Dyson’s expertise seems to be focused on moving air—vacuums, hair dryers, fans—so it was confusing at first to encounter wireless headphones from the company. But the Dyson Zone is unlike any pair of headphones on the market today. Built into each ear cup is a miniature air purifier that pumps fresh air to the wearer through a face visor covering their mouth and nose.
In addition to its premium vacuums, hair styling products, and gale-force bathroom hand dryers, Dyson is also known for its air purifiers featuring a bladeless design that makes them quieter and safer, but also a glass HEPA filter inside that promises to remove 99.97% of unwanted air particles in a home like pollen, mold, bacteria, pollution, and odors. There’s even one that can eliminate formaldehyde. That’s great for when you’re at home or the office, but a four-foot tall purifier tethered to a power outlet offers no protection from pollution anywhere else.
The Dyson Zone is the company’s first personal air purification device, and it comes with headphones as a side dish. Trojan-horsed into the high-end bluetooth headset, the Zone offers a buffer of filtration between the wearer and the outside world. When worn out in public, users may feel a bit like Bane from Batman. There may be some awkward stares, but perhaps there will be fewer than expected, thanks to the presence of the headphones.
The company started working on the Zone six years ago. The initial protype was a “snorkel-like clean air mouthpiece paired with a backpack to hold the motor and inner workings,” according to a press release. The final product—over 500 iterations later—is a huge improvement when it comes to design and ergonomics. It still looks like it might take some time to get used to, though maybe less so in the era of Covid-19 than when Dyson’s engineers first started on it.
Inside each ear cup are two of the smallest electric motors Dyson has ever developed powering compressors which draw air through dual-layer filters. One layer uses electrostatic filtration to grab and hold onto 99% of particles measuring just 0.1 microns in size, which include pollen, bacteria, and even dust from brakes and construction sites. The other layer uses a “Potassium-enriched carbon filter” to capture gases like nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and ozone, which are commonly found in cities with lots of vehicle use.
The purified air is then sent to the wearer’s mouth and nose through channels inside a non-contact face visor that Dyson specifically engineered to keep winds at bay while worn and used outside. The user can select from one of four purification modes: high, medium, low, and auto, which will automatically switch between medium and low depending on the user’s movements.
The visor is designed to keep everything else out, but since it doesn’t touch the wearer’s face, it doesn’t create a tight enough seal to be considered a good option for those looking to minimize Covid-19 risks in public spaces. For those situations, Dyson includes an accessory it calls a “community face covering” which creates a tighter seal around the nose and mouth when worn alongside the visor—although it is a washable cloth solution, and not N95 rated. Dyson also includes a second FFP2 mask option with the Zone for those wanting as much protection against airborne particles as N95 masks offer, but it’s not washable, and will eventually need to be swapped with replacements the company will sell.
But air purification is just half of what the Dyson Zone can do. Squeezed into each ear cup along with the motors and filters is a “high performing neodymium electroacoustic system” that promises excellent audio performance with a high-frequency response, as well as microphones powering an advanced active noise cancellation system that’s essential for headphones featuring electric motors sitting right outside a user’s ears. The Zone offers three different noise-canceling modes: isolation that completely silences the world around the wearer, conversation which boosts voices and turns off the air purification when the user dips the visor to speak, and transparency which helps make users aware of the world around them by intelligently amplifying the sounds of sirens or public announcements over the music being enjoyed.
The biggest unknown swirling around Dyson’s first wireless headphones is how much they’ll cost. The company’s other products already come with premium price tags—$950 vacuums, $430 hair dryers, and $670 air purifiers, oh my—and the fact that Dyson hasn’t officially revealed the Zone’s price yet seems to indicate these won’t come cheap. The trepidation is reminiscent of the collective gasp when Apple revealed the $550 price tag of its AirPods Max headphones, but Apple backed up the sticker shock with one of the most impressive sets of wireless noise-canceling headphones you can buy today. If Dyson can deliver a product that’s just as good when the Zone becomes available in August, it might be able to raise the bar of what consumers expect from their headphones. Perhaps they won’t be satisfied with headphones that only function as headphones at all. Will the Zone be another gasp, or a literal breath of fresh air?