I remember listening to Rush Limbaugh about five years ago when he announced he wasn't going deaf as a side-effect of opioid addiction. Following his high-pitched squeal of a monologue, there was a commercial featuring a deeper-voiced recording of Limbaugh extolling the aural virtues of some Bose radio.
Bose: sound good enough for the deaf.
Just about every technology enthusiast has an opinion of Bose—and it’s probably the same one—and yet the average consumer ranks the Bose brand up there with the likes of Apple Computer and Sony. Like its brand brethren Apple Computer and Sony, Bose has its own retail stores, which is where my wife bought the QuietComfort 2 headphones three years ago. It was on the ride home, while giving the noise-cancelling efficacy a real test, she uttered words fit for a glossy advertisement.
"It's like owning a luxury car for $300."
If a technology enthusiast wants noise-cancelling gear, they buy from a company with a name you can't even pronounce, like Etymotic Research. But what if earbuds make your head explode on planes and subways, or you don't have the time or inclination for exhaustive research, or you just don’t care? Bose is there for you, at the mall, in magazines, on the radio and TV. Not surprisingly, my wife recently retired her QC2s in favor of the new QC3 headphones, which left me $349 poorer, but with a nagging question. Is there more to the Bose QuietComfort 3 headphones than brand?
The QC3 headphones are tightly packed into a semi-hard case with strap, along with accessories and audio accouterments, all with gold ends, of course. Everyone knows the importance of gold ends when using audio equipment. They are shiny. Besides the headphones, you get:
custom lithium-ion battery that is expensive to replacewall-socket battery charger4.5 ft. audio cord with a 3.5 mm plug on one end, and a smaller plug of some indeterminate size that connects to the headphones, so you are screwed if you lose the cord5 ft. audio extension cord1/4 in. stereo adapter plugdual-plug adapter for interfacing with high-fidelity audio systems found on airlinesminimalist user manualbusiness card holder and 10 courtesy cards, so you can pimp headphones for Bose on your own time
As for the headphones themselves, silver is the first thing you notice. Bose has gone with a more iPod-friendly look for the QC3s, and certainly one can find the headphones being demoed with iPods in Apple Stores everywhere. The headband is easily adjustable, and the ear cushions are removable and replaceable for those whose ceruminous glands produce an abundance of ear wax.
The top of the right ear cup is where the rechargeable battery goes, and it’s probably good to say a word about that: expensive. While the QC2 headphones used a AAA battery, it’s probably not accurate to say the new Li-ion battery is simply a money grab on the part of Bose. It’s hard to imagine fitting a AAA battery in the QC3 headphones because of size. However, one may need to spend an extra $50 for a spare battery, or possibly not. The battery is rated for 20 hours, and battery life has been excellent so far in my experience. It seems unlikely the battery will run down before you can recharge, and recharge times have never been more than two hours for my wife, usually much less, so an extra battery is probably not needed.
As for the rest of the physical layout, The bottom of the left ear cup is where you connect the audio cable. The power switch/indicator light resides on the right ear cup. Powering the headphones is required to use them for music, and doing so also activates the noise-cancellation technology. So, how do the QuietComfort 3 headphones sound—or not sound?
Note how the cups of the QC3 headphones are almost small enough to fit inside the cups of the QC2 headphones. Part of the reason for this is because the QC2 headphones made use of both active and passive noise-cancellation technology. You may have seen passive noise-cancellation technology in places like shooting ranges and driveways where leafs are being blown, that being putting big cups over the ears and making you look like an air-traffic controller. With the advent of the QC3 headphones, Bose has leveraged their evolving engineering expertise with buzzword marketing, the patented Acoustic Noise Cancelling technology.
Microphones in the earcups actively monitor what you hear, including unwanted outside sound. The difference between the unwanted sound and the desired sound is then electronically processed, creating a correction signal that acts to negate the unwanted noise. The speaker within each earcup is then fed the correction signal.
The technical term for that would be interference, but that would only confuse the average consumer, which is the point when judging the Bose QuietComfort 3 headphones. My wife thinks they work great, better in every way than the previous generation, better in the car, better on a plane, just better. I too find them to be better, at least as good as the QC2 headphones, especially since the noise-cancelling programming in the QC2s generated an audible hiss in quiet environments. I found this irritating when listening to music, which brings us to the next subjective question. How do the QC3 headhpones sound when listening to music?
Bose likes to talk about their patented TriPort Acoustic Headphone Whatever technology. This includes little ports on the outside of the earcups to let the drivers “breathe,” aiding in producing those great bass sounds Bose is known for among technology enthusiasts. However, the truth is the sound quality probably doesn’t matter. The target market isn’t the audiophile, despite what the advertising might say, but rather those who are happy buying 128 kbps music from the iTunes store. My wife has no complaints, but then what weight would complaints from someone whose music library is packed with Enya and Disney musicals carry with technology enthusiasts? For me, they are good enough, but then I value convenience over fidelity too.
Does that mean the QC3s are not recommended?
Headphones, like condoms, are a subjective experience, the best fit being found in the wearing. The Bose QuietComfort 3 Noise Cancelling Headphones are available for $349, but if purchased from Bose there is a 30 day money-back, no restocking fee, no questions asked policy. Perhaps a new slogan is in order.
Bose: what have you got to lose except the noise?