With a potent blend of quality products and what seems like an almost ubiquitous marketing campaign, Bose had managed to persuade thousands of people to spend large sums of money on the company's and noise-cancelling headphones. While those models are mainstays in the business-class section of any aircraft, not everyone can afford such a luxury -- or wants to pay upwards of £150 for a pair of headphones. So Bose has come up with a model simply called the On-Ear, which borrows many of the design elements of the QuietComfort 3 but leaves out the active noise-cancelling and retails for a more palatable £120.
Like the QuietComfort3 headphones, the On-Ear's feature -- you guessed it -- an on-ear () rather than the cupped around-the-ear ( design of the QuietComfort 2s or the step-down . Impressively, the earpieces employ a cushy memory foam that conforms to your ears nicely, and they do a better job than you'd think of passively shutting out noise (on-ear models tend to let in -- and leak out -- a fair amount of sound). The headphones are very comfortable, but because the deliciously soft leather pads are pressed right up against your ears, they are going to get pretty steamy if you wear them in warmer environments.
The On-Ears have virtually the same size earpieces as the QuietComfort 3s and offer a similar fit. Where the On-Ears have an advantage over their more expensive sibling is the way they're able to fold up -- and flatten out -- into a more compact footprint than the QuietComfort 3s. We really liked the case that ships with the On-Ear model: it's about 40 per cent smaller than the case that comes with the QuietComfort 3 'phones and is more travel-friendly.
The only 'accessories' beyond the case are two detachable headphone cables: one 43-incher and one 16-incher -- you can also daisy-chain them together if a long connection is needed.
Bose seems to have kept iPhone owners in mind when it designed the headphone plug for these headphones. The rubber casing around the base of the plug is not much bigger than the plug itself, which ensures that you won't have any problem plugging into the recessed headphone jack on the first-generation iPhone.
As for sound, we liked what we heard. The On-Ear headphones don't deliver quite the clarity or more thumping bass of the QuietComfort 3s, but users graduating from lower-end headphones will most likely be wowed by these headphones' crisp sound and ample low-end. Discerning listeners may note that the bass is a little on the boomy side and that the On-Ears aren't quite as clean-sounding as some headphones we've listened to in this price range.
On Rihanna's number one hit Umbrella, you can easily hear the difference between the On-Ears and QuietComfort 3s. The QuietComfort 3s' bass just has more punch to it (though, again, it's not terribly refined) -- and when it comes to listening to hip-hop, punchier tends to be better. That said, the On-Ear headphones offer about 80 per cent of the sound quality of the QC3s, which is pretty good, considering they basically cost half the price.
But what about the noise-cancellation? Well, as we said, the snug fit of these headphones manages to cut down most outside noise -- but it can't cut it like the active noise-cancellation circuitry of the QC2 and QC3 (or even the passive noise-cancellation offered by good in-ear headphones such as the ).
If we had to put an estimate on it, we'd say the On-Ear headphones are able to muffle about half the sound of the noise-cancelling models. Not bad, but the frequent traveller who wants to deaden the sound as much as possible -- and is willing to pay the extra dough -- would be better advised to look at the QC2 or QC3, or the growing number of .
One caveat: as we've pointed out before, Bose's noise-cancelling headphones, like other headphones of their ilk, produce a slight sense of pressure on the eardrum, which some sensitive listeners may find mildly uncomfortable. If you're part of this group, you'd do better going with the On-Ear headphones, or -- if you don't mind penetrating your ear canals -- .
In the final analysis, while we can't call these headphones a bargain -- yes, they're still expensive at £120 -- they're something of a bargain for Bose headphones. They may not offer the best in class performance, but their compact size, appealing design, comfortable fit and full sound make them easy to recommend.
Additional editing by Jon Squire