B&O making a gaming headset is probably one of the least likely things you thought you’d hear. But upon closer scrutiny, the B&O Beoplay Portal isn’t a drastic departure from what the audio company usually does with its headphones.
When you throw the Portal into the mix, you might be hard-pressed to tell which is which unless you have been an avid follower of the company’s releases. This says more about B&O’s staunch commitment to their design language than anything else, but it certainly adds a breath of fresh air to the gaming headset landscape. Finally, a gaming headset that doesn’t look out of place outside of the gaming realm? And for that matter, outdoors?
But first, there’s the matter of the B&O tax. These are expensive headphones, let alone gaming headsets. The upshot of this is it’s apparent at least at first glance where your money is going. The build quality of the Portal is impeccable, and not many gaming headphones on the market can come close to this. The fit and finish are what distinguishes B&O from the competition in the headphones world – the choice of materials, followed by the execution. The Portal feels relatively light on the head despite the slightly chunky profile. The fit is snug and borders on being too tight but in practice, it’s comfortable enough for long periods of wear. Just.
But more than that, it certainly feels more luxurious than most gaming headphones. B&O certainly doesn’t skimp here, and you even get a bamboo-based fabric on the headband and lambskin for the ear cushions as well. In the tropics at least, leather is typically far more resilient than regular synthetics, so it’s very unlikely to flake over time just by sitting there in our humidity. More importantly, the Portal feels like its price tag when you wear it.
The controls are a mix of both physical and touch-sensitive, with play or pause, mute and accepting calls handled by the touch-sensitive faces of the ear cups depending on the context of use. Volume, switching between game and chat modes, and switching between ANC modes – these are controlled by touch as well. Along the ridges of the ear cups, the control surfaces are raised. This gives you a more discrete area to swipe across, so it feels less ambiguous. There are two physical buttons; one switches between an Xbox and Bluetooth connection while the other is the power button (it’s used for pairing and hard reset as well). Yet, for all of the options you have at your fingertips, skipping tracks is not one of them.
The Portal also includes a line-in jack to use it as a conventional wired headphone, while a USB-C port facilitates both charging and using the headphone’s built-in DAC when connected to say, a laptop. Personally, I’d pick the USB connection over the 3.5mm any day if I were connecting my headphones to my laptop.
The Portal has the added perk of being designed in collaboration with Microsoft to work seamlessly with the Xbox X/S. In general, pairing the Portal is generally seamless, though you should break out the instructions for pairing with the Xbox for the first time because it’s not necessarily obvious. But it’s straightforward with the instructions in tow. With 2.4GHz wireless connectivity and Dolby Atmos sound, it’s pretty much the equivalent of a traditional surround setup, and you definitely can reap the benefits in first or third person games – it has more oomph. Dolby Atmos support is available to all supported devices, though you will need to pay for a license (you do get a free one-month trial). It’s a no-brainer – if you’ve gotten this far, just do it.
However, these aren’t dual wireless headphones – meaning that if you connect to a device via the 2.4Ghz channel you can’t use the Bluetooth connection at the same time to take regular calls or Discord chats, for example.
But as a regular pair of headphones, the Portal has it covered. With support for key higher-quality codecs like AAC and aptX, you are pretty much covered for decent audio quality for both Apple and Android platforms. Meanwhile certifications for Google, Apple and Microsoft make it less likely that you will face issues in pairing.
The audio performance will be familiar to many B&O fans, with its signature style of a warm-sounding headphone now coupled with surround sound for video games. It’s not an audiophile’s traditional sort of headphone, but its laid-back character has plenty of mainstream appeal. Furthermore, they’ve tweaked the Portal to accommodate video game audio, especially the typically punchy soundtracks and hard-hitting sound effects like gunfire. I think B&O has managed a fair compromise in accomodating the two without affecting the music-listening experience.
The Portal also has an active noise-cancelling circuit built-in. You can block out the most affecting noise, but there’s always some background noise that will seep through. I don’t think it’s disaffecting because what makes it through is often masked by music or in-game audio.
Unlike most regular gaming headphones, B&O has opted to go with a concealed, beamforming microphone. Voice quality is fine when you’re playing on the Xbox in the comfort of your own home, but it’s just passable.
In short, it all comes down to perspective. If you’re familiar with B&O headphones, the Portal is a nice addition to their lineup, and a pretty fun option if you happen to own an Xbox as well. If you love your single-player adventures, the Portal fits right in, operating as a personal home theatre kind of a setup. But for gamers, $799 is just too much for what it does, and there’s no way we can recommend this in that respect. But if you are a B&O headphones fan who happens to game and is going to buy a Beoplay HX anyway, then the Portal is an automatic choice.
B&O Beoplay Portal
Features - 8/10
Value Proposition - 6/10
Performance - 7/10
Design & Build Quality - 9/10
Overall - 8/10
As a gaming headset, it's too expensive. As a pair of B&O headphones with benefits? It's great fun.