I recently purchased a set of Bose QuietComfort 2 Noise Cancelling Headphones. I had read about them but got a chance to try them on a recent flight to the US as was sitting near someone who had a set. That brief encounter was enough to convince me to get some of my own for the trip home.
The "Mark 2" version has all the electronics & battery housed inside the sleek ear-cups. Much neater than earlier versions had a separate control box for these. They are light and fold to slip into the good quality hard case, supplied for travel, but are still much more bulky to carry than portable headband/ear-bud phones. Its worth the effort because of the performance. They are also expensive but this easier to justify living in New Zealand where flying anywhere means enduring at least a 4-12 hour flight.
The Bose QuietComfort 2's combat noise in several ways:
- Physical Isolation: They are a circumaural "over the ear" design which provide significant reduction in noise by sealing against your head around the ear. This seal is effective without the strong "clamping" that some other circumaural phones use. Sometimes you can get "hot ears" with this type of design due to a lack of ventilation. I have not had that problem with these phones even on a 12 hour flight between Los Angeles to Auckland, a good test!
- Electronic Cancellation: Microphones in the ear-cups detect external noise. They pass this to circuitry that creates an out of phase signal which is sent to the speaker in the ear-cup. The "noise" and the "anti-noise" cancel each other out leaving a quiet zone in the ear-cup. This is possible thanks to clever electronics and the controlled environment that is created by the sealed ear-cup allowing precise timing & phase control. There is also additional filtering and equalization to compensate for different source volume and noise levels.
- Now add music: Sound you want to hear is created in this "quiet zone" while external noise is still being cancelled.
- You can learn more about the Noise Cancelling Technology at the Learning Center on the Bose website.
I found the noise reduction in the cabin of a Boeing 747 was significant. The sealing of the headphones alone reduces the combined engine and aerodynamic cabin roar. Switch on the circuitry and you experience a strange "decompression feeling", which passes quickly, as most of the remaining noise is cancelled out to leave a little more than a background hum. It's worth wearing them for this alone and you can run the noise cancellation without being connected to any audio source. In this mode they simply remove ambient noise with the advantage that you have no cables (the connection cable is removable). You do still hear some aircraft sounds and also enough speech to converse but it makes flying much more pleasant. I even slept, which I don't usually manage on a plane, with them on in "noise cancellation mode".
The other benefit of noise cancellation is that you can reduce the volume of in-flight entertainment. You are not battling to drown out the background noise with extra volume. Its hard to quantify this but I was running my Minidisc player at less than 1/4 volume with the QuietComfort 2's compared to the Sony ear-buds I normally use simply because the external noise is removed. That alone means a significant reduction in fatigue.
You get all the required adapters (Single 3.5mm, Dual 3.5mm for aircraft and 6.3mm) & the headphones can switch for "Hi" (aircraft/home hifi) and "Lo" (portable player) sources. I've tried with all kinds of sources and even my Minidisc player, which has a feeble headphone output, drives them easily.
Bose claim the AAA battery powering the electronics will last for 35 hours but I have not managed to run mine flat yet. The "power" LED on the ear-cup flashes when the remaining battery life drops below 5 hours left as a warning. I tend to use in short one or two hour sessions except when flying so this may be extending the life further.
As for sound quality with music I would say they are more mid-range than their upper range pricing would suggest. They have a good overall balance with powerful, sometimes a little overpowering, bass response but seem to have a slightly limited soundstage. Most of the action is "in your head" at, or between, the ear-cups rather than expanding beyond them. Not sure if this is because of the circumaural design or all the sound processing that's going on. If listening in a silent environment you do hear a slight background hiss, I presume from the noise cancellation processing, but even a low volume music signal will mask this. These are minor points and I still find them great for music even if noise cancellation isn't required.
I'm also getting lots of use from them when not flying. Ever noticed how noisy office air conditioning or even a PC fan is? You do when the noise is gone! I could mention another office noise that gets cancelled out but my boss might read this!
There are cheaper headphones out there but none I've tried can match the musical performance and ability to deal with a noisy environment that the Bose QuietComfort 2 Headphones offer. Besides, what price can I put on the ability to sleep during a long flight when, without them, I haven't done that before.
Sometimes you just can't avoid noise but the Bose QuietComfort 2 Headphones give you a choice to replace it with "quiet" or "quiet + entertainment".
(Photo credit & Trademark Copyrights Bose Corporation)