Tried and Tested: Bose Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones
On a recent trip to New York in business class, I realised that I didn't fit in. I was wearing the same uniform as everyone else (either a suit, with no tie, or chinos and a blue shirt and jacket), I had the same traveller's paunch, and I still got excited by the champagne selection in the lounge. But once on board, everyone pulled out a pair of noise cancelling headphones. I had none. I was clearly an imposter and should find another cabin in which to travel.
As luck would have it, no sooner had I returned, than Bose brought out a new version of their very popular headphones: "QuietComfort 15". Although I have tried noise cancelling headphones when they are provided in business and first class on several airlines, this is the first time I have had the use of a pair that wasn’t either fixed into the shell of the seat, or collected at the end of the flight. It was with joy, therefore, that I received a pair for a fortnight’s trial without having to look over my shoulder as I fled down the air bridge having stolen them.
My first impression was that these were headphones that were going to challenge me to find the right music to test them. They would be offended by pop music, sneering at rock and might refuse to play altogether with heavy metal. As the advertising for them says, “Use them as a concert hall or a sanctuary”. Wagner, they would handle with ease. Luckily, I have some Wagner.
In appearance they are bulky, but lightweight, certainly larger than I expected, but then this helped them encompass the top of my very large head, comfortably cupping my ears, no mean feat, since in recent years they seem to have grown. I’m told this is common, but it’s still distressing. These aren’t the sort of headphones I would wear while walking around town, but then, I rarely do that anyway, so no disadvantage there.
On one of the cups there is a switch, which I turned on, saw a green light, then plugged it into my MP3 player. Within a minute or so I was so absorbed with trying out the full sonic capabilities of them that I nearly missed my train stop. The sound is wonderful. Clear, lacking distortion, and helped by the fact that when you put them over your ears most ambient noise is removed before you start playing your music. In fact, you could quite happily wear them with no music playing at all. Just imagine how much easier it would be to visit relatives if Bose made invisible ones.
On quiet classical pieces I could listen without full volume, and modern music went as loud as I could have wished without distortion. In fact, the sound was such that I couldn’t believe I wasn’t disturbing the people sitting around me on the train, and kept taking them off and putting the cups together to see if any noise was escaping. It wasn’t.
So far, so gushing, but a few niggles. The sound is lovely, but it can seem a little distant if you are used to good “in the ear” headphones. That was one of the reasons I couldn’t believe others couldn’t hear the sound, because it gave the impression of being all around me rather than intimate to just myself. Perhaps you get used to that, but on top of that the sound wasn’t particularly exciting. It was refined, almost middle-aged. I gave the headphones to colleagues sitting opposite and they listened and smiled and then gave them back. They weren’t bowled over, and they certainly weren’t asking for one of the publicity cards that are included in the carrying case (“Customers tell us they’re often asked about their Bose QueitComfort 15 headphones. For your convenience, this courtesy card is yours to pass along” and then there’s the website address). For the price of these headphones, I’d want to not only be impressed, but also to impress others.
Secondly, the next time I used them, they didn’t work. Very upsetting when I had taken a gamble on them, left my normal headphones at home and packed them to go to New York. The switch was on, but no green light. I went three days without music, came back, complained to someone and they told me there was a battery in one of the headphones which needed replacing every 35 hours or so. I must have left it on, and so it had run out.
Obviously this was stupid of me, but it does point to one disadvantage. I don’t carry around batteries with me when travelling, and already have too many plugs, adaptors and cables.
Still, these would be lovely to own. They come with their own sleek travelling case, the foam padding is comfortable without being oppressive, and didn’t cause, well, any sweating in warm conditions, and even after a couple of hours of listening with new batteries, I was able to take them off and then put them on again without grimacing. They also come with some adaptors so you can plug them into the aircraft system and not have to worry about the hygiene of the ones provided by the airline. So no struggling to disembark with the aircraft's IFE system dragging behind you.
As a last note, for listening to podcasts and talking books, as well as watching DVDs on my laptop, these headphones are perfect and more comfortable than in the ear headphones. They also suit the surround sound you get with most films.
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