Recently, we’ve been seeing some more premium Bluetooth headphones emerge, like the Focal Bathys and Mark Levinson No.5909. These pricier wireless headphones helped set a new standard for what great Bluetooth headphones could really sound like. Now, Dali has launched their very own, with the new IO-12. It’s been a while since we’ve seen anything from Dali, but they have the opportunity to make a huge impression, especially with the driver technology the IO-12 is touting. Can it be worth that much hype for $1,300?
What You Get
- 1.2 m USB-C cable (for charging and USB audio)
- 1.2 m long 3.5 mm mini jack stereo cable
- 3 m long 3.5 mm mini jack stereo cable
- 3.5 mm stereo mini jack to 6.3 mm jack adaptor
- Flight adaptor
- Luxury travel case
Look & Feel
If you’ve seen Dali headphones before then you might not be surprised by the main housing of the earcups. It’s a perfectly elegant design that has always looked high-end, but the real difference here is the large ear pads. The IO-12 is completely circumaural, with pads made from real leather. This design results in an exceptionally comfortable pair of over-ear headphones. The fit is tight but doesn’t put a ton of pressure on your head. It secures your ears with a great seal, and your ears still feel like they have room to breathe.
Design & Functionality
The drivers used on the IO-12 are special, as these are the first headphones to feature Dali’s Soft Magnetic Compound system. These 50mm dynamic drivers use the same material as Dali’s high-end EPICON speakers and its SMC technology is designed to reduce eddy currents, and lower harmonic distortion, only outputting a clean signal.
There are a few features offered with the IO-12, all of which can only be activated via physical buttons on the right ear cup. Dali does not have an app for the IO-12. This can be seen as a negative aspect, but the buttons are very responsive and work just fine. ANC is one of the features that can be activated, and it’s highly effective. This isn’t the pinnacle of noise-canceling technology, but it eliminates most obstructive sounds very well in all ranges of frequency. You also get transparency mode, and a separate button for bass boost.
The IO-12 offers Bluetooth version 5.2, supplying you with fast, uncomplicated pairing and a stable connection throughout multiple hours of listening. You can get aptX, aptX HD, and aptX Adaptive CODECs through the right devices.
You can enjoy the IO-12 wirelessly for 35 hours off of a full charge. Some significantly less expensive headphones offer better battery life, but the amount of charge given here is still acceptable for getting you through a few listening sessions before needing to charge again.
This new crop of premium Bluetooth headphones has supplied better soundstage and imaging than most consumer wireless products. The IO-12 contains one of the best I’ve heard over wireless, sounding more like high-end wired headphones than any other Bluetooth headphones. Everything feels completely open and spacious, with sounds appearing in a floaty headspace.
The stereo field grows wide, but the IO-12’s greatest attribute is its separation, giving each instrument specificity in the mix. Each sound is distanced naturally, and provided with great depth and dimension. It gives off the sense that the performance is happening directly in front of you, rather than just from the drivers themselves. There are great immersive qualities in this soundstage, and it is greatly helped by how effortless the stereo environment comes across.
There are two versions of this bass, and they are both equally engaging. Without any bass boost, the low frequencies have a neutral timbre and respond without any considerable dominance. The bass is very lean but can exhibit a natural punch when called upon. It never feels like anything is missing, tonally, making this a very dynamic response. You might feel like the bass is missing some focused body, and thankfully the IO-12 has an extra bass mode that strengthens the tone. It adds some considerable thickness, forming a meatier center that enhances bass performances. The frequencies take more command but still don’t exaggerate the resonance of the tone.
Here is where the IO-12 impresses me the most, as its midrange is presented with incredible clarity for wireless headphones. Even when still being pushed through lossy CODECs you still get a sense that the instruments and vocals sound as realistic as they possibly can through the IO-12. These frequencies offer a ton of clarity like a veil being lifted over what you usually get from the mids over wireless headphones. It’s one of the only wireless headphones where notes have a striking velocity to them, resulting in lively performances with emotional qualities. Everything about the mids feels believable as “hi-fi,” even when that technically might not be the case.
The IO-12’s high-end sensibilities don’t stop at the mids, as it has plenty of detail and clarity to offer in the highs as well. There might be a bit too much brightness for some people, but I think the highs are well-controlled and digestible. Their timbre is shimmery, but it’s treated as a flavourful texture that adds character to the highs. You also get plenty of height from the highs as well, providing additional qualities to the soundstage and making some instruments like cymbals feel like they’re sprinkling over your head.
Out of this crop of high-end Bluetooth headphones, I think the IO-12 really sticks with me. Its sound signature is superb and keeps exciting me the more I listen to it. I didn’t know so much detail could be revealed to you through a compressed Bluetooth CODEC, but the IO-12 does a phenomenal job convincing you that you’re listening to a hi-fi sound. You don’t have a companion app with EQ, but the sound has enough personality to stand on its own. Dali is still generous enough to supply a separate button for bass boost though.
These are also some of the most comfortable headphones I’ve worn regardless of being wireless or not. I said something similar when I reviewed the Focal Bathy, but it ended up being true for the IO-12 as well. These are just a great pair of closed-back headphones that also happen to be Bluetooth, rather than being great Bluetooth headphones. When it comes to pure sound quality though, I find what’s offered here more striking, and almost addictive to listen to.
The Dali IO-12 is available from Audio46.