Review: Bose Quiet Comfort 15 headphones

Noise cancelling headphones are an absolute must for frequent flyers. And I’d argue Bose headsets are among the best, though admittedly a bit overpriced (hey, they’ve gotta pay for all those ads in travel magazines somehow). I’ve had my Bose Quiet Comfort 2 headphones for several years now, and while they run $300, they’re worth every penny if you fly enough.

Bose recently launched the Quiet Comfort 15 headphones. There was no way I was going to spend $300 on a pair of new headphones that are, at best, marginally better. So one of the nice things about Bose is that if anything is wrong with your headphones, they’ll let you exchange them for a new set for a fairly low cost. In my case, since they no longer make the Quiet Comfort 2 headphones, the exchange is to the Quiet Comfort 15 headphones. The “trade in” cost is $90, as opposed to the normal cost of $300.

After emailing Bose customer service and mentioning that the head strap came loose a bit on my old set, they told me I could trade in my current headset for the new version at my local store, which I did. And I flew with my new Quiet Comfort 15 headphones for the first time this weekend.

My verdict? It’s like trying to compare a Porsche 911 and a Porsche 911 S on a highway where the speed limit is 55. Does it really matter whether you can go zero to 60 in 4.5 or 4.7 seconds? In other words,  both headsets are amazing.

The noise cancellation is probably marginally better, but then again it’s hard to judge when perceptions play such a large role (when you upgrade to a new product that apparently has better noise reduction, you naturally think the sound is better than on a headset you’ve had for two years).

So are the Quiet Comfort 15 headphones worth $300 if you already have a working pair of Quiet Comfort 2 headphones? No way! Are they worth $300 if you fly enough and don’t currently have proper noise cancelling hedphones? I’d argue absolutely.

I also have the Bose in-ear headphones, which I use while flying when electronic devices aren’t permitted and I still want to listen to the airline audio channels. I also find in-ear headphones to be much, much more comfortable when trying to sleep. It’s impossible for me to sleep with headphones on, as opposed to just small in-ear buds, since on airplanes I sleep with my head against the side of the headrest.

But between the two headphones, I’m covered.

On a totally unrelated note, can anyone explain to me how Bose went from Quiet Comfort 2 to Quiet Comfort 3 to Quiet Comfort 15? I’m curious to see how they’ll outdo themselves next…

Comments

  1. Nice review.

    Ever since you let me borrow your QC2s on that ORD-SFO flight we took earlier this year I’ve been hooked. I’ve had my QC15s since May and have never looked back–they are worth every penny and I can’t believe I waited so long to invest in a decent pair of headphones.

  2. What comparison, if any, do you have with the QC3 that Bose also makes. I know that the QC15 are around the ear, while the QC3 are over the ear. The QC3 have a rechargeable litihum ion battery, while the QC15 requires as AAA battery.

    Bose claims that the sound quality and cancelling effect is the same, but I am not sure.

    Thoughts?

    Also, what in-ear headphones do you have?

  3. I had the QC2, and i have to say, for someone who travel as much as yourself, you really should try out Son’ys NC600D, Its a bit pricier, but i think well worth the extra if you’re looking for good NC and sound Quality at the same time.

    Like you i think its a bit uncomfortable sleeping with them, but i find a pillow between your head and the headrest works quite well

  4. As another frequent traveler, I’ve found that a decent set of in-ears is a better investment than buying a pair of anything that touts “noise cancellation” as a feature. To me, the active noise cancellation takes the life of the music away and hurts sound quality. The experience is much better with the in-ear since they don’t rely on sound to cancel out sound, so you’ll easily hear improvements in sound quality and better isolation as well. They are also just as comfortable and you definitely won’t have to shell out $300 for something nice. On top of that, having something discreet is helpful as I’ve seen a fair share of branded cans (Dr. Dre or anything Bose) disappear at airports.

  5. @ Rahul — I’ve tried on both the QC3 and QC2/QC15, and I far prefer the over-the-ear headphones. I find the on-ear headphones to be fairly comfortable for the first 30 minutes or so, but they get pretty uncomfortable after that. It’s a lot of pressure to your ears after a while, especially if you keep them on for longer than that. That was my only consideration in choosing between the two.

  6. A friend of mine that worked at a major electronics retailer said they have a saying for Bose products:

    “No highs, no lows, its gotta be Bose”

    Do yourselves a favor and check out headphone.com. These people know sound and if you look, there aren’t Bose products on their site. You are dead on about magazine ad comment – Bose products are all marketing and no substance. I got a pair of etymotic in ear headphones from them years ago and love them for travel. They sound better, cancel noise, and can be had for about the same or less than the Bose sets. I hear Shure in ears are good too.

  7. Got one for +1 and it will become mine once the box is open and I start using it. I do like this one better since my old one is cheap Sony noise cancellation.

  8. Bear brought up some good brands. Etymotics are the best as far as pure isolation, cheapie JVC Marshmallows are very good too. I also recommend Ultimate Ears, Klipsch, Altec Lansing (which are sometimes rebranded Ultimate Ears), and Fischer Audio. It will take some research though because the brand would depend on what kind of music you listen to.

    Also I like the statement “buy other sound equipment.”

  9. Sennheiser makes some of the best sounding headphones on the market. They will work (sans noise cancellation) even without batteries, but do sound great either way. I had a pair of PXC 210s for a few years and now have PXC 310s. Compact, comfortable, great sound quality, good battery life (Lithium) but not the cheapest.

  10. You are correct that these are way overpriced, and on top of not sounding very good they are way bulky too. A pair of Sony in the ear ANR headsets are 90% as good as these but take 20% of the space and of the weight in the carry on, as well as costing 20% as much. What’s not to love about them?

  11. About two years ago I was flying back and forth between AMS and SFO, so I bought a set of Sony MDR-NC60’s. They are a little cheaper than the Bose (They run you about ~$120 at amazon).

    They do an extremely good job at canceling noise; From the test setup at the Bose store I did not find Bose to be better. Same for sound quality, they sound superb. Not only for watching movies, but also for playing music on the road.

    For about $100 bucks extra Sony also has the Sony MDR-NC500D headphones. These feature ‘Digital’ noise canceling…whatever that may be, since they are all digital, of course. They are supposed to work a little better, altho I found the differences only marginal.

    I would advise to walk into a Sony and/or Bose store to test them out. They usually have a setup with speakers making jet engine noises, so you can experience the difference with the headphones on.

  12. Gotta agree with the consensus on Bose. Overpriced. There are many excellent NC headphones out there for less $$ and same or better performance. Bose is like going to what you think is fancy restaurant, and later finding out is merely a chain, serving you an expensive meal without any real inventiveness or panache.

  13. Ben, curious about your contact with Bose CS. I’ve been having issues with the cable on my QC2s. I emailed them a few days ago and haven’t heard back. I have an Outlet Store relatively close by, and I see the kiosks at lots of airports but I don’t know if Bose has to authorize this first. I’ve been hoping to upgrade to QC15 , and this may be the best way to do it. Based on other things I’ve read, the $90 fee is typical, but apparently not fixed. Maybe I can negotiate for a lower price!

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