The new DALI IO-6 wireless NC headphones made their debut recently at CanJam NYC. As luck would have it I’ve had a chance to spend some quality time with them to get a sense of where the IO-6 stand in the general noise-canceling headphone landscape.
DALI IO-6 Packaging, Skull is happy!
DALI IO-6 Wireless Noise-Canceling Headphone
- Light and very comfortable.
- Overall sound quality is balanced and natural.
- Noise cancelation is effective for most situations.
- Long battery life.
- Caramel/cream color is a nice alternative to the usual black/grey.
- They can connect directly to a PC via USB cable and be used digitally.
DALI IO-6- Carry Case
Wireless noise-canceling headphones are no longer strictly the province of the business traveler or the convenience-seeker. They are the next product segment to be lavished with the “Audiophile” treatment by manufacturers. And frankly, why shouldn’t they be? Audiophiles aren’t cavepeople; we travel and desire the same convenience and style as the average consumer; we simply expect a higher level of sound quality. The demand is certainly there, and more and more audio companies are pushing the envelope and researching new technology to that end. In the next few years, we are sure to see new Bluetooth chipsets and transmission standards to accommodate a bigger data pipe that lossless and hi-res audio demands. In the here-and-now, DALI joined the wireless headphone fray with their stylish take on this product category. I have been putting the new DALI IO-6 Noise-Cancelling Wireless headphones through their paces lately and they have been proving to be a superior implementation of the wireless headphone concept. Their clean Danish design and the caramel white color scheme of my review sample have been a welcome visual departure from the expected. The one thing I didn’t anticipate with the DALI IO-6 headphones is the degree to which I’d have to fight my wife over who gets to use them. My better half has always appreciated good sound but has never cared for the look of any of the raft of headphones I’ve had come through my hands. She’d use one if she needed to, but she typically settles for whatever is handy. The DALI’s time in our house has changed her ambivalence in a big way! She loves the way they both look and sound, so let’s see how closely I agree (or not) with her take on things.
Closed-back, Over-the-Ear Headphones
Bluetooth, 3.5mm stereo analog jack, USB-C
Bluetooth 5.0, AAC, aptX, aptX-HD
1100mAh rechargeable Li-Ion with claimed 30-hour life per charge
50.0 mm paper fiber cone
Manufacturer Freq. Response:
10 Hz – 20 kHz (+/-3 dB)
100 dB (2.83V @ 1m)
Nominal Impedance 25 Ohms (Passive mode)
DALI IO-6 – Unboxing
My review sample was provided in what DALI calls the “Caramel White” color scheme which is essentially a light cream-colored body (with silver accents) with tan leatherette earpads and a tan headband. First impressions are that the DALI IO-6 are very handsome looking and are a nice pair of headphones to hold in your hands. They are light but feel very well constructed. The underside of the headband has a decent level of padding that is sheathed in pliant silicone rubber, providing both comfort and easy cleaning when needed. The top of the headband is covered in a soft leatherette which feels nice to the touch. The silver headband arms extend and retract smoothly but firmly, with no clicks or detents. They reliably remained at whatever length I cared to set them at.
DALI IO-6 – On Mr. Skull
DALI IO-6 – Close Up
The earpads themselves, which can be removed for cleaning or replacement, have memory foam padding that is covered in a very soft, stitched leatherette. The pads are large full circles that surround my ear lobes and seal against the side of my head. Besides making for an extremely comfortable fit, the full seal combined with the headphone’s closed-back design naturally blocks out a good deal of outside noise even when not using active noise cancellation. The ear cups house the 50mm dynamic drivers with the right-side being home to all the control buttons, activity lights and USB-C port. The left side has an analog 3.5mm headphone jack. The ear cups also have a 180-degree range of rotation to allow for storage in the included travel case.
DALI IO-6– Earpads
DALI IO-6– Earpad Stitching
Referring to the DALI IO-6 controls themselves, the silver disc with the DALI emblem on the right ear cup and the surrounding cream trim ring serve to actuate various points of touch control. Tapping once on the DALI emblem will pause and resume play along with answer phone calls (when the IO-6 are paired with a smartphone), tapping twice will advance to the next track on your playlist while tapping thrice will cue up the previous track. Tapping the top of the trim ring will increase volume while tapping on the bottom of it will decrease volume.
DALI IO-6 – Main Navigation Controls
DALI IO-6 – Main Connections
The switch on the underside of the right earcup turns the DALI IO-6 headphone on and sliding it further initiates Bluetooth pairing mode. When first turned on, a rather soothing male voice announces what the remaining battery level is and when a positive Bluetooth connection has been made. This charming voice will also inform you when the power has been turned off and when you have activated the active noise canceling modes. It’s funny, I liken it to the voice of a head masseuse at a fine spa letting you know that your hot stone massage is ready. Those Danes are an amusing and wily bunch!
Unlike some other wireless noise-canceling headphones that I’ve sampled, the DALI IO-6 headphones don’t come with an available app to adjust the noise-canceling level. The IO-6 have a single fixed level of strength along with a setting called “Transparency Mode” that allows ambient noise to come through, should you need to hear a conversation or flight attendant instructions for example, without the need to remove your headphones.
The DALI IO-6 headphones can be used wirelessly in an active state, of course, wired with an analog cable (both actively and passively), and actively wired with the included USB-C cable. When using the USB cable for listening, your computer will recognize the IO-6 as an external soundcard. When hooked up via Bluetooth, these headphones will accept communications via aptX, aptX-HD and AAC protocols. Battery life is claimed to be up to 30 hours worth of use from a full charge.
The DALI IO-6 comes bundled with a semi-hard-shell travel case, a USB-C cable, an analog headphone cable, and one of those twin-prong flight adaptors you seldom see ports for anymore.
For this review, the DALI IO-6 wireless noise-canceling headphones were primarily paired with my iPhone 6S Plus using the Onkyo HD Player app and my Shanling M0 DAP.
For me, the DALI IO-6 turned out to be the “Goldilocks” of noise-canceling headphones. Up until now all the other competing products that I’ve tried, while mostly excellent, have had at least one issue that stood out as being something that (over time) I would want to see changed. For the Bowers & Wilkins PX, it was their lower level of bass for my taste. For the Sony WH-1000XM3, it was, conversely, their overabundance of bass out of the box. The PSB M4U 8 sounded great in general but the pads sat on my earlobes becoming a little uncomfortable after prolonged use, while the NAD VISO HP70 kind of straddled the fence and was up to now the competent all-around choice for me. The DALI IO-6 equals each of the previous mentions in overall sound quality and has the just-right level of bass response for my liking, while the earpads encircle well beyond my lobes ensuring a tight, comfortable seal with minimal added pressure. The Sony’s were my overall comfort champion until I put the DALIs on my head. The DALI IO-6 has seriously become my perfect temperature porridge, right size chair, and most comfortable bed rolled into one. The Three Bears and that busybody blonde girl from the fairytale have nothing on these headphones.
Getting into some more specifics about the sound quality, I did the bulk of my listening to these headphones using either the Bluetooth connection from my iPhone or my Shanling M0 DAP. In both use cases, I had no complaints about the sound quality or the robustness of the connection. Overall tonal balance across the board seemed natural and enjoyable with just enough “oomph” in the bottom end to help keep a good groove going or bass drums in an orchestra sound impactful without throwing everything else off. Vocals always sounded clear and at the right level, relative to the rest of the mix, while cymbals, flutes, strings and other musical inhabitants of the upper audio spectrum always sounded detailed and refined. The IO-6 don’t sound quite as spacious as the Bowers & Wilkins PX, making do with a more traditional closed-back sense of imaging but their superior bass performance makes up for that in my book.
Plugging the headphones into a computer via the supplied USB-C cable ups the sonic ante a bit providing you a direct digital (up to 24-bit/96 kHz) connection to your source. In my case when I plugged them into my computer, both J. River Media Center and ROON saw the DALI IO-6 as an available output device and worked with it flawlessly when connected. USB listening gave me the cleanest and most transparent sounding connection, bettering Bluetooth by a good margin. Musical details came more to the fore and everything just sounded clearer while still retaining that harmonious balance that I experienced wirelessly. The DALI’s touch volume controls will work via USB, albeit with a minor delay, but the pause/advance/previous track controls will not.
The DALI IO-6 will allow you to listen via an analog 3.5 mm cable as well, both in active mode and in completely passive mode should the headphones be totally out of battery power. Active mode with the analog cable sounds very good, not quite as transparent as the USB-C to computer connection but close enough. And as convenient a feature as passive analog listening is, should you be in a power-related jam, it is to be considered the sonic choice of last resort as you will be deprived any of the benefits of the custom-tuned electronics and amplification. It’s okay but use only if you must.
On the effectiveness of the Active Noise Cancellation, DALI chose to have a fixed level of ANC strength on the IO-6. I found it to work very well in filtering out most unwanted ambient sounds for my usage. I typically wore them while performing chores around the house, vacuuming, when walking the dogs and while I was on a short flight to New York. I suspect that the effective natural noise rejection of the IO-6’s well-designed earpads allowed DALI to get away with using a less aggressive ANC calibration. My ears are fairly sensitive to the pressure from most ANC systems. Sony’s default setting on their WH-1000XM3, for example, quickly becomes uncomfortable for me but it can be dialed back via their smartphone app to a comfortable yet still effective level. Everyone has different sensitivities to this pressure, so while the DALI IO-6 does provide the right level of noise rejection-to-comfort ratio for me, it might not be the case for others. That is probably the one thing that DALI could do to add to the IO-6s appeal, create a smartphone app that adjusts the ANC level. But only if they see a demand for it. Personally, I have no complaints on that score.
Battery life is claimed at about 30 hours on a full charge and it seems like a fair estimation. I used the DALI IO-6 almost daily and have had to charge them only once per month.
Some of my favorite playlist tracks to listen to with the DALI iO-6 were:
Star Trek The Motion Picture Soundtrack
Jerry Goldsmith Star Trek The Motion Picture Soundtrack
Leaving Drydock, LaLa Land Records, FLAC 16/44.1.
A big, instantly recognizable, symphonic score gives the DALI IO-6 a good workout. The big bass drum hits that happen throughout this track grabbed my attention with plenty of depth and impact which I missed from the B&W PX. The string section comes off sounding very smooth while the army of horns sound natural and not overly bright. The IO-6 also relays a decent sense of spaciousness with this recording.
Los Lobos, Colossal Head
Los Lobos “Colossal Head”
My Little Japan, Warner Bros, FLAC 16/44.1.
This track is intimate sounding with a great rhythm and bass landscape that seems deceptively simple at first blush. The DALI’s allowed the bass lines and bass drum to come through with a meaty punch and impact while not overpowering the other percussive elements, rattles, wah-wah guitar, etc. Caesar Rosa’s voice comes through with plenty of character and detail. The sparse cymbal work has the proper metallic shimmer to it.
Alexis Cole, Dazzling Blue
Alexis Cole “Dazzling Blue: The Music of Paul Simon”
St. Judy’s Comet, Chesky Records, FLAC 24/192.
From one of the Chesky Records Binaural series of recordings, this track has an added sense of depth and dimension to it due to the unique recording process. On some headphones and speakers, the bass from the drums and the double bass on this track can be overpowering, drowning out Ms. Cole’s smooth, melodic singing. The DALI IO-6 kept everything in proper balance, Ms. Cole’s voice being perfectly centered and at good volume while still providing potent bass reproduction. Good string detail is heard from the double bass plucks as well.
Rachmaninoff, Trio elegiaques & Vocalise
Rachmaninoff “Trio elegiaques & Vocalise”
No 1 in G Minor, Reference Recordings, 24/176.4 via Qobuz.
A beautiful recording of a chamber trio featuring piano, violin, and cello. The DALI IO-6 does a great service by delivering the natural tone and detail of all three of these instruments performing this complex musical work. Often intertwining with each other, each instrument sounds distinct with the violin and cello having a lovely shimmer to their sound and the piano’s lower registers sounding properly weighty and powerful as the music’s intensity ramps up.
I mentioned in the introduction that my better half took a liking to these headphones in a big way. She asked me if I’d mind including some of her thoughts in this review and I said: “of course!” So without further ado, the following notes are from my wife, the lovely and gracious Janice.
The designers at DALI got it right. Buttery Carmel leather and silver accents. These are not the headphones of my teenage years (gray cans with a 10-foot long cord that were part of my Dad’s DIY Heathkit tube stereo) nor are they one of the two dozen black and silver cans that belong to my audiophile husband. From the moment these headphones landed at our home and I got a chance to try them out, I claimed them!
It’s been a long time since I’ve worn headphones with any regularity. I’ve forgotten the healing that can be provided by the immersive sound of our favorite music. While listening to the IO-6s I soaked in the sounds of Pink, Holly Cole, Florence Welch, and Diana Krall. Strong voices representing Women’s History Month. All via Bluetooth from my Apple devices.
The clarity of the vocals, with the detailed sound of the instruments and percussion, have turned the DALI’s into my go-to choice, and with the noise cancellation, I’m happy that I can’t hear you!
The DALI IO-6 are currently my (and my wife’s) favorite pair of noise-canceling headphones. Highly recommended!
- Clear, balanced sound quality with just the right amount of bass.
- Handsome, thoughtful design.
- Effective fixed-level ANC.
- Top of class comfort.
- Excellent battery life.
- Possibly a smartphone app to tailor the level of ANC.
The sweet spot. For this type of product, that is where the DALI IO-6 Wireless NC headphones seem to land for me. They provided a nicely balanced, high-fidelity stereo sound over both Bluetooth and wired connections, along with an effective level of noise-cancellation when called for. The build quality and aesthetics are excellent, and I found the comfort level to be top of the heap among all similar types of ANC headphones that I’ve tried so far. As you read earlier, the other person around here who likes these headphones an awful lot is my wife. She periodically absconded with them and found both the aesthetics and the sound quality of the IO-6 to be much to her liking. Enough so that she has taken ownership of the review pair, so they won’t be going back to DALI. I don’t know if I (or she) can give them a higher recommendation than that. If I had one suggestion of something that I’d like to see added to these headphones would be the inclusion of an app that allowed adjustment of the level of ANC. I don’t personally need it, but the added flexibility might be appreciated by other prospective buyers. Otherwise, for a pair of noise-canceling headphones, the DALI IO-6 feels “just right”. Thus, endeth the fairytale.