“The noise canceling performance was outright excellent.”
- Noise cancellation works as designed; good low frequency response
- Mediocre audio reproduction; cannot turn off noise cancellation
The Bose QuietComfort 2 headphones are among the few that use active noise reduction technology to eliminate background noise electronically. While they have all the makings of a top contender in this category, the sound reproduction left much to be desired. Still, with the intended audience being a 30+ year old crowd who travel frequently, and those that have a hard time finding a quiet space, the QuietComfort 2’s are a great option. The key to these cans lies in the user’s lifestyle. Read on to see what we think about these headphones.
Bose: You either love them or hate them. Audiophiles will complain that their speakers perform poorly in particular music tests, that they’re overpriced for their abilities and just the product of an excellent marketing machine. Average consumers generally drool over Bose products for their everyday ease of use, design, and what in reality is just above average performance. Sounds like a job for Designtechnica!
Features and Design
While some headphones, like the Shure E series and Etymotic canalphones, use passive noise reduction (they physically block from reaching the eardrum), the QuietComfort uses a more comfortable active noise canceling technology. A small microphone is placed on the outside of each earpiece. Circuitry then generates a waveform inverse to the one coming through the microphone, causing destructive interference – eliminating the perception of the sound. This adds complexity to the production of the headphones, which you can bet is passed on to the consumer equaling a higher price. The main benefit of active technology versus passive is the ability to build it into an over the ear headphone without adding the bulk needed to block external noise, which can also effect sound reproduction. On the down side, the headphone has to draw more power and only cancel background noise – not voices.
Externally, the QuietComfort 2’s are no head turners, but they are designed with the 30+ year old person in mind who does not want to look like roaming DJs or technology obsessed kids. The power switch is located on the right earpiece, and there is a single removable cord running to the left earpiece that conceals the noise canceling switch. The headphones require a single AAA battery to operate. The noise canceling switch can be set for Hi and Lo levels of volume while listening to music. Note that this does not increase or decrease the noise canceling ability, it only boosts the volume. The high setting draws additional power from the device, so it drains the battery faster than the low setting. When the cord is removed, the headphones can be used for just noise canceling. The ear cups are very comfortable – possibly the most comfortable we’ve tried.
Accessories packaged in with the headphones include a case (they don’t collapse, but twist to minimize space), 5′ extension cord, dual headphone plug adapter, Â¼” stereo adapter, and a free Bose CD player (currently their special offer).
The QuietComfort 2 headphones use the same Triport technology as their Triport headphones, which they claim offers better low frequency response. When on the low setting, we found the device somewhat hard to drive with an iRiver MP3 player or Apple iPod. Also, to hear anything played through the headphones, they must be switched on. The only way to turn off the noise canceling is to carry around a dead battery; the headphones will not operate unless a battery is physically installed – with or without power. Part of this is probably due to the TriPort technology requiring the power to accurately present sound.
On design, convenience, and comfort the QC2’s get high marks. They can be worn for hours, untethered for non-entertainment use, and the single cord design is ideal for airplanes. Just about the only annoyance is the inability to use them without eating up batteries.
Performance and Testing
The noise canceling performance was outright excellent. We tested them several ways including a two hour flight, in an apartment next to a busy Chicago street, and in a room with two air purifiers and a loud heating system. The QC2’s did exactly what they said they would – they eliminated around 80-90% of the noise. We could still converse with others and hear regular everyday sounds. We tried to foil the noise canceling by switching noise sources abruptly, but they followed every one of our movements.
Sound quality tests were mixed. We decided to use the same mix of music used for our Shure tests, and added a few. Bjork’s “Vespertine” (DVD-Audio and MP3), Mahler Symphony 10 (Berliner Philharmoniker – conducted by Sir Simon Rattle – DVD-Audio), The Cure’s “Disintegration” (Audio CD + MP3), Gary Numan’s “Exile” (CD and MP3), and Delirium’s “Karma” (CD and MP3) from a SoundBlaster Audigy 2 Platinum (for DVD-Audio, CD, and MP3), iRiver SlimX 350 (CD and MP3), and Apple iPod (MP3). All MP3s were encoded with VBR 160kbps through 320 kbps/44kHz. We added Beethoven: Berliner Philharmoniker & Herbert von Karajan – Sym. No.2 & 5 and Juilliard Quartet – Quartet No. 11 (CD and MP3), Danny Elfman’s Music for a Darkened Theater I (CD and MP3), Louis Armstrong – All Time Greatest Hits (CD and MP3), and Frank Sinatra – The Capitol Years 1953-1962 (CD and MP3).
First of all, there is a definite lack of soundstage localization – we could not close out eyes and locate different members of orchestras. It was a disappointment, and probably a trade off for the better low frequency response, but the sound was disappointingly flat for the price.
Frequency response was good, but highs could easily reach shrill levels, making a few Louis Armstrong tracks hard to listen to. The lows were a little muddy, but reached deeper than many headphones. Mids were presented nicely, and voices were clear. A good indication of the sound was in the Beethoven choices – the symphonies sounded very good, but the quartets were too harsh.
Smoother intended sounding music, like Delirium and Gary Numan sounded very good since they rarely reach the upper highs, and the slight muddiness at the lows added atmosphere. The Cure sounded exceptionally good.
For kicks we tried a couple games, Unreal Tournament 2003, Half Life 2, and Doom 3. Explosions were satisfyingly deep, and gunfire accurate. Localization was surprisingly good, considering the poor soundstage performance with music. The QC2 had a little trouble with layered high pitch and low pitch sounds, like a metal grating sound during the sound of an engine.
The most important factors when considering whether the Bose QuietComfort 2s are right for you are your lifestyle and usage. They make excellent travel headphones, and the noise canceling technology is startling when you take them off after wearing them for a while. However, in our audio reproduction quality tests, while subjective, we heard what many audiophiles complain about: somewhat flat and middle of the road performance. At an MSRP of $299, consider this a $100 worth of decent headphone, and $200 worth of noise reduction. While the QuietComfort 2 headphones from Bose don’t compete in sound quality with other $300 headphones, their noise canceling ability is first rate.
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