Whether or not you think they're overpriced, Bose's luxuriously designed QuietComfort models have set the standard for premium noise-cancelling headphones. As their model number indicates, the £275 QuietComfort 3s are the third iteration of these popular headphones, and this time around, Bose set out to make a smaller pair of headphones that would sound just as good as the QuietComfort 2s, which remain on the market at £225.
The Bose QuietComfort 3s are indeed significantly smaller than their predecessors, and they feature an on-ear (supra-aural) rather than the over-the-ear (circumaural) design of the QuietComfort 2s. 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, unlike most on-ear models, which 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, the newer models are going to feel steamier if you wear them in warmer environments. They're probably not the best choice for workouts.
The Bose QuietComfort 3s feature the same fold-flat design as the QuietComfort 2s and have noise-cancelling circuitry that's built into the headphones themselves, not a little box incorporated into the cord. They also come with a protective carrying case that's a little smaller than the one that ships with the QuietComfort 2s, as well as a two-prong adaptor for aeroplane travel and an extra bit of cord that extends the length of the headphones.
Aside from the more compact earpieces, one of the big differences between the two headphones is the inclusion of a proprietary lithium-ion battery with the new model. That's a nice addition -- the battery slips out of the headphones and into a compact travel charger that fits right into a wall socket, obviating the need for annoying wires or cables. Bose says you'll get about 20 hours of battery life before you need to juice up -- and you must have the battery charged to actually hear your music or movies. While backup batteries are available for £40, you won't be able to pop in a standard AAA battery like you can with the QuietComfort 2s. However, the charger fits snugly in the headphones' carrying case, and you can purchase additional chargers compatible with international voltage requirements.
Companies such as Sennheiser make noise-cancelling headphones that are smaller and cost much less than Bose models. Apparently, Bose has received feedback from consumers who prefer these smaller designs, especially for everyday on-the-go use rather than just aeroplane travel. In other words, the company hopes to get more people walking the streets with these headphones. To that end, the company sells a £40 adaptor that lets you use the QuietComfort 3s as a stereo headset for multimedia mobile phones, such as the Nokia N91 or the Palm Treo models.
The big question, of course, is whether Bose has succeeded in its quest to go smaller while not sacrificing anything in the way of performance. Well, the short answer is yes -- mostly. On the noise-cancelling front, this model appears to be just as affective at diminishing external aeroplane noise to a hush (no, it doesn't completely shut sound out). One caveat, however -- the QuietComfort 3s, like most other noise-cancelling headsets, produce a slight sense of pressure on the eardrum, and because the earpiece is directly on your ear, it's arguably a fraction more present in this model than in the QuietComfort 2s. Listeners sensitive to this effect may feel uncomfortable.
As far as sound goes, like with the QuietComfort 2s, the first thing we noticed when we put the QuietComfort 3s on was the bass. The new model, in fact, offers fuller bass balance -- it's richer, warmer and plumper, though it isn't as detailed. That kind of bass -- and overall sound -- is appealing on hip-hop tracks, but it can be a little overpronounced on acoustic jazz pieces, for example. In other words, these guys sound big -- you won't mistake them for smaller headphones -- but they aren't incredibly clean. And one other small thing worth noting: the QuietComfort 3s are less sensitive and don't play quite as loud as QuietComfort 2s. It's a small difference and shouldn't be a factor with the vast majority of portable music devices and movie players, but it's one reason that especially attentive listeners may wish to opt for (or stick with) the older, larger models.
In the end, if you're trying to decide between these headphones and the QuietComfort 2s, we can only say the choice isn't easy. The smaller form factor and rechargeable battery are definite pluses in favour of the Bose QuietComfort 3s, but the more refined sound and the over-the-ear design of the QuietComfort 2s have their appeal. If money is no object, you can't go wrong with either model, but ideally, we'd like to see the company drop the price on the QuietComfort 3s and QuietComfort 2s to £250 and £200, respectively. We think £275 is a lot to pay for headphones, even those with a rechargeable battery.
Edited by Jasmine France
Additional editing by Kate Macefield