Solitude X Active
Noise Reduction Headset
The best yet
noise cancelling headset from Solitude
The latest model in Outside the Box's Solitude range of
high end noise cancelling headphones looks as nice as it
Part of a series on noise
reducing headphones - click the links on the right for extra
reviews and articles.
Outside the Box Group have
been making noise cancelling headphones for eight years.
After a series of increasingly
improved headsets in their core Plane Quiet series, they came
out with top end headsets under the Solitude brand. The
first three model Solitudes were good performers, albeit with
fairly high background hiss levels, and were good alternates to
the Bose QuietComfort 2 headset.
But the release of the new QC
15 headset left the capabilities of the Solitude headsets way
behind, destroying their value proposition. Until now.
The new Solitude X headset
recaptures a position of 'almost as good, for much less money'
and makes good sense for you to consider as an alternate to the
overpriced Bose QuietComfort 15 product.
This is a fairly lengthy
review, and as you can see on the right, there's a huge amount
of other material on other headsets also available on the site
for you to review.
So for those of you simply
wanting to know 'should I buy these or not, and why/why not',
here's a quick summary.
If money is no object, go
and buy the Bose QuietComfort
15 headphones. They'll cost you about $300, and they
offer the best noise cancelling out there.
However, if the thought of
getting a comparable set of headphones for two-thirds (or even
one half - see the special Travel Insider only offer below) the
price of the QC15 headphones appeals, then the small compromise
in noise cancelling is well worth the big saving in price
offered by the Solitude X. They
normally list for $200 (the link is to the manufacturer's
retail site, Pro Travel Gear).
If you're looking for an
entry level model, the Plane
Quiet Platinum with Solitude Technology headset, which is
priced at $100, is the way to go. You can get three sets
of PQP/S headsets for the price of a single set of Bose QC15
But note the
current special offer on the
Solitude X headphones makes the price difference between the
Solitude X and PQP/S headphones much smaller - particularly if
you are looking to buy two sets rather than one, and so we'd
normally recommend you spend only a little more to get the
Solitude X, and receive a lot more in terms of sound quality and
noise cancelling in return.
The Solitude X is the
best value and the best compromise between performance and price
currently available (as of March 2011).
A Quick History of High End
Noise Canceling Headphones
We see there as being three
generations of noise cancelling headphone technologies, each
defined by a Bose product.
We consider the first
generation as being represented by the Bose QuietComfort headphones, introduced
The second generation was
defined by the Bose QuietComfort 2 headphones, a long lived
model with a mid-life tweak to a 'SE' (as in 'second edition'
version). These were on sale from 2003 through 2009.
The third generation came
along in 2009, but not with the QuietComfort 3 which was a
second generation technology product, but with the (big jump in
numbers) QuietComfort 15 headphones.
Each successive generation
of product marked a quantum leap in noise cancelling capability
such as to obsolete the previous generation of products.
The Solitude headphones and
their stable-mates, the lower priced and lower performing Plane
Quiet series of headphones have been up until this time
originally first generation and then more recently second
generation products. The best of these products got close
to the capabilities of comparable first and second generation
Bose products, but when Bose released the QuietComfort 15
product in late 2009, the massive leap forward in noise
reduction marginalized Plane Quiet and Solitude, leaving them
with only the ability to compete on price rather than performance.
But now, a worthy third
generation contender to the previously unassailable Quiet
Comfort 15 headphones has emerged. This is the Solitude X.
And similar to Bose, which has consistently kept a $300 price
point for its noise cancelling headphones, the latest Solitude X
product (a successor to the original Solitude, the Solitude 2,
and the Solitude with Linx products) maintains a $200 price
point (but see below for a special Travel Insider exclusive
The Solitude X Active
Noise Reduction Headset - What You Get
The Solitude X headphones
come in an attractive black and silver cut-away cardboard box
that is easy to open.
Inside are the headphones
themselves, two AAA batteries, two adapters, two connecting
cords and two booklets. What a shame there weren't two
pairs of headphones to complete this two by two symmetry.
However, apart from the
batteries, the pairs of items each contain two dissimilar
One of the adapters is to
convert the plug from 1/8" to 1/4" to fit stereo receiver
sockets (an inclusion no longer provided by Bose). The other is to convert the
standard single prong plug to the twin
pronged plug used on some airline seats.
One of the connecting cords
is a regular cord to connect between the headphones and most
normal 1/8" sockets on music players and other devices. It
measures a generous 6' 3" in length (considerably longer than
the 5' promised).
Because the headphones themselves have
an industry standard 1/8" (ie 3.5mm) connector socket on them,
if you ever lose this connecting cable, you can buy a generic
connecting cable from any electronic store, anywhere in the
world, and not have to pay top dollar for the privilege (unlike
headphones that have unique adapter shapes such as the
The other connecting cord is
slightly shorter (5' 2"). We actually prefer the
shorter length, finding the 6'3" length of the other cable
sometimes gets tangled up in things.
Combo phone/microphone cable
This second cable has the same universal plug
at one end to connect into the headphones. But at the
other end, it has a four element connector (ie tip, two rings
and sleeve) that can be used to connect to some cell phones that
use that type of connector for their headset.
It is compatible with
iPhones and Blackberries, as well as assorted other models of
phones from other manufacturers too.
This cable also has a
microphone close to the headphones end of it, so if you have
something like an iPhone, the headphones can do double duty with
the iPhone, playing music through them, then switching over to
take phone calls if/when you should have a phone call.
This means there is no
need to juggle assorted headsets and cables and things, and
fewer bits of kit to pack and travel with.
Bose have a similar type of
cable, but rather than being included, you need to pay an extra
$40 for their cable. On the plus side, the Bose cable
comes with four adapters, allowing it to be used with a much
broader range of phones, but the 'standard' type adapter on the
Solitude cable connects to a wide range of phones.
Other inclusions and paperwork
There is also a lovely
semi-hard sided protective carry case made out of molded
material with some sort of woven nylon finish to it. It
has a zipper running around three sides, and inside is a molded
support to cradle the headphones on one side, and a couple of
pouches on the other side; one a zip pouch to hold spare cables,
batteries and adapter, and the other for a business card or two.
The two booklets are a
warranty card and a user's guide.
The warranty is for a one
year period, and is voided if you bought the headphones from a
non-authorized Solitude retailer, and is non transferable, and
is only applicable if the headphones are used in 'normal'
conditions (whatever that means!).
This warranty doesn't win
any prizes for excessively liberal generosity, but is similar to
the Bose and all other warranties, and from reader feedback over the years, it
seems Solitude provide generally excellent service and
support for their products.
The user manual is well
written in English and explains the few things that need
The Solitude X active noise
canceling headphones are attractive and appear to be well made.
Sometimes in the past
Outside the Box has tried various innovations to their headphone
design which have given reliability problems (folding headbands,
for example) but this time they've concentrated on a 'safe' and
clean design which suggests a robust and reliable set of
The ear-cups tilt and
swivel (just like the Bose), and can rotate flat for carrying purposes.
The headphones weigh 8.1 oz
on the head with batteries included. Complete with all
cables, adapters and carry bag, they weigh 17.5 oz. These
weights are an imperceptible 1.5 oz heavier than the
A feature of the earlier
Solitude headphones had been a tighter than normal headband, which
applied a fair measure of pressure to the ear cups, ensuring a
positive noise-proof seal against the side of your head.
These new headphones have a much gentler pressure, comparable to
The foam bands around the
ear cups are similar feeling to those on the QC15s, but don't
seem to mold quite as closely to the side of one's head.
Maybe they have a type of memory foam in them - after a few
minutes of wearing they seem to have adjusted and created a
better seal, and some of the noise leakage that is initially
present goes away as the seal improves. In other words,
don't instantly judge the headphones the minute you put them on
- give them a few minutes to fully seal around your ears to
optimize their passive noise blocking.
The right ear cup contains
the battery compartment. The headphones require two AAA
batteries to power their noise cancellation circuitry, and you
can expect to get about 35 hours of noise cancelling out of a
pair of batteries. The red power LED dims when the
batteries are about 30 minutes short of total exhaustion (we
prefer the longer notice and more obvious indication on the QC15
which has a flashing LED about 5 hours prior to battery
exhaustion). It is best to always travel with a spare set
of batteries, 'just in case'.
The left ear cup has the
connecting point for the cable, plus an on/off switch and power
LED, and a 'volume' control wheel. However, this wheel is not for controlling the
sound level of the audio you are hearing through the headphones, but instead
for controlling the amount of noise cancellation effect.
As we've said before when
occasionally encountering this 'feature' on other headphones, we
see no reason or benefit from such a control. I defy you to suggest
any situation, ever, where you'd only want, say, half the noise
We recommend you squeeze a
drop of instant glue onto/into the control wheel so as to lock
it in place in the maximum position. If you don't do this,
you'll invariably from time to time bump the control wheel so
you're getting less than full noise cancellation.
Using the Headphones
The Solitude headphones play
audio whether they have batteries in them or not, and whether
they are turned on or not. The QC15 headphones will only
play audio when they are turned on - if your batteries die, you
lose everything until you can replace them.
It is common to notice a
difference in sound quality with active noise canceling
headphones as between with the noise canceling switched on and
switched off. Typically, the volume level will go up or
down, and the sound profile will change.
With the Solitude X, there
is close to no difference in audio quality at all between having
the active noise canceling circuitry activated or not. The
volume level stays closely the same, and the sound shape merely
gets a slight bass boost when the noise cancelling is turned
In both cases (noise
cancelling on or off) we felt there to be a slightly more solid
bass line than is present with the QC15 headphones, without
allowing the sound to become muddy or imprecise. The
higher treble notes were clear all the way through and we
listened very happily to some hours of good quality music
without any audio fatigue at all, in both quiet and noisy
It is claimed that the
headphones have a frequency response from 15 Hz - 23 kHz, but
with no +/- dB limits given, this is a meaningless statistic.
The headphones are said to
have a 32 Ohm impedance, and a sensitivity of 112dB +/- 3dB at 1
In real world terms, they
sound about as loud as the QC15 headphones for any given audio
Comfort and Convenience
The headphones are
comfortable to wear for many hours at a time, such as you will
wish to do on long flights.
But - and in common with
previous versions of the Solitude - they have a shallow interior
that is smaller in all dimensions than that of the QC15.
They are okay for my ears, but if you have massive great big
lugs sticking out a long way from the sides of your head, you
may find the Solitudes to be too small for you.
The Bose QC15 ear cups provide
almost an inch of depth to accommodate your ears, the Solitudes more like about 3/4"
(this is hard to measure because obviously it depends to an
extent on how much pressure is being applied, but the key thing
is to reveal the difference in depth).
Well, this is the big test,
isn't it - this is the reason you'll buy (or not buy) any given
set of noise cancelling headphones.
We tested the headphones
both in our simulated 'noisy/plane' environment on the ground
and also on two different planes - a 737-400 (jet) and a
Bombardier Q400 (turbo-prop). The Q400 in particular
begged for some type of noise cancelation to make the
(mercifully short) flight more bearable - in cabin sound levels
measured 84 dbA and an awesome/awful 96 dbC.
When you consider that one
is generally recommended to adopt hearing protection any time
one is exposed to extended sound levels above 80 db, clearly the
Q400 plane cries out for noise cancelling headphones any time you
We tested the Solitude X
alongside the Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones in all three
Yes, the QC15 remained
across-the-board the better performer. But we felt the
Solitude X was only slightly inferior in performance, and it
truly did offer a massive cutback in terms of ambient audio
Some of the cheap inferior
noise cancelling headsets (often found on flights these days,
provided by the airlines themselves in their premium cabins)
provide a laughably minimum amount of noise cancellation.
Both the Bose and Solitude headphones thoroughly trounce such
inferior makes/models, and give a massively greater amount of
We particularly liked some
palpable improvements to the broad spectrum of noise attenuation
offered by the Solitude X. Some earlier models of
Outside the Box's headphones have had sharply
delineated ranges of noise attenuation, making for 'roaring' or
'tunnel' type sound coloration. Happily these new headphones simply cut
back across the board on a broad range of frequencies so that
the experience from turning them on was a nice clean cutback in
noise rather than a change in the sound of the noise.
The headphones are claimed
to offer 'up to' 18 dB of noise canceling in the frequency band
of 150Hz - 400 Hz, but of course, 'up to' also includes all
numbers less than that, making it a rather meaningless statistic
and one which, alas, is impossible to verify, other than
empirically alongside other headphones. Suffice it to say
that the noise cancelling is among the best we've come across so
Where to Buy
The headphones have a retail
price of $200 and can be
purchased direct from the manufacturer, Plane Quiet, at their
Pro Travel Gear website.
** Special Travel Insider Offer
While our reviews are
scrupulously 100% independent (and on rare occasion in the past we
haven't hesitated to recommend against Outside the Box
headsets when we've felt them not to be up to standard), over
the better part of a decade of reviewing this manufacturer's
headphones, we've built up a close and positive relationship,
and for sure, we're referred who knows how many thousands of
people to buy their headphones.
In turn, Outside the Box
has become a fair and generous supporter of The Travel Insider,
for which we thank them very much.
We've managed to combine
these various points into an arm-twisting deal with them that works hugely to your benefit.
We told David Dillinger, EVP
of Outside the Box, that because so many of our readers already
have an earlier model of his headphones, in order
to create a compelling value proposition not just for first time
purchasers, but also to encourage you to upgrade your present
headphones, he needed to offer
these headphones at half the price of the competing Bose QC15
headphones (which sell for $300). His response was 'But,
David, we're selling them readily at $200 already, why should we
reduce the already great value price?'.
Eventually, they agreed to
reduce the price, but only to Travel Insider readers. So
if you're reading this, congratulations. You can get a set
of these headphones for $150 - half the price of the Bose QC15s.
Doesn't that kinda make you
want to buy two sets? One for you and one for whoever is
as fortunate as to be traveling with you? Well, keep
reading, because we've anticipated that too.
We told David Dillinger
that he should also offer an impossible to refuse deal for
people who buy two sets of headphones rather than one.
After all, David's company gets to save money on shipping and fulfillment,
etc, and gets to sell twice as many headphones - why shouldn't
that saving be shared generously?!
After he was done
mumbling mutinously about the $150 price already having a huge
built in saving, we managed to get him to agree to - are you
ready for this - a $250 price for TWO sets of headphones if they
are ordered at the same time and shipped to the same address.
Wow. How about that!.
You can get two sets of headphones for less than one set of the
Bose headphones, and still have $50 left over to spend on - ummm,
how about a small contribution to The Travel Insider website (any
amount most welcome!).
Now, of course, all good
things come to an end, and in this case, I've got David
Dillinger to agree to sell up to 1000 sets at this price
(depending also on how quickly he is selling headsets at full
price too), but
once he's done that, he'll need to re-order from the factory
that contract manufactures them in bulk for him in China, and
who knows what will have happened to his pricing and exchange
rates and shipping costs at that point.
So, if you want to get a
state of the art third generation set of noise cancelling
headphones, now is the time, and this is the product and price
that you'll find to be unbeatable.
And if you already have an
earlier model of Plane Quiet or Solitude headphones, do consider
taking advantage of this great deal to upgrade. You'll be
amazed at the difference the new headphones offer.
hurry to click
on over to his website, and use the coupon code Insider1 in
the coupon box at the top right when
checking out to order one set at the reduced price of $150, or
Insider2 to order two sets at the massive savings of $250
(compared to $400 list!).
Yes, you can order multiple
pairs, each at $250 for two sets. But the way the coupon
code works, you'll need to place separate orders, each for two
sets of headphones at $250 a pair.
And if the spirit moves you
to share some of the savings, here's a link to our
Summary and Recommendation
At $200 or less, the
Solitude X are
moderately priced and high value noise cancelling headphones
that perform comparably to much higher priced 'brand name'
They're not quite as good as the
top of the line Bose QC15 headphones, but they are also
appreciably less expensive (with the Travel Insider special, you
can get two pairs of Solitude X headphones for less than one set
of Bose headphones), making them a better and more
prudent choice for most people.
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2 Mar 2011, 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.