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The latest Plane Quiet headphones are more attractive than their predecessor, and have very low background noise.

Although not as excellent as the $300 Bose competitor, they are one third the price, making them a good value alternative.

 
 
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Plane Quiet Platinum with Solitude Technology Active Noise Reduction Headset

A review of this hybrid of Plane Quiet and Solitude designs

These handsome new headphones are closer to Plane Quiet's previous high end line of 'Solitude' brand headphones than they are to the reqular mid-market line of Plane Quiet headphones.

Part of a series on noise reducing headphones - click the links on the right for extra reviews and articles.

If I'm counting correctly, this is the ninth model of Plane Quiet noise canceling headphone released by Outside the Box, although it looks for all the world more like one of their high end Solitude models.

The headphones are moderately priced and perform well.  They're not as good as the Bose Quiet Comfort 15, but they're only one third the price, and so the price/performance - in other words value - they offer is excellent.

Recommended for value conscious travelers wanting a good quality and well priced set of noise cancelling headphones.

Executive Summary

Plane Quiet have now supplemented their still available 'Plane Quiet Platinum' noise cancelling headphones with a new model, the clumsily named "Plane Quiet Platinum Headphones Featuring New Solitude Technology", which is reviewed here.

At the same time, the PQ Platinum headphones have been reduced in price to $55, with these new PQ w/Solitude headphones taking over the $100 price point formerly occupied by the PQ Platinum headphones.

The new PQ w/Solitude headphones are the ninth release from this company, and by combining both some external design and internal electronics from their currently discontinued high-end Solitude headphones, they are offering a somewhat better performing model of headphones than the PQ Platinum, but at a much better value than their earlier Solitude headphones, which sat uneasily around the $200 price point.

As such, these new headphones are good value, while admittedly not offering the same noise reduction capabilities as the Bose Quiet Comfort 15 headphones, which continue to blow every other set of noise cancelling headphones clear out of the water.  However, the PQ w/S headphones are only $100 compared to the $300 price of the Bose QC15s.

We have an arguably interesting history of the evolution of the Plane Quiet model line in the review of the PQ Platinum headset if you are interested.

The Plane Quiet Platinum Headphones Featuring New Solitude Technology - What You Get

These new noise cancelling headphones (forgive us if we don't repeat their name yet again!) come in in what appears to be one of those terribly hard to open plastic display boxes.  But after attacking the packaging with a pair of sharp scissors to get at the headphones inside, I discovered a wonderful thing - a perforated tear line running right around the back of the box, complete with a tab to pull to start tearing the box open.  They are actually easy to open.

There's a fairly typical set of inclusions inside.  Of course the headphones themselves, and two AAA batteries.  This was a surprise, because the headphones only require one AAA battery to power them, which I believe marks the first time Plane Quiet have released a product powered by only one rather than two AAA batteries.  This is a good thing - I tend to replace the batteries in my headphones 'whether they need it or not' prior to any medium or long trip, and so this way I'm only replacing one battery rather than two.  I'm not sure why Plane Quiet still provide two batteries (and the box promises only one so maybe this was a mistake, although others have also reported getting two batteries), but appreciated the extra one.

There is no information provided about the probable battery life with the new single battery powered electronics, or how to anticipate a dying battery.  My guess - expect 10 - 15 hours of battery life.  If you always travel with a spare battery, and replace it regularly, you should never find yourself 'caught short', and at the minimal cost of AAA batteries, especially if you buy in bulk at Costco or online at Amazon or somewhere, where you can pick them up for less than 50c each in packs of 20+, the cost of replacing not yet fully dead batteries is negligible.

There are two plug adapters - one to convert to the dual pin/socket still found on some airlines, and the other to convert from the 1/8" plug on the headphone cord to the 1/4" socket found on most home stereos.  They appear to be gold plated.

The connecting cable between the headphones and music source is a standard stereo music cable with stereo 1/8" jacks at each end.  This is good, because it allows you to use the headphones without any cable at all if you just want to kill the noise around you, and if you lose or damage the cable, it is easy to buy a replacement at any store selling electronics.  The cable measures 60" (although the specifications on the box say it is only 32" long) and appears to have gold plated connectors at each end, one with a straight connector, the other with the connector bent at 90.  You'd normally plug the straight connector end into the headphones and the bent connector into the music output socket on your airplane armrest.

There is a (perhaps overly) spacious woven black nylon carry pouch with a zip top into which you can place the headphones, connecting cable, adapters, spare batteries, and for that matter, an MP3 player too.  The pouch measures about 6.5" wide and 8.5" from the bottom up to the zip line.  The pouch has no padding.

There is also a folded over sheet of instructions and a warranty sheet.  The instructions are in three languages (English, French and Spanish) and basically tell you how to replace the batteries and not much else (but what else do you need to know).

There is some confusion as to how much noise cancelling the manufacturer claims.  The instruction sheet says it cancels noise in the frequency range of 40 Hz - 1 kHz, with maximum cancellation of 18 dB in the octave between 100 - 200 Hz.  The packaging claims up to 18 dB of cancelling between 150 - 400 Hz.  Clearly, this lack of consistency, and the use of the word 'up to' which of course includes all amounts less than this, yet again underscores the low degree of reliance one should place on manufacturer specifications when it comes to noise cancelling headphones.

The warranty is a one year limited warranty, and appears to be transferable if you pass the headphones on to anyone else.

Headphones Description

The Plane Quiet Platinum with Solitude Technology (ie PQ w/S) headphones are of an around the ear design, with the headphone earcups closely comparable in size to the Bose Quiet Comfort 15, the Solitude and the Philips SHN9500 headphones, but with much shallower ear cups (about 0.4" deep instead of about 0.8" or more deep with the QC15) - if your ears stick out even a little bit, they'll be pressing on the inside of the ear cups (not that this is necessarily all that uncomfortable).

Surprisingly, these headphones do not have both tilt and swivel hinging where the ear cups mount the headband.  They will rock backwards and forwards, but will not swivel from side to side.  But this did not seem to be a huge problem - I guess the side of most peoples' heads are reasonably parallel by the ears.  Nonetheless, with the importance of securing a tight seal between ear cup and head, this was a surprising design omission.

They are cleverly designed however in terms of folding up.

As you can see in this picture, the earcups fold up inside the headband to make for a compact carry package.

On the other hand, while this makes for a squat carry package, it is 'thicker' than the QC15 headset where the ear cups rotate 90 to make for a less thick package.  In very approximate terms, ignoring carry bags/cases, and squaring off the dimensions, the PQ w/S end up taking up a maximum of 5.5" x 5" x 2.75".  The Bose QC15 takes up about 6.75" x 7.25" x 1.5".

So overall, the PQ headphones take up much less space when calculated as a volumetric measure, and as long as your carry bag has space for a thicker package, there will be no problem.

The headphones with battery weigh 7.5 ounces.  Add the weight of the cord and you're looking at 8.2 ounces.  Add the weight of the carry bag and two adapters too and you're up to 10.2 ounces - still a good light weight.

The left earcup has a slide on/off switch, a red LED to indicate the headphones are turned on, a socket for the connecting audio cable, and a volume control.  The right earcup has a battery box with a complicated and not very substantial seeming latching mechanism, inside which one places the single AAA battery.

I couldn't get the latch on the battery cover to close up again, and while there is a reasonably secure friction fit between battery cover and the ear cup base, I suspect that sooner or later, the battery lid will come off and potentially get lost.  That is perhaps a good reason to keep the headphones zipped up in the carry bag when not in use.

Using the Headphones

The headphones are only moderately comfortable.  The foam in the padding seemed to be harder than earlier model headphones, and of course the lack of the swivel capability also added a small extra degree of discomfort to their fit on the head.

The headband adjustment also felt rough rather than smooth, and didn't seem to extend as far as earlier models of headphones - perhaps a problem if you have an unusually large head.

The good news is that when one turns on the noise cancellation in a moderately quiet environment, there is almost no perceived electronic hiss at all.  The circuitry in these headphones is among the quietest ever tested, and in particular, massively better than the quite noisy Solitude headphones.

Noise Cancelling

The noise cancelling works well, particularly in lower frequency bands.  For the higher frequencies (not truly high frequencies - just frequencies up from the lowest frequencies where noise cancelling works best) the performance dropped off, and was noticeably inferior to the Bose QC15 headphones.

So is this a pass or fail?  I'd give it a pass in the sense that putting the headphones on and turning on the noise cancelling, on a plane, really made a big perceptible difference to the background noise and improved one's feeling of relaxation.

It is only when compared side by side with the awesome Bose QC15 headphones that one realizes that, as good as the PQ w/S are, there is even better quietening available with the QC15s.  But that is nothing to be embarrassed about - the QC15s also cost three times as much.

Or, to put it another way, for the same price as one set of QC15s you could have two sets of PQ w/S headphones and $100 cash left over.

Music Fidelity

The good news is the headphones will play music even with no battery (unlike the QC15s).

The other news is that the sound quality alters as between when the quietening is turned on and turned off.  The sound is much - well, a polite word would be 'brighter', a less polite word would be 'harsher/thinner' with the noise quietening circuitry activated.  But turn the noise cancelling off and the sound becomes distinctly muffled and not nearly as clear.

Which is closer to real life?  Please forgive me if I equivocate and suggest the best sound would be somewhere in the middle between the two variations offered.  As between the two sound profiles offered, I prefer the brighter sound with noise cancelling on.  But neither setting gave me truly 'live' sound quality.

This is very similar to the effect noticed with the previous version Plane Quiet Platinum headphones.  However, comparing the headphones to an older set of Solitude headphones showed the Solitudes to be clearly superior in sound quality (and more comfortable to wear as well).  In particular, on piano music, there was no crispness or sensation of hearing the impact of the hammers on the strings with the PQ w/S headphones, while this was much more richly apparent with the Solitudes.

So sound is okay but not perfect (not that it ever is perfect with noise cancelling headphones, where sound quality is always subjugated to the noise cancelling issues).   It is fine for listening to movies, but if you're an audiophile seeking to recreate a concert theater experience while flying noisily at 575 mph at 35,000 ft, you'll be disappointed.

The volume control works as you'd expect, with a nice even attenuation and no noise as it is turned.  Note that we recommend you always have this volume control at maximum, with the only exception being if you are sharing one audio feed with a second person with a second set of headphones and you need to adjust the volume to make it appropriately loud for each of you.

Other than that one limited scenario, don't waste battery life in your MP3 player by making the music player pump out sound energy that is then just wasted going through the volume control.

Where to Buy

The headphones have a retail price of $100 but sometimes can be found on special, and can be purchased direct from the manufacturer, Plane Quiet, at their Pro Travel Gear website.

They are also sometimes available on Amazon and occasionally for a slightly better price too.

Summary and Recommendation

Which to choose?  Plane Quiet Platinum at $60 or Plane Quiet Platinum with Solitude Technology at $100 (or $90 at Amazon)?

UPDATE :  The standard Plane Quiet Platinum has now been discontinued.  Your choices now are these headphones or the upmarket Solitude X headphones - see separate discussion on our review of that product.

The PQ w/S look slightly nicer.  We prefer their design with the connecting cable that can be disconnected, rather than the fixed cable on the PQ Pt, and we also prefer the controls on the ear cup rather than on a control/battery box half way down the connecting cord.

But in terms of comfort and performance, we're a bit pressed to see much difference between the two products.

If you're a value conscious person seeking a bargain that performs adequately, take the PQ Pt headphones for their very good $60 price.

If you're a 'nothing but the best' person, your choice is obviously the $300 Bose Quiet Comfort 15 headphones.

But if you're more a 'middle of the road' person, and if you want something that looks attractive, the PQ w/S might be a better choice, although in truth, we don't think they look nearly as nice as the discontinued Solitude headphones, and of course, they are completely trounced, appearance-wise by the Bose product.

At $100 or less, these are moderately priced noise cancelling headphones that perform in line with their price.

They're not as good as the top of the line Bose and similar products, but they are also three times less expensive, making them a better and more prudent choice for most people.
 

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Originally published 17 Sep 2010, last update 28 May 2011

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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