Kygo is a name that might not be familiar to all, at least outside of Scandinavia. A Norwegian DJ, he holds the world record for the fastest climb to 1 billion streams on Spotify, and has worked with artists as varied as U2, John Legend, and Imagine Dragons.
Combine that musical prowess with modern Scandinavian design, and that's how you end up with Kygo Life – the audio equipment manufacturer behind the Kygo Life A11/800 noise-cancelling headphones.
Competing in a field that's dominated by well known names such as Sony and Bose is a brave move for Kygo Life. After all, surely most people planning on spending upwards of $250 / £200 on a pair of wireless headphones would prefer to favor a well-known brand? We ran the cans through their paces to see just how well they perform compared to the best headphones of 2020.
Price and availability
The Kygo Life A11/800 come with a recommended retail price of $299 / £299, which works out at about AU$435.
Discounts are available if you shop around though; US buyers can get their hands on the Kygo A11/800 for $200 at Amazon, while UK customers can currently buy the wireless headphones for just £150, also at Amazon.
You can get the Kygo Life A11/800 in black or white variants, and in both cases, the black model is cheaper. We have to admit to being a little surprised that it's the black pair that are retailing cheapest right now. Often, it's white variants that drop in price first.
The Kygo Life A11/800 stick with a fairly solid and dependable over-ear headphones design. Not much about the design stands out particularly, with a plastic construction that feels smooth in your hands but also a little worryingly flimsy given the price tag. The headphones can creak a little bit as you manipulate them too.
The expandable metal headband feels sturdier, suggesting that the Kygo Life A11/800 look flimsier than they actually are. They weigh a respectable amount too – about 250g. That might be a little heavy for hours of use, but it does mean that they feel as though they can withstand a bit of manhandling.
The ear cups are made of soft foam rubber with imitation leather covers. That means they get a bit warm during hot weather but they provide a snug fit that feels suitably cosy around your ears.
On the right ear cup is a set of touch sensitive controls, with the power, ambient sound setting, and noise cancellation controllable through physical buttons. On the left ear cup is an USB-C port which will no doubt delight anyone who's after fast charging.
Touch sensitive controls can sometimes be a bit of an irritant to actually use when on the move, but we found the Kygo Life A11/800's controls to work fairly well with only the occasional mis-tap.
They're clearly labelled too, so you really don't need to dig out the user manual to figure out what to do. A double tap activates voice commands instantly, if you're keen to talk to Siri or Google Assistant.
The Kygo Life A11/800 offer everything you need from a pair of headphones in 2020. There's active noise cancellation that's enabled via a physical button or through the Kygo app (more on that in a bit), the option to listen to the headphones in a wired capacity for when battery life is at a premium, a proximity sensor so they pause the moment you take them off, voice command support, and NFC pairing for users with compatible devices.
For the most part, everything works rather brilliantly too. The moment you open the box, everything feels intelligently designed. Lift up the lid of the box and you're presented with straightforward pairing instructions, which genuinely take seconds to work through. That level of intuitiveness continues as you use the headphones. It all just works in a way that's akin to Apple-style design at its best – simple yet effective.
Active noise cancellation is divided up according to a few different options. There's 'full' noise cancellation, an awareness mode which cancels out 50% of all ambient sounds while still allowing you to hear people's voices, plus an ambient mode, which lets everything through for when you need to be aware of your surroundings.
Admittedly, the full active noise cancellation isn't quite perfect. It's the main area in which the Kygo Life A11/800 falter a little, but awareness mode and ambient mode work very well, and are particularly useful when commuting. There's no difference to sound quality when using them either.
When it comes to battery life, the Kygo Life A11/800 are about on a par with their guidelines. Just under 40 hours is about right for when ANC is switched off with that figure dropping to about 17-18 hours when it's enabled for the whole time. USB-C connectivity means you'll be back in action pretty fast too, and there's always the option of using the included 3.5mm cable to listen to music in a wired capacity instead.
As mentioned, there's a Kygo Life app that works alongside the Kygo Life A11/800s. It's an immediately stylish-looking app that takes a different route to the equalizer you'll see in most other headphone apps.
Instead of a bunch of settings to tweak, the Kygo Life app offers four presets – Bergen, New York, Los Angeles, and Ibiza. Supposedly, each is based on Kygo's view of the kind of music and ambience expected from each location. Los Angeles is meant to offer "ambient feel-good sounds" while Bergen should be ideal for quiet music and crisp sounds. You can move a dot around the screen to lean in a particular direction or go all in with one of the locations.
In reality, audiophiles will wish they could manipulate the equalizer in a traditional way, but if you don't know much about individual settings, presets could be a simpler solution.
The app also allows for switching between noise cancellation modes, and has a bass boost mode (the latter of which is often overwhelming and rarely necessary).
Simply put, the Kygo Life A11/800 sound delightful. Warm in all the right ways, their 40mm drivers hit all the right notes, both literally and figuratively. You consistently get well-balanced sounds regardless of what you're listening to, which is in part why you'll rarely need to use the Kygo Life app to tweak anything.
Whack on a classic like Queen and David Bowie's Under Pressure, and you'll notice it hits the highs just right, as well as the relentlessly bassy instrumentation too. Trebles are well pronounced, sounding crisp and detailed.
Elsewhere, a more bass-heavy track like Muse's Hysteria sounds deep and punchy, and consistently well-balanced, with the Kygo A11/800 able to convey details without sounding overly thumpy.
A more sedate, classical track like Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata eases you into a calm state, with smooth mids and a relaxed sound.
The volume of the Kygo Life A11/800 can go pretty high too, with no risk of distortion or crackling, although we found the highest volume a little bit too much for our ears. Keep it low for the sake of your hearing, and you still won't feel like you're missing out.
It won't quite sound like the first time you've heard these tracks, but it's not far off, and you'll likely pick out new details that you hadn't noticed before. The Kygo Life A11/800 simply make you want to work your way through your favorites just to see how they stack up, and that's exactly what you want from a new set of headphones –a feeling that you're rediscovering the music you love.
The only downside here, is that slight hissing when noise cancellation is activated and no sound is being played, but that's an issue that occurs with many noise-cancelling headphones and mostly comes down to the sensitivity of your ears. It only occurs when nothing else is playing, so you shouldn't come across it too often.
The Kygo Life A11/800 are an immensely pleasant surprise. While you might be tempted to stick to tried and tested names like the Bose QuietComfort 35 II or the Sony WH-1000XM3, the Kygo Life A11/800 are well worth checking out as well – particularly as they're often subject to hefty discounts at Amazon.
We'd have liked a less creaky build and slightly improved noise cancellation, but these are all fairly minor issues for the price. Audiophiles may also prefer to have 'true' control over the in-app equalizer settings, but if you're a casual listener, you'll appreciate feeling less like you need to be an expert to tweak how things sound. It's certainly quite entertaining to see what a difference an option makes.
Regardless of your views on the app, the Kygo Life A11/800 sound great, look pretty good, and offer plenty of convenient features. What more could you want from a pair of wireless headphones in 2020?
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