I will admit it, I hate Bose. I used to have their speakers in vehicles I had, and have heard many of their home theater systems. For the money, Bose systems will be outperformed by many other manufacturers. Unlike these manufacturers however, Bose does a great deal of advertising leading consumers to believe that their products are the best in the world. Clearly, they are not, but for those who are not audiophiles, they will generally enjoy the sound of these products. I used to own the Philips SHN9500 active noise cancelling headphones which I purchased from Costco for around $80. I used them exclusively for traveling, until I broke them. On a recent trip overseas, I borrowed a pair of the very popular Bose QuietComfort 15 active noise cancelling headphones. I own a nice pair of over-the-ear headphones at home that I listen to, the Grado SR225i headphones. I have heard other nice cans before, that go beyond the brands that most typical consumers have heard of. After a long journey with the Bose QuietComfort 15 plugged into an Apple iPhone 4, I found a few interesting things about them.
Recommend this product?
The Advert... Perfect for travel and home listening.
I have seen ads in airline magazines before. Bose proclaims the Bose QuietComfort 15 as being the perfect travel companions and headphones to use at home. This is partly true. For travel, these headphones definitely put their money where their mouth is. I've got to hand it to Bose here, they have created a decent sounding headphone with superb comfort and excellent noise cancellation. As for home use, I would say that these typically fall into the typical Bose dilemma. They are greatly outperformed by cheaper and similarly priced headphones. Many of the popular headphones around the $300 price-range are typically called "open-back," which means that the drivers are exposed to the outside world. In plain English, this means everyone around you will hear what you are listening to!
Therefore, when it comes to travel, these similarly priced open-back headphones do not pose a threat since no one will be using them. Even if you attempt to use your highly prized Grados on an airplane, you will quickly be asked to turn them off. Not to mention that traveling presents a different atmosphere compared to your home and office. When flying, you will hear the engine noise and people around you. At home or the office, you can listen to your music in peaceful silence. Even if you hypothetically could use your open-back headphones on an airplane, you will become annoyed with all the ambient sounds around you since these headphones are not isolated or active noise cancelling.
So at the end of the day, the Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones are meant for a niche customer. This customer will likely not be looking for $300-quality sound that you would receive from a Grado, Sennheiser, Hifiman, Audio-Technica, Beyerdynamic, AKG, Denon, or other similar brand headphone in that price range. They will be looking for a headphone that will make their journeys more pleasurable with excellent comfort, noise reduction, with decent quality sound. Without any doubt, the Bose QuietComfort 15 manages to deliver in these departments, and does a good job with it too.
Bose QuietComfort 15. Hmm... What do those letters and numbers mean?
In case you were wondering, I will dissect the name of the Bose QuietComfort 15 below to help you understand this. Unlike other electronics such as camera lenses, this is more on the easy side to understand.
Bose - The Bose QuietComfort 15 are manufactured by a company named Bose. They generally do not have a good reputation among audiophiles, due to their over-priced and under-performing products. As mentioned in other parts of the review, the Bose QuietComfort 15 somewhat shift away from this.
Quiet - These headphones have what's called "Active Noise Cancellation." This is a method that helps reduce surrounding ambient noises, so that you can have a peaceful listening experience. This is very useful in either public areas, but I most commonly see frequent fliers using these on airplanes. As for my trip, all I can say is that the Bose QuietComfort 15 definitely work as advertised. This is the best noise cancellation that I have heard from any active noise cancellation headphone. These were superior to the Philips SHN9500 I used to own, and other lower priced models that I briefly tried on. So in this regard, you can lay back, relax, and detach yourself from the loud and annoying surroundings. At the home, this is only useful if you have a loud household, which is why I would not recommend these for home use. On the airplane, these are definitely the way to go.
Comfort - This implies that the headphones are comfortable. Are they? Once again, Bose has delivered on their advertising. These are among the most comfortable headphones that I have worn. They fit comfortably over the ear (which is a big difference from being on the ear like the QuietComfort 3), and can be worn for hours with no issues. This is unlike my Grados at home with which the pads can get uncomfortable after some time. The headband is generously padded and will keep the top of your head comfortable. Overall, these are very comfortable headphones that can be worn with ease over extremely long journeys.
15 - This is the model number. It does not pertain to anything specific.
What are some misconceptions about the Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones?
There are definitely a few misconceptions about the headphones, some of which I have already mentioned.
Misconception #1: Bose is the best brand in the world. - FALSE! Not even close to truth. Bose wants you to believe that their products are the best in the world. They do this through extensive marketing. Even though audiophiles clearly know that this is not the case, they may cause some regular listeners to believe this and make some expensive purchases. Now how does this pertain to the Bose QuietComfort 15, which is actually a good product? Well, if anyone is considering headphones exclusively for home use, then they might end up throwing away lots of money. If you have the opportunity to use open-back headphones, then you will find headphones that will be far superior in audio quality compared to the Bose QuietComfort 15, and will cost less, the same, or even more. But when you are paying more, you will get significantly more on the audio quality side of things. Still believe that the Bose are the best in the world? Look up the Sennheiser HD800, which for $1,400 a pair, are considered to be some of the best dynamic headphones in the world. Still don't believe me? Check out the Stax SR-009 headphones, which at $5,200 a pair, are also considered to be some of the best in the world.
Misconception #2: Audiophiles say Bose is garbage. - Wasn't I just talking about that? Generally speaking, their expensive home theater systems are eclipsed by so many other systems that it's not even funny. I guess they can say the same things about the headphones if they'd like. So yes, in terms of using the Bose QuietComfort 15 for home listening, you will receive disappointing sound quality in relation to similarly priced open-back headphones. This is not to say that the Bose QuietComfort 15 sound like garbage, they just do not have a $300-quality sound to them. But to counter the argument of the audiophiles, you just cannot take those sweet open-back headphones to the same places you would take the Bose QuietComfort 15. Good luck using open-back headphones on your flight! The audiophiles can then throw a second argument. At $300, open-back headphones are not the only ones that exist. In this price range, you can get closed headphones, so that no sound ends up leaking out. You can find some nice models from Denon and other manufacturers. Okay, so you can take those on planes and not get in trouble. But once again, to counter the argument of the audiophiles, those closed-back headphones do not have active noise cancellation! Even if audiophiles bring up cheaper active noise cancelling headphones with better sound quality, they just do not have that same level of noise cancellation, which is what the people buying the Bose QuietComfort 15 are looking for. The last argument they can bring up are noise-isolating in-ear-monitor (IEM) headphones. These go directly in your ear, and plug your ears off from surrounding ambient noises. This is a very viable option if you are open to in-ear headphones, but once again, if the customer is looking for something over the ear, the better sounding IEM headphones won't cut it. All in all, the Bose QuietComfort 15 is a very specific headphone targeting a specific consumer, so when it comes to noise cancellation for the traveler, other options recommended by audiophiles just won't touch it.
Well then, who are these headphones for?
This lens is for the frequent traveler or someone that is required to work in noisy environments. If you want to use them for quiet home listening, stop reading this review right now! Otherwise, the frequent flier will be pleased with the incredible noise cancellation abilities and comfort provided by the Bose QuietComfort 15. Yes, you can get cheaper headphones, but if your goal is to have the best level of noise cancellation, then the Bose QuietComfort 15 are at the top of their game.
At $299, are they worth it?
The Bose QuietComfort 15 are by no means cheap headphones. In the $300 price range, you can find some very nice headphones that provide exceptional sound quality. The best ones will typically be the open-back headphones that will provide a larger sounding soundstage, but will of course leak noise. You can get some good closed-back headphones which will have better sound quality, but they will not have active noise cancellation. You can get some very nice IEM headphones with noise-isolation, but if you want over-the-ear headphones, then they just won't cut it.
No matter how many ways you can spin the products around the Bose QuietComfort 15, these headphones are providing some very specific to the customer. If the customer is out to buy excellent noise cancellation, then these headphones will have it. If the customer is out to buy excellent quality, they should look elsewhere. But at $299, you should expect to have a very quiet listening environment when traveling, and for $299 the Bose QuietComfort 15 definitely deliver as promised.
How are these built and how do they look?
The Bose QuietComfort 15 have solid and light-weight construction. They definitely feel light on your head, and do not feel flimsy like other headphones I have used. I remember one cup breaking right off on my Philips SHN9500. The Bose QuietComfort 15 do not feel like that this will happen to them. As long as you treat them well, they should be fine. At $299, you should expect a carrying case for them, and you do get one. In terms of looks, they are silver and might stand out a little. They do not look nearly as flashy as Beats by Dr. Dre which you can often see people wearing, and they are nowhere near as large as other Mid-Fi and Hi-Fi headphones. When you see people wearing them on a plane, you know what they are, but they don't stick out all too much.
What comes in the box?
When you purchase the Bose QuietComfort 15, you get a few things with it. You get two different cables, one that has Apple controls for your iPhone, and another that is meant to be used in anything. This is especially nice if you use it to control music on your Apple product, which a lot of people seem to have. You also get a AAA battery that comes with the headphones. You need the battery to run the active noise cancellation. One caveat is that you need to have a battery to run the headphones no matter what. If your battery is dead, you get no sound. So be sure to carry spare batteries just in case! You also get a carrying case to go with them, so you don't beat up your headphones.
So how do these puppies sound?
The Bose QuietComfort 15 actually sound rather decent. They should sound adequate for anyone looking for quiet listening environments on flights, or even for the general public that has not been exposed to better quality headphones. By no means are these perfect, but they are also not nearly as terrible as those Bose haters might make them out to be.
Bass - The Bose QuietComfort 15 actually provides rather decent bass at moderate sound levels. I wasn't quite getting the bass slam that I was hoping for, and when upping the volume, deep bass tracks distorted quite a bit. I played Moby's "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad," which greeted me with a bit of distortion. At moderate volumes, listening to Tiesto's "Driving to Heaven (Mat Zo Remix)" just never gave me those punches to make listening very exciting. In this price range, you can get some great bass slam from open-back headphones, which I already said are not possible to use on an airplane or similar environments. To my surprise, the bass on the Bose QuietComfort 15 wasn't nearly as muddy as other Bose products that I have listened to. This was very welcome. Also, despite the bass slam not being what you would expect from a $299 headphone, you still need to remember that the Bose QuietComfort 15 serve a different purpose than open-back headphones in the privacy of your own home.
Midrange - The midrange on the Bose QuietComfort 15 is decent. They are unbalanced with excessive midbass that muddies up the sound in this region. In Bose's adverts, the Bose QuietComfort 15 are supposed to deliver a very clear midrange so you can hear small bits and pieces in different recordings. When listening to different types of music, the midrange just didn't stick out at me like it does with other headphones. It was pleasant, but not engaging in the way that would really take you away. The midrange overall is lacking compared to open-back headphones, which as stated earlier, just aren't appropriate in this price range. The open sound stage just wasn't there, but for closed-back headphone, this is acceptable. Also, you must take into account the effects that the active noise cancellation has on the sound. It will be different than the sound produced by headphones that lack this circuitry. Once again, all is forgiven.
Highs - The Bose QuietComfort 15 also lacks those detailed highs that you would find on similarly priced headphones. I just couldn't hear some of those tiny details that can be easily missed. I also was not listening in a silent home environment, and with the active noise cancellation turned on. Once again, all is forgiven.
Active Noise Cancellation - Bose really hit the nail on the head with this one. They have added multiple microphones so that they can effectively eliminate noise to the best of their abilities. How does this system work? Very well. It doesn't create an environment of pure tranquility like you might imagine, but the Bose QuietComfort 15 sure do a fantastic job of cutting on noises to the point where you can enjoy your music, and detach from the world around you. The endless roar of the jet engines become distant, and other ambient annoyances are diluted dramatically. This is a better way to enjoy traveling than bumping up the volume to ear drum crushing levels on ear buds or other types of headphones. The Philips SHN9500 did not remove noise anywhere near the levels of the Bose QuietComfort 15. For once, Bose did a good job on something.
Sound Performance without Battery - I can't tell what sounds better, the Bose QuietComfort 15 with no battery, or putting a piece of duck tape on your ear. In other words, the Bose QuietComfort 15 will not work unless they have a working battery! If your battery is dead, then you are out of a headphone. This is definitely not the case with others, but if you have spare AAA batteries, you can easily avoid this issue. Bose claims up to 35 hours on one AAA battery. I did not eat up all the juice when I used these, and cannot comment on real world performance. I wouldn't call this a deal-breaker, because the excellent noise cancellation of the Bose QuietComfort 15 makes up for the need to carry an extra battery.
How does the competition stack up?
Well there are plenty of different headphones on the market. If the Bose QuietComfort 15 were up against $300 price range headphones in general, they would lose out easily, even to cans a fraction of the price. The Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones, however, are targeting a more select market. They aren't intended for those audiophiles who listen to high-end headphones at home connected to high-end amplifiers. The Bose QuietComfort 15 are intended for people who travel a lot and intend to block out noises as best as possible while running their headphones through their iPhone/Smartphone, iPad/tablet, iPod/MP3 player, or any other device. Therefore, despite the somewhat lacking sound quality, it is forgiven granted the actual purpose for these cans. In terms of blocking out sound, there is one other viable competitor. These are noise-isolating in-ear-monitors. The IEM headphones, however, will not appeal to those listeners who do not want to stick headphones in their ears. If you are open to IEMs, you can get some ridiculously good sound for a similar price to the Bose QuietComfort 15. For the same price, you can get the Shure SE425 IEM headphones, which are definitely audiophile grade. If you are open to IEMs, definitely check out some fine selections from great manufacturers like Shure, and many others. If you are not open to IEMs and looking for noise reduction, the Bose QuietComfort 15 are your best bet. If sound quality is a great concern, look elsewhere. If you are looking strictly for home or office use, why are you still reading this review?!
The Final Take.
I never thought that there would be a day where I would actually enjoy a Bose product. That day has come. In no way am I saying that the Bose QuietComfort 15 is a great headphone, I'm saying that it is a great very specific active noise cancelling headphone targeted for specific listeners. The Bose QuietComfort 15 will be killed time and time again by many open-back, IEM, and closed-back headphones in the same price range, and cheaper. But the people that are eyeing the Bose QuietComfort 15 are likely looking for a headphone with the best noise cancellation abilities to use on long flights or travel experiences. In that case, the Bose QuietComfort 15 undoubtedly delivers extremely quiet performance in an extremely comfortable way. I had no trouble wearing these on a twelve hour flight virtually non-stop. No itching or discomfort whatsoever. It was also pleasant not to hear all those annoying distractions around me, especially those loud jet engines since I was sitting next to the wing. In conclusion, the Bose QuietComfort 15 provide unsurpassed noise cancellation and comfort for seasoned travelers, and are well worth the steep $299 price tag. If you are looking for extensive home or office use, I would definitely look elsewhere, since you can get much better sound quality in this price range, or for less.
As much as I hate Bose, I gotta hand it to them. They really got it right with the Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones.
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