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Airline Mismanagement

Part II of our series on Noise Reducing Headsets

If you haven't already read the first part of this series, you might want to do that first because it discusses the general principles of noise reduction as well as the specifics of the Noisebuster unit.

The bottom line - The Bose headphones give better quieting on a plane, but not in an office environment. They are more comfortable to wear, but are bulkier.

 
 
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The Bose QuietComfort™ Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headset

The Bose unit features an 'around the ear' rather than 'on the ear' design which helps keep more noise out and gives greater comfort on a long flight.

In appearance and functionality, they are almost identical to the Plane Quiet headset (which costs a much more realistic $80), reviewed in Part 4 of this series.

Part 2 of a series on noise reducing headphones - click for Parts One  Two  Three  Four  Five  Six  Seven  Eight  Nine  Ten  Eleven  Twelve

 

 

Update - June 2003 : Bose have now added a second product alongside their QuietComfort headphones, a new and allegedly improved QuietComfort 2. They tell me that the QuietComfort 2 has improved sound quality and lower hiss (even though they earlier said it was impossible to reduce the hiss!). The new unit has been redesigned so that the separate electronics box is no longer needed - all the electronics are in the ear pieces. And the headphones now fold flat.

The original headphones are dropping in price and are currently (Sep 03) $249 (and now, Jan 04, $199), while the new Quiet Comfort 2 headphones are $299 - the price that the original headphones used to sell for.

It is great to see that they have adopted many of the comments and recommendations I made in December 2001. The new Quiet Comfort 2 headphones are reviewed here and the newer still Quiet Comfort 3 headphones are reviewed here.

What You Get

$250 does visibly buy you a lot more than $40.

Inside the large shipping box were the headphones, a large plastic carrying case (measuring 6.5" x 8" and 5" thick - quite a lot bigger than most common CD player/headphone cases) with shoulder strap and space for a CD player, plus another soft lightly padded carry bag for the headphones by themselves as well. Also provided were an adapter plug for the two-pronged outlets on some planes, a 1/4" adapter plug for stereo systems, an extension cord, an instruction booklet and, yes, batteries included too.

All in all, a comprehensive collection of everything needed to enjoy the headphones.

Functionality

How well do they work?

I quickly put the two AAA batteries into the control box, put the headphones on, and - hey, presto, the normal office noises dwindled down to insignificance. But - ooops - the various computer humming noises, air conditioning, and other ambient sounds in the office were replaced, not with silence, but by an electronic hissing in the headphones - something that I found disturbing and unnecessary, and which was not noticeable in the Noisebusters. The office noises were less apparent through the Bose headphones, but they were partially replaced by this new artificial hissing sound, whereas the Noisebusters simply killed much of the background noise and didn't replace it with anything else. For an office or other moderate/low noise environment, I'd accordingly rate the Noisebuster as better than the Bose.

The next test was to try them both in a high noise environment, and last week's roundtrip to London was the opportunity to do just that. On board, there was a very noticeable difference in performance - the Bose unit killed a lot more of the plane noises, including reducing noises more evenly down into lower frequencies than the Noisebusters. Furthermore, the remaining plane noise meant the hissing that the Bose unit introduced could not be heard. By contrast, the Noisebuster unit did not kill quite such a wide band of frequencies, leaving some of the very low frequency noise almost untouched. On a plane, the Bose unit was clearly very much better than the Noisebuster.

In terms of comfort, this is another very clear win to the Bose unit. The 'around the ear' design didn't squash my ears at all, and also acted as a passive way of blocking out more of the noise. A nice padded headband and three point hinged headphone cups allowed the unit to fit snugly and comfortably around the ears. I have happily worn them for ten hours at a time, and they have never become uncomfortable. Note however that (unavoidably) neither design made it easy to lean the side of one's head against the headrest and sleep, but I have managed to position myself and sleep while wearing the Bose unit, so it is possible!

Sound quality was comparable to the other units. In the quieter office/home environment, I slightly preferred the Noisebuster sound to the Bose sound, but in a noisy plane environment, the Bose's better sound reduction more than compensated for any slight difference in audio fidelity.

Note than an audiophile friend of mine preferred the Bose unit to the Noisebusters in all circumstances.

Other Issues

But now for some not so good features. The Bose unit needs to be switched on in order for audio to be fed through it; if your batteries die, the unit becomes completely useless, whereas both the Noisebuster and the Plane Quiet units habe a passive pass-through setting that enables you to still hear music without using the batteries and with no noise canceling. There is a solution to this drawback, of course - always carry a spare set of batteries with you!

The battery compartment on the Bose unit is poorly designed. The belt clip goes over the top of the battery compartment cover, making it necessary to work out how to take the belt clip off before replacing the batteries.

The Bose unit also has a 'built in' cord to go to a CD player or other sound source (see illustration). While this can be a convenience, it can also be a bother, and I have found that I sometimes get the cords tangled up and have to spend a short minute, each time I unpack them, untangling the cords. The Noisebuster's connector cord can be unplugged, making for less of a mess of cables - but, on the other hand, if you forget to pack the separate cable (something I've occasionally done!), then you can't use the Noisebusters to listen to audio, just to kill background noise. There are arguments in favor of each design approach.

These issues are, of course, trivial. Another issue of not very great importance is the size of the Bose unit. The headphones don't fold or compact up in any way. Because they are both valuable and potentially somewhat fragile, I was initially hesitant to have them unprotected in my carry-on bag, but putting them in the large carry bag (which is bigger than my camcorder carry bag) makes them a major user of valuable space.

However, over the last year or two, I have taken the Bose headphones with me many times, carrying them in their soft carry bag rather than in their solid carry bag, and they have survived the journeys, although on several occasions one of the ear pieces popped out of the plastic frame. It was easy to pop it back in again, but one wonders how many times this can be done before the mount simply snaps off completely.

The Noisebusters are smaller, reasonably robust and the ear pieces fold flat, causing them to take up very little space, and making them easier to carry. But the Bose headphones are better and worth the hassle of some extra bulk in one's carryon.

Summary and Recommendation

So - which set is better overall? The Bose is a very high quality unit, more comfortable, and better in a noisy environment, and about the same in a less noisy environment. But, offset against that is the greater cost of the Bose unit and their extra size, which makes it harder to declare them the clear winner in all respects. But I do know that, while I had them, I generally would reach first for the Bose unit before any long flights. However, now that I have a set of Plane Quiet units as replacement for my Bose headset, I'm perfectly happy with this much better value headset.

They can be purchased direct from Bose. I don't think anyone sells them at a discount - Bose usually prohibits discounting on its products. Bose offer a 30 day no questions asked money bank guarantee, making it easy for you to evaluate a set of these headphones for yourself at no risk.

Postscript

While staying with a friend, his dog plainly shared my enjoyment of these headphones. The dog took them and chewed them to bits - alas, not something that the Bose warranty covers!

However, rather than shelling out another $250 for a new set of Bose headphones, the new Plane Quiet headphones, at only $80, for a unit almost identical to the $250 Bose unit, is clearly the way to go, whether as a replacement for, or instead of buying, a Bose set.

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Originally published 7 Dec 2001, last update 15 Oct 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
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