In designing its fourth-generation consumer-focused noise-cancelling headphones, the QuietComfort 15s, Bose has done something interesting. Instead of coming up with a whole new look for its headphones, as it did with the QuietComfort 3s, Bose has left the basic design of its popular but now discontinued QuietComfort 2s intact and simply redesigned them on the inside, adding even more effective noise-cancelling circuitry and improving their sound quality. The QuietComfort 15 headphones are available for around £280.
Cut off the outside world
The 15s look identical to the 2s, with the same over-the-ear design, including earcups that swivel and fold flat to fit in a stylish case. Bose has redesigned the case so that it's easier to put the headphones in it and close it up. The resulting package is slightly bigger than a CD wallet. It's easy to tote, although it's not terribly compact.
Even without the noise-cancelling capability engaged, the earcups' deliciously soft cushions effectively sealed off our ears from our noisy environment. While the 2s only had noise-cancelling microphones (for detecting ambient noise) on the inside of the earcups, the 15s have them on the inside and outside, which is said to increase their effectiveness. Flipping on the noise-cancellation function -- which pumps out 'anti-noise' to proactively counteract environmental sounds -- dampens down the noise even further.
There's a catch, though. Like all other noise-cancelling headsets we've reviewed, the 15s produce a sensation of pressure on the eardrum. Listeners sensitive to this effect may find it anywhere from mildly annoying to distractingly uncomfortable. Most of the former group will tend to forget about it as soon they start playing music or movies. If your experience leans more towards the latter, noise-cancelling headphones aren't for you -- stick with noise-isolating, in-ear headphones instead.
There's a very loud air-conditioning system in the office that we use for testing noise-cancelling headphones. The 15s were able to almost completely block out the sound of the rumbling fan. The impact of engaging the circuitry may seem rather odd at first -- it almost feels as if you're at the bottom of a pool, completely shut off from the sounds above.
While there may not be a huge difference between this model's
noise-cancelling prowess and that of the 2s, a distinction is
definitely noticeable. According to Bose, the 15s are designed to
defeat a wider range of frequencies, going up to over 90dB, while the
2s peaked more in the 84-85dB range.
No battery, no music
As with all of Bose's noise-cancelling headphones, you have to engage the noise-cancelling function to listen to music. When the battery dies, so does the music. Luckily, battery life is good. Bose rates it at 35 hours, and the single AAA battery, which resides in the right earcup, was still going strong after we left our tunes in a loop overnight. Those looking for a rechargeable option can either opt for the 3s, or invest in their own third-party battery and charger. On the plus side, sticking with standard alkalines means there's no wall charger or AC cord to worry about when travelling.
Because these are over-the-ear headphones that offer a tight seal, it can get rather steamy inside the cups, especially on hot days, although they breathe fairly well for such headphones. On long plane journeys, your skin will also get slightly moist underneath the cushions, so expect to take them off for short periods to give your ears some air. Also note that the 3.5mm cord is detachable, so, if you just want to block out the outside world and catch a nap, you can do so.
In terms of sound quality, the first thing we noticed about the 15s, compared with the 2s, was that the overall sound was smoother and more tonally balanced. With the 2s and 3s, Bose seemed to have messed with the bass, pumping it up (we found it rather thumping), but the bass on the 15s is tighter and punchier. Hip-hop fans may prefer the bass on the 2s, but that's a matter of listening taste.
The 15s offer excellent detail. When first using the headphones, we experienced a strong urge to relisten to our entire library of music -- a welcome symptom of acquiring high-grade cans. That said, the 15s have a closed-cup design, so the sound feels more 'stuck inside your head' than you'd get from open-backed headphones. As such, they don't quite measure up to some other high-end headphones that we've tested in this price range. Still, these are probably the best-sounding noise-cancelling headphones we've heard to date.
As is the case with virtually all of Bose's headphones, the QuietComfort 15s aren't exactly a bargain. But they're a good step up from the QuietComfort 2s and offer improved sound and noise-cancelling performance. Looking at it that way, we can at least say they're a better deal than their predecessors, or the smaller and similarly priced QuietComfort 3s.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet