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The Solitude X headphones by Outside the Box (Plane Quiet) are their best ever.

The headphones look good and sound even better, making them a great choice for people wanting excellent quality at a value price point.

 
 
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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 sounds.

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.

Executive Summary

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 headphones.

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 in 2001.

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 bargain).

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 things.

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 QuietComfort range).

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 explanation.

Headphones Description

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 headphones.

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 QC15.

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 QC15.

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 cancellation capability.

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

Sound Quality

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 off.

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 environments.

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 kHz.

In real world terms, they sound about as loud as the QC15 headphones for any given audio signal.

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).

Noise Cancelling

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 board one.

We tested the Solitude X alongside the Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones in all three cases.

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 noise.

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 noise reduction.

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 far.

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.

Please 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 contribution page.  Thank you.

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' products.

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.

Recommended.
 

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Originally published 2 Mar 2011, last update 02 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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