DALI iO-6 Noise-Cancelling Wireless Headphones Review

Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries aka DALI is known for its high-performance speakers. Now the company offers premium full-sized adaptive noise canceling headphones to compete with the likes of Sony, Bose, Bowers and Wilkins and others. The DALI iO-6’s $500 MSRP puts them at the high end price wise compared to the most popular competition, so let’s see it these cans are worth the $$$.

When you drop this much money on headphones, there is an expectation that you will get high build quality, a rich feature set, and great sound. The DALI iO-6 does not disappoint in terms of fit and finish, it is well built and comfortable plus packed with the latest technology. For example, you get 30 hours out of a charge and you can also use the USB-C connection to stream digital audio to these headphones and use the internal DAC.


Features & Specifications

Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries is quite a matter-of-fact name for a company, but it speaks directly to how/why the company is able to engineer its own ANC headphone offering and earn the $500 asking price. Namely, it has tuned these headphones to deliver natural sound that is dynamic, engaging and free of audible distortions and distractions.

  • 30 hour battery life to guarantee it lasts the entire day
  • Full charge from empty in 2.5 hours via USB-C
  • Still works as a corded headset when the battery is depleted
  • Bluetooth 5.0, AptX, AptX HD and Apple AAC high-quality wireless sound
  • Maximum quality with USB DAC built-in, allows for uncompressed streaming from PC or Mac
  • Synthetic leather ear pads designed to achieve a effective seal
  • 50 mm “free edge” paper fiber cone drivers engineered by DALI
  • Frequency response: 10 Hz to 20,000 Hz +/-3 dB
  • Maximum output: SPL 100 dB
  • Input impedance: 25 ohms
  • Foldable, weighs 325 g
  • Active noise cancellation
  • Transparency mode
  • Hands-free calls
  • Function buttons for play/pause/skip, take call, volume, Bluetooth pairing, power, ANC mode
  • Available in “Iron Black” as well as “Carmel White” finishes
  • Includes a travel case

Hands-On

The main thing about these headphones, the distinguishing characteristic, is they are enjoyable. They sound nice, the materials and construction look and feel good, and behave how you’d expect from premium wireless headphones in the year 2020. Whether used wired, wireless or connected via USB, the iO-6 connects seamlessly and performs at a high level.

So here’s the caveat… headphones are as personal an audio experience as it gets, making them a distinctly subjective choice, the thing I am always trying to avoid with any headphones is fatigue. If there is no physical fatigue and no listening fatigue, then you can enjoy hours upon hours of uninterrupted music.

With the iO-6, there’s no chance of listener fatigue, the audio is dialed-in “just right” but… depending on your head and ears you might find the pressure from the round earcups of the iO-6 is an issue (I did, but I have a big head) or you may think they fit perfectly.


The round earcup & cushion of the DALI iO-6

The rich, refined, yet clear and neutral sound of the DALI headphones makes them a solid choice for acoustic and vocal-centric music, while their “punch” and depth allows them to offer a compelling audio presentation to fans of electronic music. Rock classics come through great, these headphones have a sound that complements the studio sound of the likes of The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Eagles… they do a bang-up job with Hotel California and the piano note at the end of A Day in the Life has the right tonality (I’ve heard that piano in person).

Same goes for jazz, pop in some Duke Ellington and your toe will tap. Try out classical and you’ll find these headphones do not choke at the crescendo. You might even say they are a bit Grado-like, sound-wise. But modern, closed-back Grado.


Compared to Sony WH-1000XM3 Headphones

Sony’s WH-1000XM3 is widely considered to offer some of the best noise cancelling and are the full-size ANC headphones I own and travel with. For my head and my ears, they also offer ideal comfort: If I wear them for an extended time, I forget they are on my head.

Compared to the Sonys, the iO-6 is a little larger, a little heavier, and arguably a little “nicer” in terms of construction. But… the earcups are round, and the cushions are not able to fully encompass my ears. So in terms of comfort, they could not compete with the Sony headphones’ oval earcups (on my head, with my ears), but everything is relative. These are, by any standard, comfortable headphones.

The biggest issue is not comfort, it is the noise cancelling. The simple fact is the DALI iO-6 is not even remotely in the same class as the Sony offering in terms of ANC effectiveness. Switching between the two headphones made the difference plainly obvious, the WH-1000XM3 can eradicate multiple tones and pitches of background noises (various fans, for example) while the DALI seems to only home in on a narrower range and even then what it does is reduce the noise, while the Sony cans make that noise appear to disappear.

On the other hand, depending on circumstance, the option to employ decent noise cancelling is better than not having it.

If you find the DALI iO-6 to be comfortable, it offers a distinctly different sound versus the Sony headphones, with a more present midrange, a bit more “air” to the sound as it were, and arguably a slightly wider apparent soundstage (to my ears anyhow). This effect was readily apparent with music that typically presents a wide soundstage on stereo speaker systems, albums such as Sound from the Ground’s “Binary” or Boards of Canada’s “Geogaddi” were entertaining to listen to while wearing these headphones.

The DALI headphones are also better at peeling through the layers of deep bass in electronic music like Meat Beat Manifesto’s album “Autoimmune.” Bass lovers who appreciate extension, clarity and dynamics will find much to like in the DALI sound—the Sony headphones were a bit “mushy” in comparison.

Long story short, if you are buying headphones primarily for the effectiveness of the ANC function, it’s worth mentioning that the more affordable Sony WH-1000XM3 is the superior performer in that category. But if you are prioritizing sound quality and consider the ANC to be a nice “extra” feature then IMO the tables are completely turned, with the DALI offering the more spirited performance that makes listening to them a lot of fun.

Another area where the DALI iO-6 beat the Sony XM3s is call quality. Not how the other person sounds, but rather how I sound. The Sony headphones mic tends to pick up a lot of ambient sound while the DALI is more focused on the wearer’s voice. I tend to use Airpods from calls, but these headphones are up to the task and will not make hearing what you say difficult for the person on the other end.


Conclusion

The iO-6 enters a crowded, competitive field but manages to fill the shoes of a $500 premium ANC wireless headphone quite well. Nobody is going to mistake these headphones for a pair of Beats or Bose, they have a style of their own that reflects their Danish heritage; understated and minimalist, with form following function, but also luxurious.

One question here is if the iO-6 is worth the extra coin versus its less-expensive sibling the iO-4. You actually get a longer battery life out of the iO-4 and the iO-6 noise cancelling does not strike me as being a huge value-add. If effective noise cancelling is your TOP priority then Sony and Bose are still the go-to brands. But the DALI iO-6 clearly has a place in the headphones hierarchy: It is the better-sounding option, by a notable margin. Recommended for 2020.


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