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Dali IO-12 review

Stunning sound, luxury looks - these are something quite special...

Dali IO-12 review
Marc Chacksfield
25 November 2023

Incredible... I was trying to come up with the best word to describe the new Dali IO-12 wireless headphones and the only word I could come up with was: incredible. Such is the brilliance of these cans that I have been using for the last few weeks.

Having a pair of headphones like these remind me how lucky I am, as a reviewer, that I get to listen to my favourite music in the best way possible. And that's what you get when you use the Dali IO-12. They shout luxury in their looks, but it's in the sound where they really come alive.

Intrigued? Well, I have been using the Dali IO-12 for a few weeks now and here are 5 things to know...

1. Design is decadent, deliciously so

Dali IO-12 review
Image Credit: Future

Just look at them! The Dali IO-12 headphones are some of the best-looking headphones I have had the pleasure to use. They are stunning, with their circular ear cups that rest upon a beautiful base of rectangular leather (yes, real leather which may put some off).

The leather cups are massive, engulfing the whole of the ear and while it does mean that they stick out they framed my face nicely.

It's pretty obvious, but the leather used is so comfy - there was no ear fatigue whatsoever when using these things.

The design detail isn't just on the headphones, but the case they come with, too. I can confidently say that I would happily modify the headphone case to create a manbag - it's that good looking. It's almost a shame that I put the thing in my rucksack as it needs to be seen out and about.

It is worth noting that these are headphones that don't fold. The ear cups do flip nicely to be flat (and that's how you get them in the case) but these aren't compact as such. It wasn't something that bothered me - it's in keeping that these headphones remain big and proud like the sound they produce.

When it comes to using the things, there are physical buttons on the right-hand ear cup (much to the annoyance of this leftie) and a 3.5mm input on once side and a USB-C input on the other side.

2. Connectivity is simple, plentiful

Dali IO-12 review
Image Credit: Future

Connectivity is simple (and plentiful) with the Dali IO-12. First up, it took seconds to connect to my Google Pixel 8 Pro, via Bluetooth 5.2, which was a huge relief as this doesn't always happen when reviewing headphones. When you want to go tethered, then you do so through the USB-C slot or the 3.5mm jack.

Interestingly, and it's a bolshy move, there is no accompanying app. What you hear is what you get and while this is something that we would normally be dropping points for, Dali doesn't mess around when it comes to its audio tuning and it does offer two sound modes within the headphones: Hi-Fi and Bass.

3. These are packing some serious audio tech

Dali IO-12 review
Image Credit: Future

Dali is not really known for its headphones but it has got an incredible legacy in the hi-fi world, with its high-end speakers. And it's decided to add some of the tech that makes those systems so amazing into these headphones.

The key thing here is: magnets. Which will make any Breaking Bad fan happy. The headphones have inside them Dali's homemade Soft Magnetic Compound (SMC) technology. This reduces distortion and given it's tech that's usually found in speakers systems costing around the £70k mark, it's jaw dropping that it's been adapted for these 'phones.

Add to this 50mm drivers (a full 10mm bigger than most of their rivals) and this also adds to distortion reduction. Frequency is between 10Hz - 48kHz which is a massive soundstage as well, which brings us on to audio quality.

4. You won't want to stop listening to music through these

Dali IO-12 review
Image Credit: Future

The Dali IO-12 offer up a stunning soundstage, which bathed our favourite albums in a new light. I have listened to Love's Forever Changes more times than I can remember but hearing it through these headphones, was like listening to it anew.

Arthur Lee's psychedelic melodies soared, the arrangements were full of a beautiful unease, the guitar as crisp as when it was first recorded.

Bringing things to near modern day I Love You Jennifer by Jockstrap was its glitchy best through these headphones, pricking my ears with off-beat drums and bass, then flooding my head with some warning synths. I added to this by switching to the Bass sound mode which works really well - bass was booming, which proved this mode was far from a gimmick.

The fun and frivolity of BC Camplight's The Last Rotation Of Earth sounded glorious - Brian's cutting lyrics coming to the forefront, melding fantastically with the piano melody. Listening to this song really proved how wide the sound stage on the Dali's is. This isn't to say that the quieter songs don't feel intimate, it's just that there's a nice breadth at play here.

The headphones offer some fantastic ANC as well. Because of the size of the ear cups, there's already a decent amount of sound reduction but using the noise-cancelling as well and it really makes a difference. There are three modes of ANC, too, which is a nice touch as you won't need as much in the home as you do, say, on your commute.

5. Battery is beefy, as is the price

Dali IO-12 review
Image Credit: Future

You get 35 hours' battery life in the Dali IO-12 which isn't just fine, it's fantastic. There's no real speedy charging on board but that's no real issue. Obviously, if you want to extend the life, then do wired with either the USB-C slot or the 35mm one.

Price-wise, these are luxury and the price echoes this at £999 / $1,499. Pricey? Absolutely. Worth it? Absolutely.

Dali IO-12 Final Verdict

Dali IO-12 review
Image Credit: Future

I don't want to take the Dali IO-12s off because life feels less richer without them on. That's how much I admire the Dali IO-12s.

They are sumptuous headphones befitting of their luxury looks and packed with audio smarts found in products worth tens of thousands more.

If you want headphones that make a statement when you wear them and, most importantly, offer best-in-class sound, then don't dilly dally, just Dali.

The Dali-IO12 headphones are available to buy now.

Need something to listen to? Then head to our best rock albums of all time list.