Bose QuietComfort™ 3 Acoustic Noise Cancelling® Headset
Bose continues to set
new record high prices for products that look good but
perform only adequately.
Their QuietComfort 3
headphones are smaller, but not lighter. An on the ear
rather than around the ear design allows for the size
reduction, but an annoying rechargeable battery (and its
charger) push the total carry weight up above that of the
larger QuietComfort 2.
Part of a series on noise
reducing headphones - click the links on the right for extra
reviews and commentary
The Bose Quiet Comfort 3
headphones represent a shift in design philosophy, moving
from Bose's earlier 'around the ear' design to an 'on the ear'
design; perhaps in a desire to make the headphones even smaller
This brings with it a different
series of trade-offs, and most people seem to have a clear
preference for either on the ear or around the ear type designs.
Inexplicably, Bose has
weakened a potentially good product by using a rechargeable
battery rather than a regular disposable AAA battery. The
inconvenience of the battery's short life and the need to travel
with yet another charger are major negatives.
Noise cancelling performance is
slightly inferior to that offered by the QC2.
Bose has set an
incredibly high price on these headphones. And if you buy
a second battery and an international charger, your total cost
rises to a ridiculous $450. Shame on Bose for such
rapacious pricing on both their headphones and the accessories
that go with them.
Lastly, if you're seeking a
better value but almost identical headset, consider the
What You Get
The $349 headphones are
packed into an attractive outer cardboard box. Inside is a
packet of information, a carry box inside which are the
headphones, and a separate plastic box with accessories.
Lastly, there's a pack of dessicant to keep everything
The information packet
contains a quick reference card that purports to tell you all
you need to know in a series of illustrations with no words, a
warranty card, and an owner's guide.
The owners guide has ten
pages of information in English, and then repeats the
information in Spanish, French, and something like Japanese or
Chinese. The instructions are well written and easy to
The warranty is for a one
year period, not nearly as generous as the lifetime warranty on
the competing Solitude headphones.
Inside the accessory box is
a carry strap for the headphone case, a gold plated 1/4" adapter
plug for using the headphones with, eg, a home stereo system,
and a gold plated 63" extension cord.
The headphone carrying case
is similar to the QC2 case, but slightly smaller - about 3/4 of
an inch less wide and less tall, and 1/2" less thick.
Frequent travelers who already have a way too full carry on bag
of road warrior gadgets will appreciate this slight reduction in
Inside the headphone
carrying case are the headphones themselves, plus the detachable
connector cord that goes between the headphones and any music
source, the battery recharger, and a gold plated adapter to
convert between the two prong plugs required by some airline
seats and the regular plug on the connecting cord. There
is also a business card holder with ten business card sized
advertisements for the QC3 - Bose hope you'll choose to pass
these on to admiring fellow passengers.
The headphone carrying case
has one surprising omission compared to the case for the QC2.
It has no zipper pouch to store the connecting cable in; instead
you're apparently expected to just squash it in and leave it
loose. This slightly increases the chances of losing the
cable and is a puzzling omission. Perhaps if they left out
the business card holder and the advertising cards for their
product, they'd have space for the cable holder like they offer
in the QC2 carry case.
QC3 headphones are very different to the earlier model QC1 and
QC2. The obvious difference is the QC3 headphones are much
smaller, as this picture showing the QC3 headphones alongside
the QC2 clearly shows.
The QC2 headphones are
designed to fit around your ear, the QC3 headphones are designed
to fit on your ear, and so have much smaller earcups. They
also have a smaller headband.
Because the QC3 are smaller,
their 'on the head' weight, without cord, but with battery, is
less than the QC2. They weigh 5.2 oz compared to 6.2 oz
for the QC2.
But in their carry case and
complete with the recharger, the total weight of the QC3 kit is
15.7 oz compared to 13.7 oz for the QC2. The QC3 carry
case is smaller, but it does have a greater weight, and while
none of us will obsess over an ounce or two here or there, the
surprising fact is that Bose's smaller newer headphones end up
being heavier than their earlier bigger model.
The QC3s don't have a volume
control, just a single on-off switch and power indicator that
lights up when the headphones are switched on.
The switch is on the right ear piece
and the rechargeable
battery also fits into the top of this ear piece.
Perhaps my ears are more
sensitive than many people's. I don't like sticking
ear-plugs into them, and similarly I don't like using a set of
'on the ear' headphones, I prefer to use 'around
the ear' headphones.
The around the ear style
press onto your skull and form a seal against the skin on your
skull. The on your ear style press onto your ear and form
a seal against the outside of your ear. It seems the seal
is better around the more evenly shaped skull, and there's less
sensation of pressure on the skin/skull then on the cartilage of
Comfort is a very important
issue, particularly if you're going to be using the headphones
for a long flight, maybe as long as ten or fifteen hours.
My personal preference, from
the comfort issue, is for the around the ear style of
headphones, either the Bose Quiet
Comfort 2 or the Plane Quiet
Solitude headphones. On the ear headphones are
definitely smaller, but in our opinion are not as comfortable to
wear for extended periods of many hours at a time while on a
You probably know your own
thoughts about this issue, and so can guess which style is more
likely to be your choice.
The ear pieces have very
soft padding on them to make them as comfortable as possible and
to mould to the shape of your ear as closely as possible.
This helps to passively block out sound.
Unlike the QC2, the QC3
doesn't have a level selector switch built into its connector
cable. This is actually a relief - the level selector
switch on the QC2 was in a very inconvenient place (you had to
unplug the cable to access it), and with improved electronics
and no need for a level selector switch the headphones are more
convenient in use.
But, and like the QC2, the
QC3 is gratuitously designed to force you to buy only
Bose connecting cables. Sooner or later, the connecting
cable is sure to wear out (or simply to be lost) and Bose seem
to have deliberately designed the connecting cable to be of
non-standard size and type at the end that plugs into the
headphones, preventing you from simply buying a replacement
cable for $5 from Radio Shack. Instead, you must pay $15
plus shipping from Bose, and if you lose/break a cable while
you're traveling, you're pretty much stuck without a replacement
until you can get one shipped to wherever you are. This is
a bad example of Bose choosing to put their greed ahead of our
In terms of noise
cancelling, the QC2 appears to offer slightly better
performance, both in terms of passive blocking (ie with the
noise cancelling turned off - simply the reduction in sound by
wearing the headphones) and active blocking (ie with the noise
cancelling turned on).
The effectiveness of the QC3
to cancel noise - particularly passively - probably depends a
bit on the size and shape of your ears. The chances are
that some ears offer a better fit and seal than others, which
might explain why there have been a wide range of reader
comments about how well the QC3 headphones do (or, more notably,
don't) work for them.
When listened to in a
moderately quiet environment, the QC3 headphones have a similar
low level of electronic hiss as do the QC2 headphones, and less
than the Solitude or Plane Quiet headphones. But in a
noisier environment, it is hard to hear any difference in hiss
at all - the hiss is drowned out by the remaining noise that
isn't cancelled out, and so this is not a very important issue
if you're planning to use the headphones primarily in noisy
places such as airplanes, rather than in comparatively quieter
places (such as offices).
A new feature of these
headphones is a rechargeable battery. All noise
cancelling headphones need power to operate their electronics,
and most seem to use a regular AAA battery, with a life of
perhaps 30 - 40 hours per battery.
Bose chose to provide a
Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery, with about a 20 hour
maximum life. This battery life will reduce with
each subsequent recharge cycle, and by the time you've recharged
the battery perhaps 500 times, it will be down to something less
than 10 hours between charges.
Twenty hours might seem like
a long time, but on an international trip, it is barely enough
for the flights one way, plus waiting time at airports, etc.
In other words, you'll always need to travel with the battery
charger and/or spare batteries.
Furthermore, these batteries
slowly lose their charge - they lose perhaps 5% - 10% of their
charge every month even if not being used. This means that
if you're storing your headset between trips, you'll probably
want to recharge the battery before leaving home; and if you
forget, you might find yourself with only a half (or less)
charged battery, meaning the headphones stop working in the
middle of a flight.
While this isn't a problem
with a regular AAA battery powered device (simply put in a new
battery) you're completely stuck, if on a plane, with the Bose
rechargeable battery powered QC3.
Perhaps you might think a
good solution is to always travel with a spare battery.
They are light (0.4 oz) and don't take up much space, indeed
there's even a helpful space for one in the carry case, so this
seems a practical idea and partial solution.
If you feel that way, you've
walked right into a financial trap. Bose will be delighted
to sell you another battery (although at time of writing they
are on 3 - 4 week backorder), and they'll charge you an
outrageous $50 for the privilege.
And, wait - how about the
charger. The regular charger comes with a standard US plug
on it. But if you're traveling internationally, Bose will
be happy to sell you an international charger with a series of
replaceable plugs for most other counties and their different
power supplies. But they'll charge you another ridiculous
$50 for this unit.
Bose seem to have a simple
rule of thumb when pricing their products - take their cost
price and multiply it ten fold. The QC3 probably costs
them less than $35 a set (they are made in China), and the
batteries and chargers probably cost them less than $5 each.
With such huge margins, it is fair and reasonable to expect Bose
to include an international type charger as part of their
standard kit, and to enclose a spare second battery as well.
Instead, Bose hope you'll
spend another $100 - in addition to the $350 it costs to buy the
headphones to start with. In total, $450 for headphones
and a decent set of accessories.
In contrast, the QC2
headphones seem better in all respects and have no need for
another $100 in accessories. Their purchase price - $300 -
is accordingly their true complete price. And the Solitude
headphones, at $200, are, as always, by far the value leader,
offering something almost indistinguishable to the QC2, but at
Listening to Music
I continue to maintain that
noise cancelling headphones should not be compared with top end
audiophile headphones in terms of the quality of the sound they
provide. The extra processing caused by the noise
cancelling, and by definition, the noisy background in which
they're being used, both detract from the ability of the
headphones to recreate a fully realistic concert/studio musical
Having said that, there is
of course no reason not to prefer a set of headphones that sound
'better' than a set which don't. But how to rate
headphones in terms of which sound better than which other ones?
Adults have almost come to blows when it comes to sharing
opinions on this topic!
So with considerable
trepidation, I tested the QC3 headphones alongside a set of QC2
headphones and also the new Plane Quiet NC7 Noise Cancelling Headphones.
Regrettably, the QC3
headphones suffer the same design flaw as the QC2 (and QC1
before that too) - if you turn the power off (or, if the battery
gets flat) you don't hear any sound at all. Particularly
with the limited life rechargeable battery, this is a real
concern. The Plane Quiet NC7 headphones, like all others
in the Plane Quiet series, still feed through music when their
power is switched off, but the QC3 does not.
The QC3s offered a slightly
louder sound level than the QC2 (perhaps 2dB extra) and were
almost exactly the same volume as the NC7s (which have a volume
control on them - I had the NC7's with volume control on maximum
and noise cancelling switched on).
In terms of sound quality,
there was very little difference between the three headphones.
All offered a rich warm coloration - perhaps slightly more
prominent mid/low range and slightly less prominent upper/treble
notes, but inoffensively so. The QC2 headphones seemed to
be the least satisfying, but only by a very small margin, and
this may have been partially due to the lower volume that came
through (and that can easily be cured by turning up the volume
on your player a slight amount).
The QC3 and NC7 were very
close to identical in sound quality (an amazing scenario
considering the NC7 costs less than a quarter the price of the
QC3 ($80 compared to $350).
The NC7s had more noticeable
hiss in a quiet environment than the QC3s, but in a quiet
environment, the noise cancelling circuitry of the NC7s could be
switched off, removing all headphone related hiss entirely, but
the QC3s lacked this ability.
In a noisy environment, I'd
prefer the $80 NC7 headphones. In a quiet environment, it
is more a toss-up between the NC7 (with noise cancelling off) or
the QC3, but the huge price differential speaks overwhelmingly
in favor of the NC7s.
Which Headphones Should You
The Bose Quiet Comfort 2
headphones ($299) are better than all other products, but are
also $100 more expensive than the closest competitor (the
and almost four times more than the new
Plane Quiet NC7 Noise Cancelling 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.
The Bose Quiet Comfort 3
headphones ($349 or $449 with spare battery and international
charger) are not as good as the QC2 in terms of noise
cancelling, but are considerably more expensive. They are
smaller, but only by a very minor amount, and they weight more.
Should you pay this much
extra for apparently no benefits? Almost certainly not.
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 $349 price point.
If you don't already have a
favorite retailer for such things, we'd recommend
Not only are they a well established and highly regarded
company, but after Bose's refusal to cooperate, they have kindly sent me review sets of
both the QC2 and QC3 headphones. So if
you decide to buy the QC2s based on the reviews on this site,
perhaps you could
reward Magellan's kindness by choosing them.
Magellan's also has a very
generous no questions asked return policy.
The Bose Quiet Comfort 3
noise cancelling headphones seem to represent a backward step
for Bose. Their noise cancelling is not as good as the
QC2, and the headphones themselves are not quite as comfortable
The rechargeable battery is
a good idea in theory, but a bad idea in practice, and adding
the extra cost of a spare battery and international recharger
adds an outrageous $100 more to the already way too high price
The QC3 would be an
understandable addition to the Bose product range if it was
listed for less than the QC2. But selling them for more
makes no sense, and we recommend people not to purchase them.
If you want Bose headphones,
buy their QC2. But if you want best value and almost
identical performance, consider the
Plane Quiet NC7 Noise Cancelling Headphones (to be
reviewed on Aug 25) or Solitude headset instead. You'll
save massive amounts of money.
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18 Aug 2006, 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.