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Real world test and review of the Bose QuietComfort 15 (QC15)

ReviewEdward Kiledjian2 Comments

Having spent a good chunk of my time in airplanes, I am always looking for the next great invention that will make my travelling life a little easier or more pleasant. Noise reducing headphones and In Ear Monitors fit into the second category by reducing the annoyance of that crying child in the next row or the constant annoying low hum of the airplanes engines.

I have a tried a tone of different earphones that I will be reviewing in future write-ups but this one is dedicated to the Bose QuietComfort 15 earphones. People either love or hate them.

Price and Noise Cancellation

At close to $300, these are fairly expensive and audiophiles expect “better audio” from a device costing this much and they are right but it all comes down to your priorities. Assuming you are more interesting in the noise cancellation feature than the absolute quality of the audio reproduction then this is the device for you. I’ll talk about the audio quality a little later in the article.

Of all the noise cancellation headphones I have tested (Audio Technica, Sennheiser, Sony, etc) the bose QuietComfort 15 provide the best active noise cancellation performance of any device. Let’s be clear, there is no magic device that blocks out all external sound but even with the music off, the QuietComfort 15 provide an unparalleled level of quiet. Start a song and the rest of the remaining noise just drifts away.

My covering your ears, it passively blocks out some of the external sounds. Then little microphones in the device picks up the remaining sound and produce an exact opposite sound wave which effectively cancels most of it out.

For noise cancellation, this get’s a solid 9/10.

Build

When I first used the QuietComfort 15, I was surprised at how cheap the product felt. It seemed to be made of cheap light plastic and was very light, compared to other headphones competing in the same price range. The fake leather headband and ear pads are comfortable but again feel cheap.

The devices uses easily replaceable AAA  batteries which was a welcome change from their previous Quietcomfort 3 model (which used proprietary rechargeable batteries). Bose claims that a AAA battery will provide about 30 hours of listening enjoyment and they have an indicator light on the side when it’s time to replace it. If the battery dies, you can no longer use the headphones (there is no passive listening). This one is a bummer.  You should be able to use the headphones without a battery (losing the noise cancellation of course).

When purchasing expensive devices like this, you want replaceable parts and I am happy to report that the cable is replaceable if it were to break.

The device is designed to sit on an angle on your head which means it will not move when you rest your seat on the airline seat. It is these small elements that show how much care went into the design of the product. Being light makes it feel slightly cheap but it also means you can wear the product for extended periods of time without feeling tired. The ear cups provide a solid seal around your ears without being uncomfortable.

For build, this get’s a solid 7/10.

Sound Quality

And now back to sound quality. These are not neutral earphones and if you are looking for a true audiophile listening experience, you will be disappointed. The lows (bass) are strong and marked. The mids often sound metallic and the highs are easily blow out. The Bose Quietcomfort 15 seem to be designed to play music at medium levels because anything above 70-80% volume causes a marked blowout of sound quality.

It comes down to the style of music you listen to. Styles like pop, classical and jazz will sound acceptable but anything that has an artificial EQ (not neutral) like hip hop, R&B, trance, dance will sound horrible unless you manually adjust your device’s equalizer.

When watching movies with their original Dolby soundtrack intact, you will be pleasantly surprised. I found these to be excellent for movie playback. To really benefit from this, use high quality video source like those found on the iTunes store. Cheap homemade DVD rips usually have badly encoded audio which won’t allow the devices true potential to come through.

Headphone amp

I tested the Bose QC15 with these portable amps: 

  • FiiO E11
  • JDS Labs CMoyBB
  • HeadRoom Total AirHead 

I found that the Bose QuietComfort 15 does not need a headphone amplifier and using any of the above didn’t really improve sound quality or make a material change in audio reproduction.

Verdict

If bought for the right reason (primarily noise cancellation and not audio reproduction quality), this device is exceptional. Amazing noise cancellation, very comfortable to wear and standard battery use.

But is it worth the $300 price tag? For me, personally, the answer is no. For almost half the price, I can get an Audio Technica ATH-ANC7B which has good noise cancellation and better audio reproduction (a review of this device will be written shortly). But I know a lot of people who bought these and loved them. After reading my review, if you still think they may work for you, buy it from a retail location that accepts returns and take them for a spin at home. In store tests using their test booth is next to useless.