Bose QuietComfort 3 Acoustic Noise Canceling Headphones

Two words in the subject title belie the essential philosophy of Audiophilia. Bose and Headphones. The former has the dreaded ‘lifestyle’ moniker and its expensive, flashy kit is much derided by audiophiles, the latter is a type of kit much derided by me. Thus, can one so ‘biased’ offer an unbiased review? I’ll give it a good shot. As such, your mileage with both Bose and headphones may vary.

I was happy to receive a pair for review. I have done a lot of flying this year and wanted to use a set of the Bose especially for its vaunted Noise Canceling technology. The excellent Bose website explains the specifications of the QuietComfort 3s as ‘… a proprietary Bose innovation, [which] electronically identifies and reduces noise while faithfully preserving the audio or tranquility you desire. Compact on-ear design with proprietary soft cushions that establish a critical acoustical seal―helping to further reduce noise while providing a comfortable fit.

“TriPort” acoustic headphone structure, another Bose exclusive, features tiny vents in the earcups to enable a tonally-balanced audio performance―including reproduction of deep, low notes―from relatively small and lightweight headphones. Active equalization electronically tunes the headphones’ frequency response, enabling outstanding audio performance.’ The rechargeable lithium-ion battery provides an average of 25 hours per charge.

Well, there you have it. ‘Outstanding audio performance’. From the horse’s mouth.

If you want to read true Bose headphone derision, check out Headfi.org. Anything and everything you ever want to know about every headphone ever designed. Even Audiophilia contributor, Rick Nickel is one of the guys that piles on Bose regularly!

All that said, I enjoyed my time with the QuietComfort 3s. They lived up to their title — they were the most comfortable headphones I’ve used, including in ear, over ear, buds, and my Etymotic HF2s that burrow into your ear canal like a crazed vole. And they were exceedingly quiet. Switch the slider on the left speaker to engage the noise canceling and the outside world is muted to a startling degree. So much so, that enjoyment of the music is multiplied. Many musical subtleties lost listening to other fine headphones are heard on the Bose.

Where the headphones disappoint is in the quality of the audible range from treble down to bass. They replicate well, but each tessitura is dulled somewhat. As I said, musicality is there in spades but detail is lost. The timbre of instruments is heard faithfully but the front end of the transients are too smooth, the midrange uninspired and the bass rolled off. They are streets ahead of the standard buds and many in ear headphones, but the headphone purists suggest that Grado, Audio Technica, Denon, Sennheiser and Shure make over ear headphones that offer the listener equal or more detail for far less money.

And therein lies the main problem. These headphones are US$350. At least 50% too much for the musical value of the experience. However, if you’re a frequent flyer, these are a no brainer. Buy them and kiss the drone of noisy Pratt and Whitney’s goodbye. Not forgetting screaming kids and talkative neighbors. The musical retrieval is an afterthought.

For me, these headphones are perfect. I love the noise reduction and the comfort. And, as I find most headphones annoying and musically inert, the dullish sound didn’t bug me. On the plane and train, Mozart never had it so good.

Price: CAD$349

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