writer Lee Bell tries on the Dyson Zone at the company’s lab in Wiltshire (Credit: Lee Bell)

Dyson is known for concocting the most innovative gizmos for the home but never before has the British technology giant attempted anything like this.

Called the Dyson Zone, the company’s latest invention comes in the form of a pair of headphones that boast a built-in air purifying mask designed to help people dodge air pollution. 

Making any wearer look like a cross between Bane and a Storm Trooper, the wearable device combines noise-cancelling over-ear headphones and an air ventilation visor that sits just in front of the nose and mouth, pumping clean, filtered air – ripe for healthy breathing. was granted rare behind-the-scenes access to Dyson’s Engineering Labs in Wiltshire for some exclusive hands-on time with the futuristic device.

Here are some of our initial thoughts on the pretty bonkers gizmo and if it is actually any good…

Getting in the Zone

The Dyson Zone combines noise-cancelling headphones with a unique air-purifying system. (Credit: PA)

Plonking the Zone on your head isn’t as complicated as you might expect. The mouth visor pops off easily so you can clamp it onto your lugs just like you would any regular over-ear headphones. To attach the visor, you simply hover it in front of your mouth and a magnet mechanism on the sides will pull it right into place.

You can then position it higher or lower, or push it closer to your face to get the right fit. The whole thing is surprisingly easy to put on, pretty lightweight and really comfortable.

A tap of the air filter button and tiny fans, which are positioned in each of the headphone cups, get to work, directing filtered air right to your nose and mouth area. It feels strangely satisfying, if not a little relaxing.

These fans are driven by what I’m told are the smallest motors ever developed at Dyson. They work by a pair of compressors which quietly suck in surrounding air, drawing it through a pair of dual-layer filters to purify it before projecting it to your nose and mouth, channelled through the non-contact visor. This, Dyson claims, filters out allergens and particles as small as 0.1 microns.

Once purified, the air isn’t just blown towards your gob like that of a hair drier. Dyson has really thought about how the airflow is delivered to you so it feels natural.

There are returns on each side of the visor which are sculpted to ensure airflow is kept near to the nose and mouth and diluted as little as possible by external crosswinds. You can breathe normally, and nothing feels weird about it at all. The quality levels of the air you’re breathing are then fed to a connected Dyson app so you can keep tabs on your data while on the go, and see where on your travels the air quality is worse.

Of course, Zone isn’t just about removing rubbish from the air. It also offers entertainment via the headphones, of which we must admit the sound quality is actually very impressive. Especially considering this is Dyson’s first foray into the world of audio. Bass is nice and full, and music playback, in our short experience, was generally rich and immersive. It even includes four-way Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) to completely block out external sounds. 

Looking like a cross between Bane and a Storm Trooper (Credit: Lee Bell)

Dyson is yet to confirm run times for the Zone, but we were told that will depend on the different airflow modes, with a ‘low flow’ setting using less power, naturally, and a ‘high flow’ mode using more.

The clever thing about the airflow, however, is that it can also be made adaptable with the ‘auto’ function. Here, the strength of the flow will change automatically to deliver the right amount of filtered air depending on how heavily you’re breathing. Super smart stuff.

The big elephant in the room, though, is how this head-worn contraption makes you look. A glance in the mirror while wearing the Zone might be enough to put you off ever wearing it again. Donning these in the street will certainly turn heads, and drawing attention to ourselves isn’t something most Brits like doing. For this reason, it’s hard to see the Zone really taking off, which is a shame.

Fundamental for the fight against air pollution

A prototype of the Dyson Zone being developed in the lab. (Credit: PA)

Despite what many might think, the rather bizarre-looking Dyson Zone wasn’t rushed out in a reaction to Covid. It’s been in development for over seven years, and was created as an attempt to thwart the growing concerns about air and sound pollution in urban areas. 

In tests, Dyson Zone successfully filtered two virus types from the air, although it wasn’t tested on SARS‑CoV‑2, the virus that causes Covid. Dyson is very keen to point out the Zone isn’t designed for dodging the next big pandemic. Although, I can imagine it would probably help.

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So if the Zone isn’t about Covid, then why develop it? Well, Dyson has been banging the drum about air purification for yonks now and why it’s vital due to the health risks associated with air pollution.

The company has developed a bunch of devices over the last five years or so to tackle this, making it clear just how bad things are in the UK and the dangers of breathing in this air regularly.

In the UK, air pollution is a major cause of diseases such as asthma, lung disease, stroke, cancer, and heart disease. According to the World Health Organisation, air pollution is one of the greatest environmental risks to health.

In 2016, the agency reported that outdoor air pollution in both cities and rural areas was estimated to cause 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide. And it’s a growing concern. In 2019, it was reported that 99% of the world’s population was living in places where air quality guidelines levels were not met. By reducing air pollution levels, countries can reduce the burden of disease.

If it works as well as its engineers say it does, Dyson’s Zone could be a revolutionary gadget in the fight against premature death from air pollution.

Will it catch on? 

Would you be likely to buy a Dyson Zone for yourself? (Credit: Lee Bell)

So, with air pollution becoming such a talking point, could the Dyson Zone be a thing of the future? 

Despite really appreciating the device, the innovation that’s gone into it and how comfortable it was, I’m still not totally convinced. During my visit to the company’s labs, Sean Ng – a product design engineer at Dyson who has worked on the project since its inception seven years ago – made a good point. He mentioned how he can see the device becoming particularly popular in Asian markets due to the higher level of pollution there and how commonplace mask-wearing is in the region. I’d have to agree there.

However, on its home turf, we think there’s one thing holding the Zone back and that’s its novel and somewhat intimidating appearance.

People were a little hesitant to wear Airpods when they first launched due to their unconventional look, and now they’re probably the most ubiquitous earphones in existence. But there’s a big difference between two little white things in your ears and a massive, face-obstructing slab of plastic with a look reminiscent of a cyborg.

It might be that this is one step too far for some people, even those that are genuinely concerned about the air pollution levels in the areas they live in. For many, I think the Zone will be a toss-up between health and feeling socially alienated, and in most cases, it’s a shame but the latter will win. 

A bit of a gimmick? Maybe. Super cool? Hell yes.

Dyson has yet to confirm a release date for the Zone, but has said we can expect it to go on sale sometime in the autumn. A price is also yet to be confirmed, but one thing is certain: it won’t come cheap. 

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