This week, we reviewed the Dali IO-6, the first Bluetooth headphones from the Danish manufacturer and companion of the Dali IO-4 headphones, from which it differs by the integration of active noise cancellation. Sold for €399, these Dali headphones can be connected via Bluetooth aptX HD, mini-jack and even USB. It features large, 2” transducers and provides an impressive 30 hours of battery life with the active noise cancellation activated, and 60 hours when it is deactivated. Can it compete with the market-leading Sony WH-1000XM3 and Bose 700? We will find out in this review.
Dali IO-6: the brand
Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries, better known as DALI, was founded in 1983 by Peter Lyngdorf, a true audio genius who is also behind the brand Lyngdorf Audio and is the co-founder of the Scandinavian chain store Hi-Fi Klubben. His goal was to design drivers and speakers that offered exceptional performance and natural sound at competitive prices. By achieving this goal, the brand gained a solid reputation in the hi-fi world in the mid 80s. In addition to the technical and musical aspects, from the very beginning Dali has also paid particular attention to the design of its products. The Danish spirit is therefore reflected in each of its products, with their clean lines and often innovative design.
Today, Dali is distributed in over 70 different countries. The brand designs and handcrafts its own drivers and passive filters to meet very precise specifications that are constantly evolving. You can discover the production process of DALI’s speakers and drivers in our article covering our tour of the Dali factory located in the Danish town of Nørager.
Over the years, Dali has never stopped innovating and now provides a very comprehensive catalog: compact speakers, Atmos speakers, center speakers, home theater speakers, floorstanding speakers, wireless speakers, in-wall speakers, portable Bluetooth speakers and soundbars. Incidentally, we had the opportunity to write a review of the Dali Katch One soundbar, which you can read on our blog.
Despite providing a diverse range of products, Dali’s catalog hasn’t included headphones up until now. The Dali IO-4 and Dali IO-6 headphones that we reviewed this week are a first for the brand. Will Dali’s first steps in the highly competitive portable audio market be a success?
Dali IO-6: packaging & accessories
The Dali IO-6 Bluetooth headphones come in a cardboard box measuring 255 x 80 x 145mm. Inside the box, we first came across an elegant, woven, hard case inside of which the headphones were stored flat. This travel case is the first difference with the Dali IO-4 headphones, which only come with a soft transport bag. As well as this hard case, the Dali IO-6 headphones come with a 3.5mm mini-jack to mini-jack cable so that you can continue to use them when the battery has run out, a flight adaptor, and a USB to USB-C cable to charge them and to use them as a USB DAC. Lastly, a quick start guide is also included.
Dali IO-6: presentation
Other than its active noise cancellation system, the Dali IO-6 has exactly the same design as the Dali IO-4. The Danish inspiration can be clearly perceived in its design: clean and elegant lines that are reminiscent of the Bang & Olufsen H8i and Bang & Olufsen H4 headphones. The Dali IO-6’s structure is mainly made in polymer plastic, which allows a reduced weight of 325 grams. Each earpiece features a panel with an aluminum look bearing the brand’s logo. The panel on the right earpiece hides the control interface. By pressing the panel once, you can play and pause your music and answer phone calls. Pressing it twice in quick succession lets you skip to the next track, and a third press plays the previous track. The volume control is situated on the outer ring. Lastly, there is an on/off and Bluetooth pairing switch underneath the right earpiece, along with a button to activate or deactivate the noise cancellation, and a USB-C input to charge the battery or to use the Dali IO-6 headphones as a USB DAC.
The Dali IO-6 Bluetooth headphones have a closed, circumaural (over-ear) design. The two earpieces can pivot at 180° to adapt to the shape of the listener’s head, but also so they don’t bother the user when they wear the headphones around their neck. Each earpiece can be moved up and down using a system that is independent from the headband. The earpads are generously padded with memory foam and are covered by elegant synthetic leather that matches the color of the headphones. No genuine leather for these €399 headphones. The two earpads can be easily removed to be replaced or cleaned. To do this, simply turn them anti-clockwise. They are just as easy to put back on thanks to two white dots (one on the headphones and one on the earpad) that indicate how to align them.
The Dali IO-6 headphones’ headband is also generously padded. For this headband, Dali decided to combine rubber and flexible silicone to ensure optimal comfort and flexibility. Once again, this design improves the durability of the headphones as they can be easily cleaned when necessary.
The Dali IO-6 headphones proved to be very comfortable when we put them on. The headband rests lightly on the top of the head, without ever feeling tight or uncomfortable. The earpads are breathable and cover the ears perfectly. They don’t get warm, even after several hours of use. The earpads’ thick padding also provides excellent passive isolation. Consequently, the active noise cancellation should only be useful in very noisy environments.
Dali IO-6: specifications
Underneath their Danish design, the Dali IO-6’s earpieces hold a large, 2” dynamic transducer developed by Dali in the Danish Nørager factory we had the opportunity to visit. These transducers feature a paper fiber cone set in motion by neodymium magnets capable of generating a very strong magnetic field. This design ensures low distortion as well as dynamism across the headphones’ entire frequency range, which stretches effortlessly from 10Hz to 20kHz.
Dali IO-6: Bluetooth aptX HD, mini-jack and USB
The Dali IO-6 headphones are primarily designed to provide a high-quality sound restitution via wireless transmission. To do this, it features a Bluetooth 5.0 module that is compatible with the Qualcomm aptX and aptX HD codecs. The latter allows a data transfer rate of approximately 576 Kbits with compatible sources. Naturally, the older AAC and SBC codecs are also supported to ensure flawless compatibility with any Bluetooth device, whether it is a smartphone, tablet, DAP or computer. Bluetooth pairing is easily carried out using the Dali IO-6 headphones’ on/off button.
In addition to Bluetooth connectivity, the Dali IO-6 headphones can also be used in wired mode when the battery has run out or to connect them to a device that isn’t compatible with Bluetooth. Consequently, the headphones come with a 3.5mm mini-jack to mini-jack cable which can be plugged into the dedicated port situated on the left earpiece. Lastly, the Dali IO-6 headphones can even be connected to a Mac or PC computer via USB. The internal DAC then handles signal decoding. A particularly useful feature if you wish to use the headphones while they are charging.
Dali IO-6: active noise cancellation
The Dali IO-6 Bluetooth headphones can be distinguished from the IO-4 headphones by the integration of an active noise cancellation system. Consequently, the excellent passive isolation can be reinforced when needed. This noise cancellation is quickly activated by pressing the dedicated button under the right earpiece. This button can also be used to activate the “transparency” mode if pressed twice. In this mode, the Dali IO-6 headphones’ microphone is activated to capture ambient noise and transfer it to the headphones. This feature is very useful for bypassing the headphones’ passive isolation to listen to an announcement in a train station, safely cross the street or have a conversation without having to remove the headphones. However, using this mode outdoors is very challenging because the microphones pick up and amplify the wind, which quickly becomes unpleasant.
Dali IO-6: 30 to 60 hours of battery life
One of the characteristics that differentiates the Dali IO-6 headphones from many rival models is undoubtedly their very generous battery life, which is handled by a 1100 mAh Lithium-Ion battery capable of providing up to 30 hours of autonomy in Bluetooth mode with the active noise cancellation activated. When this feature isn’t activated, the Dali IO-6 headphones’ battery life can reach 60 hours. We were therefore able to enjoy our music for several days in a row without worrying about the remaining battery life.
Dali IO-6: listening impressions
Wired playback without noise cancellation
First, we connected the Dali IO-6 headphones to a MAC computer via mini-jack and USB. The music we listened to was streamed from Qobuz (Sublime+ subscription, streaming up to 24-bit/192kHz) and Spotify (320 Kbit streaming). On Michael Jackson’s track Off the Wall, the Dali IO-6 headphones proved to be very energetic. Each effect was perfectly reproduced and distinct from the rest of the soundstage. The King of Pop’s voice was extremely transparent and perfectly positioned. We were swept away by the different arrangements. The snare drum rhythmed the track wonderfully and was exceptionally clear. With the different tracks we listened to, the Dali IO-6 confirmed its dynamic character. The lows were lively and very present when the music required it, without overpowering the instruments.
Wireless playback with noise cancellation
When we listened to our Dali IO-6 headphones with a computer, we were in an open plan office with a dozen coworkers. The passive isolation proved to be very effective and more than enough to block out the noise of the keyboards, computer mice and air conditioning. As a result, we didn’t need to use the active noise cancellation. But despite its impressive effectiveness, the Dali IO-6 headphones’ passive isolation began to show its limits in the street and public transport. The active noise cancellation was therefore essential. Once it was activated, it proved to be quite impressive. When we took the TGV, the sound of the high-speed train was completely attenuated. It was as if we were inside a bubble and we could only hear the different announcements made by the personel. In a crowded bus, the sound of the engine was effectively reduced, but unlike when we were on the train, there was still a slight whistling sound. We soon stopped noticing this sound though. The reduction of the passengers’ chatter was only marginally better than the passive isolation, but the sound remained much more pleasant and we fully enjoyed our music. That said, the noise cancellation was a lot less effective and sometimes even counterproductive outside. Although the passive isolation blocked the sound of the wind perfectly, the active noise cancellation recorded the noise and amplified it inside the headphones. It soon became impossible for us to listen to our music. Moreover, we only noticed a small difference concerning traffic noises, which were already adequately reduced by the passive isolation.
Dali IO-6: compared to…
Dali IO-4: sold for €299, the Dali IO-4 is strictly identical to the IO-6, with the only differences being that it doesn’t include active noise cancellation and that the hard travel case is replaced by a carrying bag. Other than that, it has the same design, Bluetooth aptX HD compatibility, and 2” transducers. Consequently, the sound signature is identical. However, the lack of noise cancellation makes it more suited to use in a relatively calm environment or at home, rather than outside or in public transport.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700: sold for €329, the Bose 700 features a noise cancellation system with 11 levels, the top level of which is much more effective than that of the Dali IO-6. It is no coincidence that they are considered to be the best active noise cancellation Bluetooth headphones in the world. That said, the Bose 700 does have disadvantages. Its battery life is inferior (20h compared to 30h with active noise cancellation activated) and it doesn’t support the aptX and aptX HD codecs. The Dali IO-6 also has the upper hand when it comes to sound quality. Its sound restitution is more natural and detailed, and doesn’t emphasize the lows, unlike the Bose 700.
Sony WH-1000XM3: the Sony headphones provides a noise cancellation system with three modes: Waiting, Walking and Travelling. The Waiting mode doesn’t filter out frequencies that correspond to the human voice, the Walking mode doesn’t filter out everyday noises such as traffic, with the music acting as background sound, and the Travelling mode filters out as much ambient noise as possible. As a result, the noise cancellation is more flexible than that of the Dali IO-6. It is also more effective, particularly with traffic noise, and doesn’t pick up the sound of the wind. The Sony WH-1000XM3 also has the advantage of being compatible with the LDAC codec, which allows a higher wireless transfer rate. When it comes to sound however, the Sony model has a tendency to highlight the bass and isn’t as natural.
Technics F70: sold for the same price, certified Hi-Res Audio, aptX HD and LDAC compatible; the Technics F70 is the IO-6’s only true rival for audiophile listening with active noise cancellation. At moderate volume, both headphones provide a very similar sound restitution, with a plethora of detail in the different frequency ranges. However, when the volume is turned up excessively high, the Dali IO-6 shows better control, especially in the lows. The F70 tends to become somewhat muddy.
Dali IO-6: conclusion
With the Dali IO-6 and Dali IO-4 headphones, the Danish manufacturer demonstrates once again its expertise in driver design. The result is a rich, detailed and very dynamic sound signature. The low-end is present, without ever overpowering the rest of the soundstage, even when the volume is turned up excessively high. The thick earpads and padded headband ensure optimal comfort, even after many hours of listening. The Dali IO-6 headphones’ passive isolation proved to be very effective, so much so that we only needed to use the active noise reduction in very noisy environments. The latter proved to be quite successful, especially for continuous sound such as engine or ventilation noise. The only complaint is that this active isolation is unusable outside as soon as there is any wind. Therefore, the Dali IO-6 headphones’s active noise cancellation is only of use in closed spaces, such as a bus, train or airplane. Elsewhere, the passive isolation will be more than adequate. Consequently, the Dali IO-6 is mostly suited for those who travel a lot, whereas the Dali IO-4 will be perfectly suited for use in a relatively calm environment or at home.
What we liked:
- The comfort
- The passive isolation
- The intuitive interface
What we would have liked:
- A more effective active noise cancellation
- For the noise cancellation not to have amplified the wind
- LDAC Bluetooth
- Foldable earpieces