noise canceling

Stop Hating on Bose?

Posted by mitch on February 14, 2013

Sennheiser PXC-350 (left) and Bose QC-15 (right).

For years I’ve been fascinated by the hate against Bose products. Bose must be really bad to get all the negative reviews, right? Search any electronics forum or Amazon reviews, and you’ll find thousands of people frothing about how much Bose sucks.

In December 2009, I wanted a cheap pair of computer speakers for my office in California. I didn’t need anything fancy and I didn’t want a subwoofer. I went to Fry’s and the only 2-speaker system they had for a reasonable price was the Bose Companion 2 speakers for $100. Sighing, I bought them.

They weren’t super awesome. In fact, they were pretty muddy. I gave them a negative review on Amazon. However, they were $100 and small. At this point they sit in the closet; I have a pair of M-Audio BX5 D2s on my desk, which take up significantly more room and sacrifice a lot of usability. They are plugged into a cheap AudioEngines DAC/amp, which means the whole system cost four times the Bose Companion 2s. (Update: After I posted this, I remembered that when I moved the Bose Companion 2’s to my office in Boston, they sounded a lot better–the acoustics in my California office were crap, I suppose.)

Fast-forward to the middle of 2011, I decided to get rid of my stereo separates in the bedroom. My cleaners were always moving the speakers, disconnecting the speakers, and the whole system took up a lot of room. With some reluctance, I bought a Bose Wave radio/CD player–I couldn’t find anything that I liked the looks of better than the Bose at any price point. There are competing products for less money, but they look like crap. I wanted something that looked good.

It’s an expensive box–$500 for a radio, CD player, amp, and speakers. If you listen to the Wave within 2 feet of the unit, it is indeed “bass-y” and “boom-y.” But if you listen to it across the room, it sounds great! I really love my Bose Wave system.

Back in 2009, since I “knew” that Bose sucked, I bought the Sennheiser PXC-350 headphones for air travel. The modern model is the Sennheiser PXC-450, which run $350 on Amazon as of this writing. Recently I had misplaced the Sennheiser headphones and I bought the Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones from the local Apple Store.

I could not believe how good the Bose QuietComforts are. I suspect they have a bit of a low-pass filter in them–they are not accurate as, say, a pair of Sennheiser HD 800s. But I don’t care about accuracy for noise-canceling headphones! I don’t want to hear engine noise, fan noise, or people talking when I am wearing these. Without sound playing, the Bose headphones are dead silent in my office with a bit of desk fan noise. The Sennheiser PXC-350s pass a bit of that noise through and introduce some hiss that is often an artifact of cheaper noise-canceling headphones.

The cord on the Sennheiser ‘phones is much nicer and has a volume control. The Bose came with two cords, one without controls and one with an Apple remote. The Apple remote works fine with my iPhone 4S, but with my current-generation iPod Nano, it introduces feedback noise that is unacceptable. That’s a serious issue, either with my iPod or the headphones.

However, armed with better silence, smaller size, and lighter weight, the Bose headphones are a clear winner.

So if you’ve been avoiding Bose because you’ve heard they suck, maybe take another look. If you’re looking for accurate listening, you’ll note that I said above none of these Bose products produce accurate sound to my ear. Personally, I don’t need accurate listening for my bedroom, riding the train, flying in a plane, or to hear that Skype is ringing.

Some photos:

The Bose headphones are quite a bit smaller.

Comparing the cup size. The Bose headphones are tighter on the ear, but not to the point it is uncomfortable.

7.0 oz vs 10.0 oz

Despite being a Sennheiser fan, I can say that the Bose QC 15s are quite a better buy for the typical noise-canceling applications.

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