Bose Quiet Comfort 15 Active
Noise Cancelling Headphones
The best noise
cancelling of any headphones yet tested
The Bose Quiet Comfort 15 headphones look very similar
to the QC2 headphones they now replace.
But their performance is vastly improved.
Part of a series on noise
reducing headphones - click the links on the right for extra
reviews and commentary
Six years after the
introduction of the Quiet Comfort 2, Bose has now come out with
a newer model, the Quiet Comfort 15.
The QC2 was one of
the very best noise cancelling headsets available, and the
tangible improvements to noise cancelling now offered by the
QC15 make this new model unassailably the best product in its category.
The headphones remain
comfortable to wear for long time periods, and the sound quality remains only good rather than
excellent, but noise cancelling headphones are not primarily
tasked with giving excellent audio, but with reducing the
background noise, so we attach lower importance to sound
At $300, with discounts not
available anywhere, the QC15s are expensive, but - as remarkable as
this may sound - they are better (and better value) than the growing number of noise
cancelling headphones that have even more ridiculously high
price tags on them.
The new Bose Quiet Comfort
15 noise cancelling headphones look almost identical to the
earlier Bose Quiet Comfort 2 headphones they now replace, but
provide a perceptible improvement in noise cancelling ability.
They are better - and more
comfortable - than the other Bose noise cancelling headphones,
the Quiet Comfort 3.
They are also better than
the high end Sony MDR-NC500D headphones that had previously been
considered closely comparable in noise cancelling ability to the
In other words, the are the
best tested noise cancelling headphones currently available.
Much lower priced products
such as the Plane Quiet Platinum and the Phiaton PS300NC
headphones offer lesser amounts of noise cancelling, but still
offer a major improvement over nothing at all. If you want
to get a reasonable priced product that helps reduce the ambient
noise around you, they might be a better choice. But if
you want the best possible solution, then you'll absolutely hear
the big further improvement in noise reduction offered by the
Bose Quiet Comfort 15.
The Bose Quiet Comfort 15 -
What You Get
The headphones come in a
large cardboard box that is easily opened. Inside are the
headphones themselves, of course, and a disappointing collection of
other bits and pieces.
Keep in mind that Bose is
making a massive profit from every set of headphones it sells.
Bose pays unusually low margins to retailers, and with an
underlying product cost, ex China, of probably about $35, it
should be able to afford to include a full set of accessories
and extras with the headphones.
But you don't get much at
all, and less than was included with the QC2 headphones formerly
You get the necessary
connecting cable that plugs in to the headphones at one end and
your music source at the other end. The cable has a unique
type of plug at the headphones end, so you can't buy any other
sort of cable if you lose or break it. A replacement cable
costs $15 from Bose.
The QC2 headphones also came
with an extension cable which could occasionally be useful if
you were, eg, listing to audio from a television at the other
side of the room, but this is no longer provided with the QC15.
Instead, Bose will now happily sell you a 20' extension cable
There is an dual prong
adapter plug to convert the 1/8" plug to fit some airline seats.
This is not gold plated, whereas it was with the QC2.
There is no 1/8" to 1/4" adapter
- a disappointing
omission in a highly priced set of headphones. Bose formerly
included this adapter too with their QC2.
An AAA battery is provided to power the headphones.
A semi-rigid carry case is
provided for the headphones, but whereas in the past a carrying
strap was also provided, now there is just a single fabric loop
and no carry strap (not that I ever used the carry strap before,
and I've never seen anyone else use it either, but it is another
cheapening of the total product and inclusions).
the carry case is a zip pocket in which you could store a spare
battery, but it is a bit small to conveniently also fit the
connecting cable inside. There is another business card
holder type pocket made out of dismaying cheap limp vinyl
(compared to the nice leather stitched card holder in the
earlier QC2 carry case) which comes
complete with five 'courtesy cards' - advertising cards about
the headphones for you to give to other people to make it easy
for them to buy a set too.
A manual in 15 different
languages is provided, as is a single sheet illustrative 'how
to' sheet, presumably intended for people who don't speak any of
the 15 languages in the manual. The English language part of the manual is
seven pages in length, very well written and clearly set out.
Lastly, a warranty card sets
out the details of the one year limited and nontransferable
The new QC15 headphones look
almost identical to the earlier QC2 headphones, but have more of
a silver and less of a gold tint to them and a higher degree of
polish on the highlighted parts.
(Unresolved trivia question
- after sequentially numbering the Quiet Comfort, the QC2 and
the QC3, what happened to the QC4-14 numbers? Bose
suddenly jumped to QC15, but hasn't provided any explanation for
this break in sequence.)
The QC15 features the same 'on
the ear' design with ear cups that rotate 90° to allow for 'lie
flat' storage in their carry case.
The headphones weigh 6.7 ounces, and when stored in their protective bag with cord and
adapter, the total carry weight rises to 14.7 ounces.
The headphones have all the
electronics built into the earcups, and the battery (a single
AAA battery is needed) is housed inside the right earcup.
The only control on the
headphones is an on/off switch on the right ear cup. There is no volume control at
all. There is an input level switch, but it is inconveniently
hidden on part of the connector cord that becomes inaccessible
once plugged into the headphones. This was poorly thought
The cable is about 66" long
- plenty long enough for most requirements.
Using the QC15 Noise Cancelling
Every Bose set of noise
cancelling headphones to date suffers from the same weakness -
they will only operate when they are switched on. There is
no music 'pass through' capability - if the battery dies, you
not only lose the noise cancelling, but you lose the basic
ability to play any music on any basis at all.
It is thought that there may
be an unavoidable design reason for this - that the way Bose has
set up the sound path with the noise cancellation and perhaps
the way it may have biased the speakers prior to active
correction would mean that sound played without processing would
be very colored and unsatisfactory.
So perhaps the sacrifice
required in all Bose headphones is that their generally
excellent noise cancellation prevents them being used as passive
Fortunately this need not be
a big deal. Simply make sure you always travel with a
spare battery at all times. Each AAA battery is rated for
about 35 hours of operating time, and the LED next to the power
switch on the headphones starts to blink to indicate low battery
about 5 hours before it totally dies.
If you're like me, there's a
slight chance you might occasionally forget to turn the
headphones off - another reason to make sure you always have a
The cable has a high/low
level switch set inside the connector that plugs into the
headphones. This allows you to adjust the headphone
sensitivity for varying music sources, some of which might have
very loud outputs and others of which might have more quiet
outputs. This is perhaps a useful feature - I find I often
have to switch it for the high level output from airplane
systems and then switch it to the other setting for the lower
level output from most MP3 players.
But placing it in such a
ridiculously inaccessible spot is extraordinarily bad design,
and the labeling on it - 'hi/lo' - is confusing. Does 'hi'
mean the headphones are made highly sensitive for a low output
music source, or that the headphones are made less sensitive for
a high output music source? I can never remember which is
which or which is best for which music source (answer - you set the switch to 'lo' for high output music
sources), and trial and error requires you to unplug and replug
the connecting cable each time you adjust the switch.
This is surprisingly bad
design. Furthermore, this special connector piece is slightly different in design to that on the QC2. It is
almost identical, but just different enough as not to be
compatible. This means that if you also have a set of QC2
headphones, you can't mix and match connecting cables.
This is a disappointment, and there's no apparent reason why Bose had to
redesign this quirky connector.
The other end of the cable
has been designed to work with the annoying iPod/iPhone units
that have their socket at the end of a narrow tunnel (Apple's
way of trying to force you to buy their connectors) so that is a
The headphones are very
comfortable to wear. The padded headband and the soft foam
earcups feel to be the same as on the QC2.
This is the main raison
d'être of the headphones. The noise cancelling methodology
has apparently been changed from the earlier QC2 headphones, and
we believe that Bose now uses a combination of two different
types of noise sensing and cancellation, with noise detecting
microphones both outside the earcups and also inside the earcups.
This gives them the best opportunity to understand all three
variables - the sound signal, the outside noise, and the
'inside' noise and sound combination inside the earcup, and
allows for better noise cancelling capabilities.
So, with this as the most
important question, how well do the QC15s cancel noise?
They are clearly better than
their predecessors, the QC2, and also clearly better than their
current stable-mate, the QC3. Indeed, during 'A/B' testing
of the QC15 vs the QC2, at one point when I swapped back from
the QC15 to the QC2 I first thought that I'd accidentally
switched the QC2s off - the difference in noise reduction being
The noise reduction is
better in all frequency bands all the way across the (admittedly
limited) spectrum that the noise cancellation works.
Please note that even these
headphones do not cancel all the background noise, and they
don't cancel higher frequencies, just the mid-low and low
frequencies. Happily it is these cancellable frequency
bands where most of the ambient/background noise on a plane
The headphones are also
tangibly better than the top competitor and higher priced Sony
MDR-NC500D. The QC15 headphones are, without a doubt, the best we've yet
The background hiss from the
electronics that has
often been a problem with some noise cancelling headphones is
also almost entirely gone. It is an unnerving
experience to put the headphones on in a quieter environment.
It is like a black hole sucks out the remaining room noise,
while replacing it with nothing at all, not even what might be
thought of as a 'reassuring' electronic hiss - almost a
sensory-deprivation type experience.
So, there's everything to
admire and nothing to trade-off with the noise cancelling
ability of these headphones.
As we say in other articles
in this series, if you're chasing the ultimate absolute best
sound quality, you'll be disappointed with any and all noise
cancelling headphones. But this is almost irrelevant,
because there's no way you'd want to listen to the highest
quality music in a noisy environment to start with.
We therefore consider it perfectly acceptable that all noise cancelling headphones give
top priority to cutting out the background noise and secondary
priority to then playing music well. Indeed, much/most of
the time, none of us ever use the headphones to listen to a high
quality music source to start with. The audio on airplanes
is poor, and the audio on an MP3 player is only average.
Plus, if you're like me, some of the time on a plane you might
have the headphones on, but not be listening to anything at all,
just using them to cut down on the tiring/draining effects of
the background noise on the flight.
So, with these thoughts in
mind, it should come as no surprise, and neither as a massive
disappointment, to learn that these headphones provide good but
not great sound reproduction.
There's a little difference
in sound quality between the QC15 and the QC2, and happily
this difference is an improvement. The sound is slightly
more 'open' - better defined and less colored, with better high
range causing the music to sound more airy and less like
listening to it through a tunnel.
Low bass notes (eg organ)
were well articulated, clean and clear as well, with no
Overall the tone was more
towards the sparkly and bright side of things, while not tiringly so.
Perhaps a very slight tweak less treble would not go amiss.
Where to Buy
Bose headphones are widely
available through retail, at airport cart ministores, and
online. The QC15 headphones list for $299.95.
Unfortunately, nowhere will
sell them for less than full price, although we occasionally
hear rumors of unofficial discounting or coupon offers from some
of the online stores.
If you're buying online, you
may as well go to
(or any other online store you already
have your profile/account details loaded with).
Note - Patent Expiration
We understand that at least
some of the patents Bose has for noise cancelling headphones
will start to expire in December 2009.
Will this mean a flood of
Bose-like imitators, but at sub-$100 prices? Probably not,
but as the key patents expire, it might see some competitive
pressures and the resurgence of companies such as Plane Quiet.
Stay tuned for interesting times ahead.
Summary and Recommendation
After six years, the Bose
Quiet Comfort 2 headphones were no longer as unassailably state
of the art as they were when released in 2003.
The new Quiet Comfort 15
headphones unmistakably reclaim the title of best noise
cancelling headphones currently available. Recommended if
money is no object in your quest for the best noise cancelling
Should you upgrade?
If you already have a set of
Bose QC2 or QC3 headphones (or an equivalent other brand top of
the line headset), should you junk them and spend another $300
now on a set of QC15 headphones?
That depends on your desire
to have the best of the best. As you already know, the
QC2/3 headphones do a very good job of reducing noise levels on
flights. If you're happy with their performance, maybe
pretend you've never read this review and remain single-mindedly
focused on how good your present headphones are.
But if you tirelessly quest
after the very best and the ultimate in noise reduction, you'll
probably feel compelled to buy a set of the new QC15 headphones,
and if you do, you will definitely hear the improvement in noise
cancelling when you get them. You can always pass your
older headphones on to another family member or friend - they'll
be very appreciative. Or sell them for a fast $100 or so
Should you buy these or a less
expensive set of headphones?
If you do not yet own a set
of noise cancelling headphones, you are probably best advised to
either buy a down-market product such as the
Plane Quiet Platinum
headphones - a product with reasonable noise cancelling and a
selling price comfortably below $100, or else go all the way to
the $300 price point required by these headphones.
There are other products in
the 'middle' between the sub-$100 and the $300 headphones (eg
the reasonably good Phiaton PS300
NC headphones) but our feeling is that they are neither the
best performing nor the best price, so they satisfy neither the
bargain hunter nor the person seeking the best quality.
You'll have to decide for
yourself whether to go the sub-$100 or the $300 route. Our
closing comment - 'No-one ever regretted buying quality'....
FTC Mandatory Disclosure :
I was not given these headphones by the manufacturer.
I have not been paid money to write this article.
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9 Oct 2009, last update
28 Nov 2012
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.