ease. Household distractions like the droning noises from my central AC unit and washing machine tumble were unnoticeable. It was also satisfying to block out any family chatter during office hours, along with electronic nursery toys and loud iPhone speaker calls in the background. The technology will put a muzzle on some high-frequency noises (bird chirping), but not all of them. Ambulance sirens, whistles, and my toddler’s shrieking were unavoidable; the Bose 700 or Sony WH-1000XM4 are better at minimizing these sounds.

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Plus review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

I noticed zero difference between the Low and Mid settings.

The two ambient sound modes help increase environmental awareness. Passthrough opens the mics to pick up vocals more clearly for you to engage in natural conversations without pausing music, while Ambient amplifies surrounding sounds to hear them more distinctly.

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Plus review: The Microsoft Experience

The biggest selling point on these cans is Microsoft Teams compatibility, which has become a group-chat must for many businesses running Office 365. You can share and view documents from Office apps, plus schedule and make Skype calls without leaving the program.

Plugging the dongle into your desktop, laptop or tablet’s USB port will bypass Bluetooth and pair the headphones to your device. Once establishing a connection, you can hit the action button to check in on Teams meetings when multitasking in multiple apps. The dongle also lights up to indicate when you’re muted or have an incoming call.

Voice dictation is also part of the package to perform voice-to-text on Office apps (Microsoft 365 subscription is required). It works well for firing off quick notes to a Word doc or transcribing an Outlook email.

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Plus review: App and special features

The original Surface Headphones supported the Cortana app. Microsoft then rebranded it to the Surface Audio app for the sequel. Now the company has decided to make the Surface app the go-to for all Surface Headphones.

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Plus review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Talk about a vanilla experience. Presentation-wise, this is a downgrade from the Surface Audio app, which had more visual flair by placing small toggle controls and video tutorials right on the front page instead of menus. Furthermore, past features like Spotify integration and Play My Email (opens in new tab) that were part of the first-gen Surface Headphones still remain MIA.

For what was left untouched, that would be ANC, EQ, device settings, tutorials, volume, and firmware updates.

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Plus review: Battery life and charging case

Nothing new regarding battery life. A full charge generates 18.5 hours of ANC playtime, 20 hours of standard use, or 15 hours of voice calling on Microsoft Teams. The standard for ANC playtime is the Bose 700 and AirPods Max at 20 hours, so this places the Surface Headphones 2 Plus below them. Factor in high ANC levels and volume, battery life drops to about 14 hours.

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Plus review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Fully charging the headphones takes less than two hours, but if you’re the impatient type, a five-minute quick charge can net you 120 minutes of playtime.

To make up for the weak battery life, Microsoft should have considered releasing a charging case, like Bose did with the 700 Headphones (opens in new tab).

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Plus review: Call quality and connectivity

Call quality is consistently terrific across all three Surface Headphones models. The mics perform double duty, blocking out external sounds and capturing vocals for clear communication. Clients have showered me with positive feedback on voice and video calls; three of them thought I was speaking into my smartphone or laptop speaker.

Microsoft also fixed a neglected issue with the original: mic performance via aux cable. The odds of anyone using it for phone calls is very small, but know that the quality is almost as good as taking calls wirelessly, and the ticking noise that came from mic module no longer exists.

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Plus review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Bluetooth 5.0 is at the helm and gets you some of the widest range in the category. I achieved up to 50 feet of wireless listening, which was plenty of room to roam around the house as my smartphone charged in the office.

Auto-connect is spot-on, cycling through all recognized devices to pair instantly with the most recently used one. Multipoint technology was an option on the previous model that allowed users to pair the headphones with two devices at the same time. Well, it’s gone missing on this version, though you can still pair up to eight devices at once. 

There are connectivity bugs that require addressing. I heard the “connected to USB link” prompt several times without even having the dongle connected to my MacBook. Another bug I encountered was the headphones being connected to Bluetooth when in wired mode.

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Plus review: Verdict

The Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Plus is a great choice for business users who need solid voice communication and Microsoft integration to increase productivity. These are also warm-sounding headphones that can be enjoyed on or offline.

So why aren’t they rated higher? Answer: inconsistency. I don’t know if adding the dongle and Microsoft Teams compatibility ended up scrambling some of the functions, but there is clearly a drop in overall performance compared to the standard version. Some of the missing features and the high price point may scare you as well.

If you’re that committed to Microsoft’s ecosystem, then the Surface Headphones 2 Plus will do more for you than most other wireless headphones. Otherwise, consider spending less on the more dependable Surface Headphones 2.