- Excellent noise cancellation
- Excellent accessories bundle
- Fun sound
- Sound quality not in-line with price
- Review Price: £299.99
- 6 power plugs with AC adaptor
- Carry case with strap
- 2 removable, rechargeable batteries
- Active noise cancellation
- Soft leather-effect pads
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.
Bose’s noise-cancelling range, currently made up of the QuietComfort 3 and 15, is the best-known of its kind. It has been around for over 10 years now, but in more recent years has had to deal with the rise of affordable noise-isolating earphones like the Sennheiser CX 300. Both types of headphone attempt to block out noise in different ways, but noise cancelling is far more technologically-advanced (or at least involved) than isolation.
On the back of each QC3 earpiece is a small metal grille. Behind this is a microphone that monitors ambient noise. The noise cancelling brains within the headphones then pipe sound waves equal to the inverse of this ambient noise through the speakers. The peaks and troughs of the two sets of sound waves cancel each other, leaving you with blissful silence.
Of course, it’s not quite as perfect as all that. Noise cancelling creates a sensation of pressure within your ears and a slight – very, very slight in the case of the Bose QuietComfort QC3 – white noise hiss occasionally intrudes.
It’s superbly effective against the low-end hums generated by passing cars, jet engines and the rumble of the wind through a hundred thousand distant leaves. Flicking the on/off switch on the side of the QC3 demonstrates quite how surprisingly noisy most of the world is, and how we’ve become accustomed to so many of nature’s own dirges.
Let’s not descend into a rant about how we should all appreciate the dawn chorus though. They excel in cutting-out this low-end noise, but have much less of an effect on higher frequencies. On the train, the base engine rumble will disappear but you’ll still be able to hear the nasal announcements pipe-in over the tannoy, the conversations of nearby passengers and – worst of all – any screaming babies letting rip in the vicinity. The volume of these sounds will be decreased a bit, but that’s in part due to the only semi-open design of the ear cups.
The on-ear design also has some ramifications for noise cancellation. Ideally, the Bose QuietComfort 3 want the only noise to reach your ears to be that which is let in through the back port, but the on-ear pads offer less complete (or at least less reliable) isolation than the over-the-ears style of the QuietComfort 15. This is something Bose itself has admitted to, but says that the difference is mitigated by the noise cancelling techniques. In our testing, which included trips on trains, across busy roads and jaunts on the London Underground, the headphones provided excellent cancellation within the limits of the technology. Even with no music playing, they turn tube stations into near-empty museums, where all you can hear is the light clip-clop of heels on marble floors.
Although Bose headphones are often much-admired by their owners, they are frequently criticised as offering fairly poor value for money in the sound quality stakes. At £299.99, the QuietComfort 3 compete on price with the Sennheiser HD 650, Denon AH-D2000 and Beyerdynamics DT880.
It’s not a direct comparison of course though because these rivals are not noise-cancelling sets, and in some cases are completely unsuitable for use on public/communal transport. Wear the completely open-backed Sennheiser HD 650 on a plane or train and you won’t make many friends. However, the high price is hard to ignore. Do they sound every penny of that £299.99?
Not quite. The Bose QuietComfort 3 are warm, bassy and offer a pretty wide sound for what’s at heart a closed-back headphone, apart from the bit cut out of the back. It’s lush and thoroughly pleasant to listen to. But it’s not on the same level as rival £200-300 sets.
The sound isn’t muffled, as we heard in the warm ‘n’ bassy Monster Beats Solo, but it lacks the top-end detail we expect at the price. Bass tones can sound slightly bloated too, without the taut discipline that needs to be part of any high-end bass-heavy headphone.
We absolutely are not saying the Bose QuietComfort 3 sound bad – while they are a little soft-sounding, they’re involving and very easy on-the-ear with all kinds of music thanks to the warm signature. But how can we chop off the price tag, in light of the noise cancellation feature, to work out what should be their sonic contemporaries?
The answer is “not enough”. We find it very difficult to reconcile the mid-range sound quality with the high-end price, so unless you’re a buyer Bose is directly targeting with its inclusion of six power plugs and a neat adaptable airplane adaptor we’d suggest saving some money and buying something else. Within its largely self-imposed niche though, they’re very solid performers. If noise isolation just won’t do it for your sixth transatlantic flight of the year, the Bose QuietComfort 3 are more comfortable, and sound better, than the Goldring NS1000 or Panaonic RP-HC700E.
The Bose QuietComfort 3 headphones are very comfy and boast excellent noise cancellation, but the middling sound quality doesn’t quite match up to the high price. If noise reduction is your main concern, these are the bees’ knees (not that you’ll be able to hear said bees buzzing). If it’s merely a neat addition, your wallet would be better served by opting for a standard on-ear or over-the-ears model.
Score in detail
Design & Features 9
Sound Quality 7
|Type||On Ear (Supra-aural)|
|Number of Drivers (Times)||1x|