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The Bose Quiet Comfort 2 headphones represent the high water mark in noise cancelling headsets.

Unfortunately, they are not only the very best in terms of quality, but they're also by far the most expensive.

 
 
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The Bose QuietComfort™ 2 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headset

A good performer, but at a ridiculous price.

The less expensive Solitude headset will be a better choice for most readers who seek to combine quality with value.

Part 5 of a series on noise reducing headphones - click for Parts One  Two  Three  Four  Five  Six  Seven  Eight  Nine  Ten  Eleven  Twelve  Thirteen  Fourteen  Fifteen

 

 

The Bose Quiet Comfort 2 headphones are the best performing of the various different models tested to date, although their excellent performance is offset with a few niggling design issues that are not well thought out.

Bose Corp had kindly made a review copy of their earlier Quiet Comfort headphones available to me, and my review of these headphones was mixed in its praise. Pleasingly, most of the problems I pointed out in that review (all of which Bose disputed at the time!) have been addressed in these new QC2 headphones.

But perhaps because my review was not ridiculously positive, and notwithstanding this series coming top of Google keyword searches and having hundreds of visitors every day, Bose declined to make a review set of their new QC2 headphones available. This made me very doubtful that their new headphones were materially better than the earlier model.

A reader kindly loaned me a pair so I could bring you the review that Bose did not want me to write.  And then Magellan's kindly sent me a pair so I have them as an ongoing reference for other comparative reviews.

Update :  See also the review of the new Bose Quiet Comfort 3 headphones here.

Further Update :  Now replaced/superseded by the Bose Quiet Comfort 15 headphones.

What You Get

The $300 headphones are packed into a sturdy box for shipping, and come complete with the single AAA battery they need.

With the headphones comes a helpful eight (!) language instruction book, quick start guide, and warranty card.

A connector cord to connect the headphones to any music source is provided, along with an extension cord and two adapter plugs - a double pronged one for airlines and a 1/4" for home stereo systems.  All plugs are gold plated.

Lastly, a lovely semi-hardsided but reasonably sized carry case is also provided.  The carry case has loops for a strap, which is also provided.

Inside the carry case are two velcro attached pockets.  One, with a clear plastic window, is for carrying business cards, and contains ten of what Bose describe as 'Courtesy Cards'.  These cards are miniature ads for the Quiet Comfort 2 and contact details for Bose around the world.  It is clever of Bose to make it easy for their customers to become unpaid sales reps, too.  The other pocket has a mesh front and zip closure, and is intended for carrying spare batteries, the adapters and extension cord.

There are a couple of moulded protrusions to gently hold the headphones in place inside the carry case.

The headphones come with a one year warranty, and a 30 day money back guarantee.

All in all, this is a very complete range of quality items included with the headphones.

Description

The headphones look similar to the earlier Quiet Comfort model, but in the new QC2 design, the ear cups can rotate a full 90 enabling them to lie flat, taking up much less space when stored in their much smaller protective carry bag that is now sized not much larger than a CD player bag.

The headphones weigh almost 7 ounces, and when stored in their protective bag with cords and adapters, the total carry weight rises to 13 ounces.

Unlike some of the other 'on the ear' type products, these are of an 'over the ear' design. This is a superior design for noise reducing headphones for two reasons :

  • The over-the-ear design provides a complete physical barrier that passively reduces all external sounds much better than an on-the-ear design

  • Most people find the over-the-ear design is more comfortable for long periods of wearing the headphones (such as on a lengthy international flight)

The actual size of the ear cup seems to be identical to the Plane Quiet ear cups, and indeed the headphones generally look very similar to the Plane Quiet headphones. There is a slightly different design to the tilt/swivel mechanism which puts the padded head band in a slightly different position on one's head, and the headphones seemed to be very slightly more comfortable than the Plane Quiets, and perhaps slightly more effective at immediately sealing around the ears to passively block out some of the background noise.

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 battery compartment is discreetly hidden; indeed, some months after I last used the headphones, I went to use them again and decided to replace the battery.  I couldn't remember and couldn't work out where/how to get at the battery!

The only control on the headphones is an on/off switch. 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 out.

Cords and Connectors

The connector cord is not hard wired in to the headphones, but instead can be plugged in if needed. If you are just using the headphones to quieten ambient noise, then you don't need to have an unwanted cord hanging down from the headphones. This is a good thing.

But, if you do want to connect the headphones to any type of sound source, you need to find the special connector cable (it uses a nonstandard plug so you can't use any typical stereo extension cord) to connect between the headphones and the music source. And, depending on the plug on the music source, you might need to also find one of the two adapter plugs also supplied.

There seem to be two distinct schools of thought - one advocates having everything hard wired into the headphones (like the Plane Quiets) and the other prefers everything modular. Which is best?

Having occasionally left a cord or connector behind, I prefer the PQ approach to having everything inseparable from everything else - you'll never find yourself having forgotten anything with the PQs. Murphy's Law (and the disorienting effects of jet lag, drinks on planes (!) and unfamiliar hotel rooms being what they are, the occasional loss of something essential with the QC2 approach is almost inevitable (I say this after having myself occasionally lost/forgotten essential connectors!). And with the Bose connector using a unique type of plug, if you lose or break the supplied connector while on a trip, you'll be unable to use the headphones for listening to anything until you're able to order and receive a replacement from the Bose factory.

The connecting cable is also difficult to plug in or out of the headphones. Not only do you have to take the headphones off your head, but to remove the cable, you either need to be able to use a fingernail to pry the connector out, or else pull the connector out by its cord - this being a very bad thing to do and something that is likely to quickly result in a broken wire.

Functionality

The noise quietening offered by these headphones is without a doubt the best of any headphones I've yet tested (update Feb05 :  The new Solitude headphones now offer almost identical noise cancelling capabilities, and for $100 less).  They are appreciably better than the earlier model Quiet Comfort and also better than the Plane Quiet range of headphones, particularly in lower frequency rumbles (eg from air conditioning fan motors, hard disk drive motors, and much of the background noise on a plane).

The earlier model had an annoying amount of clearly audible electronics hiss. Although, at the time, Bose said this was unavoidable, they have improved this greatly and the hiss present in the new model headphones is very much less and not nearly so objectionable. The hiss level is now better than in the Plane Quiet headphones and very much better than in the Solitude.

In terms of playing music, the 'high/low' setting didn't seem to make a very big difference to the input level, although with the setting on 'high' some sort of strange electronic interference noise from my computer became much more strongly present rather than on the 'low' setting.

There was no separate volume control, but most of the time, an extra volume control is largely unnecessary because almost always whatever music source you are using has its own volume control.

Sound quality was excellent and more than adequate for the type of playback sources and environments in which they are likely to be used in. Is the sound quality better than the Plane Quiets? Some other readers think so, and perhaps they are correct. Does this matter? Well, if you can hear the difference in sound quality between an MP3 sampled at 192 kb/sec and one sampled at 256 kb/sec, then maybe you will also appreciate the possible improvement in sound quality that these headphones might offer. But if you usually record your MP3s at 128kb/sec and are perfectly happy, and if you can't tell the difference between 192 and 256 kb/sec, then it is hard to justify the extra cost of the QC2 headphones based on their better audio fidelity.

Like their predecessor, the Quiet Comfort 2 does not have a 'pass-through' mode. If the battery dies, then (unlike the Plane Quiets) you can't use them just as ordinary headphones without the noise reducing feature. Typical battery life is quoted at 35 hours. For this reason, you should always travel with a spare battery.

Which Headphones Should You Buy?

The new Bose Quiet Comfort 2 headphones ($299) are better than all other products, but are also $100 more expensive than the closest competitor (the Solitude) and almost five times - $250 - more than the Plane Quiet NC6 headphones.  If money is no object, you'll of course choose Bose.  But if you have a more real-world approach to cost and value, you should think carefully about your other choices.

Should you pay this much extra for the small improvement in performance they offer?  Only you can answer that question!

Where to Buy

Bose headphones are available at a number of different stores and online retailers, as well as direct from Bose.

Bose is very strict about its pricing, and no-one can ever discount Bose.  This means all stores sell them for the same $299 price point.

Summary

The new Bose Quiet Comfort 2 headphones are the best performing of the ten different types of noise reducing headphones I've used, and are a major improvement over the earlier model Quiet Comfort headphones.

They are also the most expensive. Many people might choose to buy the much lower priced and almost as good Plane Quiet headphones, but those who insist on absolutely the best will be very pleased with their $299 purchase.

 

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Originally published 12 Sep 2003, last update 19 Dec 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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