The $499 DALI IO-6 Premium Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones are part of the Danish speaker manufacturer’s first headphone lineup, a product line released last October to much fanfare. It shares that distinction with the DALI IO-4, which is essentially the same as the IO-6 without noise canceling.
The IO-6 enters into a crowded product category, one populated with premium products like the new $399 Bowers & Wilkins PX7, also made by a hi-fi speaker company, or the class-leading $399 Sony WH-1000XM3 (soon to be replaced by the XM4). Many consider the Sony to have the best noise-canceling on the market.
So how does the DALI IO-6 match up? Read on for my take regarding this exciting new headphone!
Disclaimer: The DALI IO-6 was provided by the distributor for my unbiased evaluation, and that is what follows. It will be returned after the review is complete.
What we dig: The DALI IO-6 is a solidly built yet lightweight headphone. It’s made up of a nice mix of aluminum, hard plastics, and protein leather tightly fit together. Upon removing it from its included case, there is no creaky plastic or loose parts that would shake my confidence in its durability.
Their minimal weight (325g or about 11oz) along with the memory foam pads makes them very comfortable. I was able to wear them for hours on end while working, and I never felt any undue pressure on my head.
They are a handsome set of headphones, both tasteful and luxurious. They wouldn’t be out of place on the head of a fortune 500 CEO.
Along with their good looks, they’re also quite easy to use. I love that DALI decided to use physical buttons and switches for control instead of the fancy touch controls you see out there. Touch buttons rarely work the way they’re supposed to; physical buttons work 99% of the time.
Most functions are handled via a big logo button surrounded by a rocker button ring on the right earcup. There’s also a switch for power/BT paring, and a button to switch ANC (active noise canceling) modes.
There are three ANC modes, ANC Off, ANC On which cuts out most ambient noise, and Transparency, which brings in some ambient noise so you can hear what is going on around you without taking the headphones off.
Battery life is long, rated for about 30 hours playback per charge. I used the IO-6 on a two-hour flight, followed by six or so hours at my destination, and still had 60% battery life remaining after a two-hour flight home. If you do run out of juice, you can use them passively with the 3.5mm cable if your device has a headphone jack.
As far as accessories are concerned, you get a semi-hard denim case that zips up, a USB-C charging cable, and a 3.5mm headphone cable for wired operation. There’s also an airline adapter for use with older airline audio systems.
Listening to the DALI IO-6: On the audio side, the DALI has some excellent specs beginning with Bluetooth 5.0 plus support with aptX, aptX HD, and Apple AAC codecs. That means if your phone supports it (my LG V40 does), AptX HD can send full CD-Quality music streams from your phone to your headphones.
If your phone supports plain aptX, then you can get close to CD-quality, and AAC is the equivalent to aptX when using an iPhone.
As far as drivers go, it should come as no surprise that a company known for using superb paper/wood fiber cone drivers in their speakers would use something similar in their headphones. The IO-6’s custom drivers use large 50mm paper cone diaphragms designed for minimal coloration and low distortion, just like the wood fiber reinforced woofers in DALI’s speakers. They mate the drivers to a neodymium magnet system.
So that’s all well and good, but how do they sound? In a word, breathtaking. I thought my old Bowers & Wilkins PX headphones had a speaker like sound, but they sound almost muddy in comparison to the DALI headphone.
The clarity of the IO-6 is the best I’ve ever heard in a noise-canceling headphone design. The tonality of instruments is so natural, the soundstage amazingly wide, and the imaging is mind-blowing.
Overall tonal balance is flat; there’s no boomy bass for the masses to be had here. The bass you do get is deep and well-controlled.
Listening to “Unison-Live” by Melismetiq, the track starts with just the upright bass and the drum. In the back left of the soundstage, seemingly out past the earcup, you can hear the drummer faintly tap his brush on the drum, while in the center of the presentation, you can head the bassist’s finger rubbing the strings. I’ve never heard a pair of ANC headphones resolve this type of detail! The horn player then appears slightly to the right of the bass, and it sounds like you are there!
When I listened to the same track on the Bowers & Wilkins PX, it sounded good, but you couldn’t hear detail and placement of instruments like you could on the IO-6. The drummer’s tap came across as more of a dull thump.
My only issue with sound was that the IO-6 produced the best results only with ANC turned on. When the ANC was off, or in the “transparency” mode, the music lost most of its bottom end punch for some reason. The remarkable clarity and soundstage remained, but the bottom end flattened out. On the wire, the results were similar.
What to look out for: Noise cancellation was good, but I wouldn’t put it up there with the class-leading ANC headphones from Sony and Bose. On my recent flight, it cut out about 90 percent of the cabin noise, but not quite as well as the Bowers & Wilkins PX I usually fly with.
I found the IO-6 more effective for use on the train, or at home when I needed a little quiet while working. In my home office, the ANC combined with the IO-6’s masterful sound provided some well-needed sanctuary, especially since my other-half is home now, holding numerous conference calls in the next room. (Thanks, coronavirus!) I think these are the ultimate work from home headphones.
I should also mention that I didn’t find the “transparency” mode to be as effective as it is on other models. It didn’t bring in as much outside noise as I would have liked. Again, when I was on my flight, I put it on to hear the flight attendants give instructions. When I did, I had to strain to make out what they were saying. I didn’t have that issue when using a similar feature on my Bowers & Wilkins PX.
Conclusion: To be honest, I consider the DALI IO-6 more of an audiophile wireless headphone like the non-ANC Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless Copper or the Hifiman Ananda-BT than it is a jetsetting noise-cancellation headphone. It has all the audiophile chops of the Beyerdynamic headphone: detail, soundstage, imaging, but with decent active noise canceling as the cherry on top. These are the first ANC headphones I’ve found myself doing critical listening with.
If you work from home, and you’re looking for a good pair of wireless headphones with ANC, I would give these a try. (They’ll work great in the office as well!) They are comfortable enough to wear all day, shut out distracting noise in your environment, and they are one of the best sounding wireless headphones out there. The only issue you may have is forgetting about your work and losing yourself in the music.
I’m an audio writer who started as a young audio salesman/consumer electronics professional back in the late 90s. That’s where I discovered the magic of 2-Channel sound. My thirst for great sound has led me on a delightful music quest that continues today.