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Bose has generally enjoyed a reputation as making the best noise cancelling headphones.

Although that reputation has at times been challenged by other products, the new Quiet Comfort 15 headphones clearly restore the title of 'best of breed' back to Bose.

 
 
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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 quality.

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.

Executive Summary

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 QC2.

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 sold.

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 for $13.

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).

Inside 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 warranty.

Description

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 'around 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 out.

The cable is about 66" long - plenty long enough for most requirements.

Using the QC15 Noise Cancelling Headphones

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 headphones.

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 spare battery.

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 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 good thing.

The headphones are very comfortable to wear.  The padded headband and the soft foam earcups feel to be the same as on the QC2.

Noise Cancelling

This is the main raison d'tre 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?

Brilliantly.

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 that much.

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 exists.

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 experienced.

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.

Sound Quality

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 muddiness.

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 Amazon (or any other online store you already have your profile/account details loaded with).

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 headphones available.

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 on Craigslist.

Should you buy these or a less expensive set of headphones?

If you do not yet own a set of noise cancelling headphones, your choice is 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.

If so, please donate to keep the website free and fund the addition of more articles like this. Any help is most appreciated - simply click below to securely send a contribution through a credit card and Paypal.

 

Originally published 9 Oct 2009, last update 08 Jul 2017

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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