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Bose QuietComfort 15 Review

Pros

  • Extremely comfortable
  • Very effective noise cancellation

Cons

  • Give give a strange pressure effect on ears

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £229.99
  • Active noise cancellation
  • Carry case
  • Removable cable, with spare
  • Airplane adapter
  • 35-hour battery life

Bose is the best-known name in noise cancelling headphones, bar none. Step onto a train anywhere in Greater London on a weekday morning and you’re like to see a pair of them, probably aboard the bonce of a suited gentleman. But do the QuietComfort 15 deserve their popularity, and are they really worth almost £250?

In audio snob circles, brands like Bose rarely get much of a break. Spending a fair old whack on marketing and the technology that goes into their class-leading noise cancellation tech, many say the sound quality doesn’t match up to the hefty price. More on our view later, but where the QuietComfort can stand up to any rival is comfort.
Bose QC15 review 12
So carefully-managed is the light pressure the leather pads apply on your head that we could almost believe Bose spent millions in R&D working just on this element. It’s not firm enough to make running with the QuietComfort 15 a good idea, but they do all-but disappear on your head – while taking on the extra weight of an AAA battery, to power the noise cancellation feature.

It provides all this comfort without anything too ostentatious-looking too. The ear pads are around an inch thick, as is the headband padding, but manage to feel softer than almost any other we’ve tried. Next to Sennheiser’s commuter staple HD-series on-ear headphones, they feel sumptuous.Bose QC15 review 4

As the QuietComfort name implies, to us at least, these headphones are much more about comfort than a cool look, though. Their conservative silver and black design has long been associated with a middle-class, middle-age demongraphic. And while that’s as much down to Bose’s marketing as their actual look, they offer little of the stylistic elegance of the similarly popular Monster Beats range.

The headband sticks a little too far out from the side of your head, and the seams across the back of the cups don’t seem to have been cared by for an aesthetic pedant – as all seams should be.
Bose QC15 review 16

From a more technical perspective, though, the QC 15 design is excellent. The single AAA battery that powers the noise cancellation is kept under a plastic flap on top of the right cup, hidden by the headband while you’re wearing them, and the cable is removable. It uses a proprietary cable system, predictably enough, but builds-in a high/low gain switch in to boost output when using a lower-output media player. However, these headphones aren’t hugely difficult to drive – an iPod Classic fares just fine on the lower setting. Bose QC15 review 2
The cups swivel 90 degrees for easier storage

Although not beautiful, something we’d argue the QuietComfort 15 have in common with most of Bose’s products, they are nevertheless brilliantly-designed, with more concessions to practicality and comfort than we’d usually expect.

The accessory package is also good. There’s a high-quality protective carry case, an airline adaptor and a secondary cable. One of the cables features a microphone/remote housing, the other doesn’t.

There is one thing we don’t like, though. Inside the case is a business card holder jammed full of business cards to give admiring onlookers, telling them where to find out more about your amazing headphones – because apparently all QuietComfort 15 owners are that smug.

Bose QC15 review 1

Unlike the £20-more-expensive QuietComfort 3, Bose’s top on-ears headphones, there are no rechargeable batteries included. As the QuietComfort 15 run off a standard AAA battery, there’s no need for the EU/US/SA power adapters and spare battery of that model. Whether you prefer a proprietary lithium ion solution or the universal style here is a point of preference, but it’s something to consider. Never one to dump scores of products on its fans, Bose is yet to produce a li-on powered over-ears model.

In the past few years, headphones have upped their gadget status. Celebrity endorsements and the greater attention paid to style has encouraged many more “mainstream” buyers to splash out more money on their cans. However, noise cancellation remains something of a niche, limited to expensive on- and over-ears pairs like the Bose QuietComfort 15 and a smattering of relatively unpopular in-ear alternatives.

Cancellation shouldn’t be confused with noise isolation, whereby external sound is suppressed simply by either your earphones or headphones being in the way (exceedingly effective though this can be).. In the QuietComfort 15, microphones behind little grilles on the back of each earcup monitor ambient noise. Then, an inverse wave of this noise is passed through the headphones speakers, rendering background noise inert – or cancelling it out. Bose QC15 review 10

This ported design makes the Bose QuietComfort 15 leak sound a little more than fully-enclosed headphones, but part of the idea of noise cancellation is that it means you won’t have to turn the volume up as high, diminishing the annoyance of folk nearby. Apple earbuds blasting out tinny fuzz these are not.

Bose’s noise cancellation is superb. Short of the company having a patent on “good cancellation”, we’re not quite sure why alternatives like the House of Marley Destiny TTR and Blackbox solutions never seem to quite match up. The Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones decimate all low-end noise. Engine growls and the droney buzz of air conditioning units disappear, making them perfect for use on trains, buses and planes. Just walking along a road, the extent to which they dampen the din of passing cars is quite remarkable.Bose QC15 review 15

Noise cancellation is less effective at scrubbing-out sound higher-up the frequency spectrum, though. It won’t entirely eliminate people’s voices, especially female ones, but it does take the edge off nearby conversations. And perhaps being able to hear people isn’t such a bad thing, when the alternative may mean missing your bus/train stop or a free miniature bottle of wine during a trip across the Atlantic.

However, if you’re looking for something to block out the noises made by co-habitees or those of a place less afflicted by the modern low-end burble than a city, we’d advise considering the noise isolating option with either IEM or closed-back, over-ears headphones. You’re absolutely paying a premium for noise cancellation here, and while it comes with huge benefits, they won’t be worth the cost for everyone.Bose QC15 review 7

We also advise trying to evaluate noise cancelling before laying-down more than £200. Due to the simple physics involved, the QuietComfort 15 increase pressure in your ear, a sensation that some people find uncomfortable, leading to headaches and nausea. We’ve suffered from both in the past, but, like most things, you tend to get used to it – generally without revisiting your lunch in the process.

The Bose QuietComfort 15 only output music when noise cancelling is on. Flip the switch on the back of the right ear cup and they go dead completely. As an AAA battery provides up to 35 hours of music, this isn’t a huge concern.  But these aren’t headphones to take on a trailblazing expedition across the Australian outback.

Bose’s QuietComfort range is tricky to assess. With an RRP of £279.99, the QuietComfort 15 are clearly expensive headphones, and from a much closer inspection at what they can do, a hefty chunk of this goes into the noise cancellation and comfort parts of the equation.

They sound great, with the important caveat “for a noise cancelling pair”. Bass is fairly well-managed and the sound signature is enjoyable, but it won’t completely satisfy audio purists with a £300 budget.

Bose QC15 review 6

There’s a deliberate attempt to make the sound warm and smooth, with a slight emphasis on the low-mids that can soften music in a rather pleasant fashion. They are about comfort, after all. However, like spraying your recommended daily intake of fruit and vegetables with a coating of sugar, it’s not altogether right.

Up against other popular pairs like the Beats Solo HD, though, the QuietComfort 15 demonstrate much better balance and an altogether more grown-up sound. However, if you’re willing to forego the noise cancelling and the mostly-delightful experience of wearing the things, better sound quality can be had for the price. While treble clarity is good here, somewhat limited resolution and imaging stops the headphones from entering the big leagues the price may suggest they belong in. Bose QC15 review 12

For at-home use, we don’t think the Bose QuietComfort 15 are a great choice. Here, few of their benefits shine, making the high price seem all the more imposing. However, as a traveller’s headphone, they’re simply the best. The noise cancellation is excellent, they’re just as comfortable as advertised, suitable for hour after hour of listening, and they outperform most rivals – such as the Goldring NS1000 and Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7b – on sound.

Verdict

Comfortable and capable of blocking out the clamorous noise of the city, the Bose QuietComfort 15 can improve a work commute like few other over-ear headphone sets. Happy to be worn for hours, they’ll take on duties at work too. Out-and-about, they thrive, but as an at-home musical partner you can get better sound quality for the same price.

MORE: Best noise cancelling headphones to buy 2014

Trusted Score


Score in detail

  • Value 7
  • Design & Features 9
  • Sound Quality 7

Features

Type Enclosed (Circumaural)
Wireless No
Noise Cancelling Yes
Microphone Yes
Inline Volume No
Number of Drivers (Times) 1x
Modular Cabling Yes
Remote Control No

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