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
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.
2 of a series on noise
reducing headphones -
click for Parts One
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
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.
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
Note than an audiophile
friend of mine preferred the Bose unit to the Noisebusters in
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
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
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.
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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7 Dec 2001, last update
15 Oct 2013
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