Noise cancelling earphones like the Bose Quietcomfort 3 have to contend with a lot of confusion about what their kind of ambient noise-busting really entails. Most headphones and earphones block out the outside world to some extent, but few employ as clever a method as this set. What really matters though is how well it works out in the real world, among the engine noise and screaming babies - and whether it justifies the £300 cost.
The QC 3 headphones are Bose's smallest noise-cancelling set. This on-ear pair is daintier than the Quietcomfort 15, which use cups that surround your ears. Here, the pads sit directly on your ears.
The leather effect covers will naturally heat up your ears more than an in-ear headphone on a long tortuous mid-summer tube journey, but no more so than any other on-ear set. Using ultra-soft material, they're actually much more comfortable than most headphones of this type.
This is in part down to the flexibility of the cups. The headband exerts a well-pitched amount of pressure and each cup rotates horizontally around almost 180 degrees. In our experience, on-ear headphones suffer more frequently from comfort and fit problems than just about any other type (IEM issues are frequently raised, but almost always down to using the wrong tip), but the Bose QuietComfort 3 are blissfully easy. No fiddling required - just put them on your head and you should be able to find a comfy fit within seconds.
Part of the comfort factor is also down to the headphones' light weight. At 145g with the headphone cable, the battery pack and extra circuitry demanded by noise cancellation adds no discernable weight in practice. Quite where the circuitry sits isn't clear - it must be within one of the ear cups - but the battery, which slots into the right cup, doesn't unbalance the weight distribution.
This battery supplies up to 20 hours of use, something we can attest to having forgotten to switch them off overnight several times, but weighs just 11g. Just having the cable running down from the other side is enough to even this out. Two battery packs are included in the box, and they slot into a neat custom AC adaptor to recharge. Charging takes around 30 minutes, which is impressively quick given how many hours of playback it'll supply you with. Even if, like us, you accidentally leave the QuietComfort 3 noise cancellation on overnight, it's not hard to keep a backup on-hand.
Without power though, any music playing cuts out completely. Although almost certainly a non-essential choice of Bose's, it's one we understand. There's often a big change in audio quality in over- and on-ear noise cancelling sets between active and passive modes, and ruling-this out this ensures a constant level of quality. This will subsequently improve your relationship with the set. Yes, you can have relationships with headphones.
The rest of the headphones' bundled accessories are impeccably tailored to the QuietComfort 3 audience of travellers and frequent fliers. Six different plug adaptors are included, enough to handle every part of the world we've ever been to, a semi-hard case with a snap-on carry strap and an airplane adaptor. The price of these headphones may dig them into a high-flying niche market, but it's a niche that Bose has served extremely well with add-ons.