There are a number of things that haven't changed from the previous-generation versions, the H8 and H9. First, the same mix of leather and aluminum is back to create the sophisticated look that has been B&O's signature since the wired H6. Sure, it might be good to see a different aesthetic on new models, but I really like what B&O has here. Both the H8i and H9i are available in a "Natural" (gray/tan) color scheme or all black. For me, the combination of premium materials is a nice break from the plastic shells I'm used to seeing on other headphones, but it does require a bigger investment.
There are three key changes on both models for which I have to applaud B&O. First, the company switched the charging port from micro USB to USB-C. It's a small tweak, but it means that the pricey headphones you're about to invest in will have the latest connector (for now, at least), and likely the same cable as your next phone. Second, there's now a proximity sensor in the H8i and H9i. This means that when you take the headphones off, the music automatically pauses. A number of other headphones also do this, but it's a worthy addition nonetheless. Last, and most important, B&O significantly increased the battery life across the board.
When it comes to overall sound quality, the H8i and H9i are a mixed bag. There's a crisp and clear quality to the sound -- a trademark of B&O's audio profile I've liked since I used the H6. It creates enjoyable listening sessions well-suited for a range of genres, not just selections like jazz or bluegrass. There's also a decent amount of bass on both units, but it's carefully harnessed so that it never becomes overbearing, even in the midst of a driving hip-hop or electronic beat. However, the H8i lacks the volume to really do that stellar clarity justice. Instead, I found myself reaching for the much louder H9i.
Both models also work with B&O's Beoplay app, from which you can use a feature called ToneTouch to choose various EQ presets or use the swipe-based interface to come up with your own. ToneTouch uses terms like warm, excited, relaxed and bright instead of treble, bass and mids -- either way, the actual changes to the audio are hard to spot on both models. Ditto for the presets. I could detect a change, but ultimately it doesn't make enough of a difference that you'd want to bother.
The $399 H8i is the on-ear model in this duo. While it's the cheaper of the two at $399, there are some decisions you'll have to make in addition to wear style. The H8i still features active noise-cancellation, but it lacks the touch controls offered on the H9i. Instead, the H8i's onboard controls take the form of physical buttons. On the right side, there's a trio of keys: The outside two control volume, while the one in the center handles play/pause, Bluetooth pairing and summoning a virtual assistant. On the left, a three-way toggle switch doubles as the power control and a way of enabling either noise-cancellation or Transparency Mode.
The other big difference is battery life. With the H8i, B&O says you can expect up to 30 hours of audio with both active noise-cancellation and Bluetooth turned on. Indeed, I got about a week of use out of these headphones before I needed to charge, using them a few hours each day. That 30-hour rating is also on par with my current favorite over-ear pair, Sony's WH-1000XM2. It sucks to have to pause your music to charge or employ a cable to keep the beats going, so longevity like this is a big plus. However, unlike the H9i, which has significantly less battery life, the battery itself on the H8i isn't removable. This won't be a dealbreaker for most people, but it's something to keep in mind.