• Dyson’s Zone headphones filter out noise and air pollution. 
  • When fully operational, the battery lasts just 90 minutes. 
  • They look kinda cool, though.

Dyson Zone air-purifying headphones concept

Dyson's new $949 Zone headphones look like something out of a dystopian nightmare, or a cool cyberpunk statement, or both. But that's also missing the point. 

When I asked an audiophile nerd friend who he thought these air-purifying headphones were aimed at, he said that they’re for Bane from Batman: The Dark Knight Rises “when he gets a job at a call center.” And he might be right.

“These headphones are clearly meant to be used by people who live in heavily-polluted areas,” Troy Portillo, musician and online learning expert, told Lifewire via email. “However, there are often correlations between poverty and areas of high pollution levels, so there is an obvious disconnect with these headphones costing almost one thousand dollars.”

In the Zone

The Zone air-purifying headphones feature a removable air-purification mask and have noise cancelation to counter city noise. And that's the gimmick right there. While we currently associate filtration masks with viruses, they're also used to counteract pollution.

I recently started checking the air quality section of Apple's new iOS 16 weather app, and I keep seeing bad air warnings for my city. These headphones could help. Dyson says that the Zones' electrostatic filters can "capture 99% of particle pollution as small as 0.1 microns." It also has carbon filters to remove common pollutant gases.

person wearing Dyson's new Zone headphones and face mask

Meanwhile, the headphones have active noise cancelation, and because they cover the ear, they should also passively block a fair bit of noise.

Together, this makes the perfect headset for surviving in a noisy, polluted, dystopian environment, or what the rest of us call "a city." That's the thing with cities; they're loud, obnoxious, and sometimes noxious places, but if you're going to cut yourself off like this, you might as well just stay at home and try to force yourself to enjoy the metaverse. Or just move to the country. 

Excuses

That's not to say that cities couldn't do a lot to reduce noise and air pollution. Quite the contrary. Removing cars and improving public transit and cycling infrastructure should be their top priority. But paying a grand to effectively hold your nose and cover your ears while slumming it with the commoners is a bit much. 

“Dyson sees cars filling the air with pollution and noise, and their solution is not to fix the problem but to filter faces,” says environmental psychology professor and cyclist Ian Walker on Twitter. “Was there ever a better example of how we view the harms of motoring as entirely outside human control, like the weather?”

It's similar to another "solution" to a big urban problem. In some countries, almost-silent electric cars are being forced to add back noise-polluting sounds so that anyone not in a car can step aside and let the drivers pass. The correct answer to cars speeding unimpeded through a dense urban area is not to use noise to plow aside pedestrians but to force cars to travel at safe speeds instead of at speeds convenient to the driver. 

AirPods and an FFP2

You know what else you could buy for $949? A pair of AirPods Pro 2 (street price $200-ish), a pack of FFP2 face masks, and anything else you like for $700. And let's remember that AirPods Pro are considered a high-priced luxury item.

"[The Zone headphones'] apparent primary audience most likely won't be the demographic that can actually afford to use such a product, so I would definitely not be surprised if these headphones fail to succeed with sales," says Portillo. 

These headphones are clearly meant to be used by people who live in heavily-polluted areas.

And there’s yet more fun to be had. An FFP2 mask will stretch to a day’s worth of use, probably more if you only need to wear it occasionally. And while Dyson’s Zone headphones can run for up to 50 hours on a charge, that’s only for listening. If you engage the filter on its lowest power setting, battery life drops to just four hours. Crank it too high, and you’re down to one and a half hours, barely enough for a stroll to Starbucks and back. 

Technologically speaking, the Zones are interesting. But practically and politically, they’re far from the best solution currently available. Kind of like some of Dyson’s other products.

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