Overpriced and Underperforming: The Bose IE2 Audio Headphones

Nov 4, 2010 (Updated Nov 4, 2010)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:They lock firmly in the ears.

Cons:Poor sound with dull highs and little bass response. Expensive.

The Bottom Line: For the same price you can by multiple pairs of lower priced buds that sound much better.

Why does it seem that the more you spend on a pair of in-ear bud headphones, the less quality you seem to get? That's been my experience anyway. Latest case in point: the Bose IE2 Audio Headphones. Newly introduced by Bose in 2010, these buds will set you back just under $100 a pair, and offer a few new features over the old Bose in-ear buds.

"IE", of course, doesn't stand for Internet Explorer here. Rather, it connotes "in Ear", which is how you'll insert these phones. This was my first set of Bose headphones, though I'm no stranger to other Bose products, having been a long and faithful fan of their 901 Series speakers.

What You Get:
1 set of in-ear buds with adjustable cord
Carrying case 
5 extra sets of ear fittings in small, medium, large sizes with and without StayHear(TM) adapters.  
What is StayHear you ask? It's a new feature designed to offer stability in listening and a tight, secure fit in the ear. The ear buds have fittings that slide comfortably into the ear and include "wings" that lock into the folds of the ear to lock them in place. This, along with the in-cord clothes clip, manages to keep the buds relatively stable, even when out jogging.

The Bose IE2 Audio headphones are designed to provide lifelike sound through direct and reflected sound. These are not noise-reducing headphones by any stretch of the imagination, and part of their purported allure is the combination of sound directly from in-ear tips as well as additional reflected sound from ports outside the ear canal.

The first problem for me is that I fail to see any real impact from the exterior ports. Inserting them directly in the ear canals in lieu of the direct drivers, I could hear little sound from them, and when wearing the Bose IE2s properly heard even less. Philips does a much better job with ported phones with their He-592 model, and you can buy four pair of those for the price of one set of the Bose IE2 Audio headphones.

Problem two was the sound here. It's dull and flat and lacking on both the high and low ends. Bass and treble response were poor when this reviewer tested the IE2s on various genres of music. In fact, a $15 set of Sony EX33LPP Sweet Little Buds provided dramatically sharper, clearer, crisper sound.

Indeed, having a set of the latter on hand, I would play the same tracks  (Chopin's Sonata No. 2, P!nk's "Raise Your Glass", Wolfgang Petry's "Eine Muh, Eine Mah", Boozoo Chavis' "Who stole My Monkey" to name a few), alternating headsets halfway through. The much less expensive Sony buds sounded dramatically better.

Volume levels were also disappointing. Used with my Zune HD, I got consistently less volume from the IE2s than from the Sony buds. In fact, I had to crank up my volume level three levels to achieve the same amount of sound.

Annoyingly, Bose doesn't really tell you much about the IE2s, with decibel output levels, frequency response, and just about any information missing from the included materials. Basically, they tell you how to put them on and clean them, and not much else. An internet search did not reveal this information either.

Warranty is one year. That's a good thing, because the cord seems extra thin to me and subject to fraying. If you're happy getting at least a year out of $100 headphones, then at least the warranty should be protection against that. For me, that's more than I'm willing to pay, and knowing the amount of use my buds go through, the price is far too high.

Overall, I can't recommend the Bose IE2 headphones. They're way overpriced, and the secure fit is small comfort for the dim, flat sound of these headphones. The total lack of noise reduction might be a fair tradeoff for better acoustical performance from the ports, but the ports don't seem to add anything here. You can get better sounding earbuds for one fifth the price, or less. Mine went back to Best Buy for a refund.

Other Headphones I've Used: 

The Good:
Sony EX33LPP Sweet Little Buds
Koss KE29
Philips HE-592s 
Philips SHE-9500s   
Skullcandy Ink'd
Skullcandy Smokin' Buds
JVC Marshmallows

The Bad:
Sennheiser MX75 

The Ugly: 
Shure SE110-N 
JVC's Gummy Phones 
Skullcandy Lowriders 
V-Moda Sport

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