Bose QuietComfort 3

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Bose QuietComfort 3

Pros

  • Excellent noise cancelling, rechargeable

Cons

  • Can’t listen without batteries, expensive

Bottom Line

The QuietComfort 3 headphones offer exceptional noise cancelling, and while they may not provide the best sound quality on the market, they are extremely appealing for frequent travelers.

Would you buy this?

Come fly with me, let's fly, let's fly away. If you can use some exotic booze there's a bar in far Bombay. Come fly with me, we'll fly, we'll fly away. When Mr. Sinatra crooned about gliding through the air, he probably hadn't imagined being boxed into Qantas economy class with 400 other gloomy travellers. But fear not, for Bose has a solution that can drastically improve the prospects of long haul flights. The new QuietComfort 3 represents the latest product in the company's range of noise cancelling headphones, and while their sound quality isn't the best we've heard, they offer great noise cancelling technology that is excellent for frequent travellers.

The most crucial difference between the Quiet Comfort 3 and the previous model is design. The earpieces no longer completely cover the ears, instead sitting on top. This makes them a good deal slimmer, but also removes the passive noise cancellation (ie: noise blocked out by having the ear completely covered). For those who prefer the style of Quiet Comfort 2, there's no need to fret as Bose are to sell both models side by side.

To counter the lack of passive sound reduction Bose has used a combination of extremely thick cushioning for the headphones and improved active noise cancellation, with a wider range of frequencies now blocked. We found the headphones to be very comfortable with the plush cushioning ensuring a snug fit. The sound is pretty good, though not as good as we would expect from a pair of headphones at this price. It is warm and full, though lower frequency audio sounds clipped, with a lack of detail. Still, the bass is deep and powerful, perfect for many modern styles of music, although it was a little slow for our liking.

To test the noise cancelling features of the headphones we put them through their paces using an assortment of challenges, and for good measure compared them to the standard iPod headphones and a pair of in-ear canal phones.

Standing at a busy intersection with the roar of buses trailing past and the wail of an alarm in the background is far from the ideal listening environment. Slipping on our iPod headphones yielded a fairly unsatisfactory result; we could hear as much engine noise as we could the vocals on our test track. Moving on to the in-ear canal phones things picked up a great deal: no discernible sound of cars and buses, but a slight tell-tale whine of that alarm was still present. Finally to the Quiet Comfort 3. What could we hear? Nothing. Well, nothing apart from the glorious sound of our music. A clear win for the Quiet Comfort 3.

Next up was perhaps the toughest test of all, a rickety old bus. Sitting right at the back above the clunking engine would surely prove too much for any headphone? As it turns out, it did. Once again the iPod headphones were hopeless, even more so than before. The in-ear canal phones fared better, but still failed to drown out the cacophony of clanks from the old heap of junk. The Quiet Comfort 3 tried their best, but couldn't quite mask the noise when the music mellowed. It was still a respectable performance, but not perfect, but hopefully the average user won't spend too much time perched above engines.

Finally it was on to the ultimate test, the one that the Quiet Comfort 3 were really designed for: a plane. At this point we had lost all hope for the iPod earphones, they didn't stand a chance against the incessant drone of a Boeing 767. The in-ear phones performed fairly well, but music still had an unpleasant quality due to the audible low frequency rumble of the engines. The Quiet Comfort 3, however, were incredible. With the music turned up to a reasonable 75% we couldn't hear anything we didn't want to. No engines, no passengers, no crying children. The Quiet Comfort 3 really can transform a flight from a hellish experience to one merely of mild discomfort. If only Bose could now do something about airline food and uncomfortable seats.

It's worth pointing out that the Quiet Comfort 3 aren't perfect. As we saw with the bus test, they can't block everything out. This is especially true with quieter music, or if you choose to simply activate the noise cancelling mode without playing music at all. When activated without music the Quiet Comfort 3 still do a good job of muffling unwanted noise, but background sounds are still plainly audible. On our plane this meant engine noise was reduced to a hum, but fellow passengers could still occasionally be heard.

There are a couple of other key differences between the Quiet Comfort 3 and the older QUIET COMFORT 2, most notably: they no longer require AAA batteries. Bose has opted for small, rechargeable batteries that snugly sit inside the right earpiece. Each lasts for twenty hours at least, and Bose throw in an extra too, which is handy for those interminable flights to Europe. Bear in mind though that its inclusion is dependent on the country of purchase; it's not in the US package for instance.

One of the best things about the QUIET COMFORT 3 is the range of bundled accessories. In addition to the spare battery and charger, there's a full range of power adaptors for Europe, America and Asia. There's also an adaptor for in-flight audio systems that use the dual plug system and a 6.3mm adapter for HiFi equipment. A handy hard-shelled case holds all the paraphernalia together. There's even a pack of courtesy cards to hand out to fellow travellers advising of whom to contact should they wish to buy a pair. Now that's good marketing.

There isn't much to dislike about the Quiet Comfort 3 other than their hefty price. The one thing we wish Bose would fix is the inability to play music without battery power. Once the juice runs out so does the music. However, we can certainly say we fell for the Quiet Comfort 3, especially when airborne. The difference they make to a flight is certainly worth the money in our books.

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