My lovely wife, who exceeds the bar for awesome wifeliness on a routine basis, has simultaneously managed to raise a bar while in the process of jumping over it, and thus deserves recognition for superior gift giving skills.
My birthday present this year was a pair of Bose QC15 headphones. To summarize the below, they rock out. They get my enthusiastic thumbs-up.
Now, lest one be concerned that I’m a Joe Average consumer, let me state for the record that my first BBS account was on AudiophileBBS, an electronic message forum for hard core audio geeks (you young kids, go read about the Internet before it was the Internet if you want to know what a BBS was… or, just imagine Internet Forums without trolls). I once contemplated spending several obscene amounts of dollars on a *needle* for a turntable. Now that I’m working/married/parenting/going to grad school, of course, I have neither the time nor the resources to properly fuel the obsession with extending the operational range of my home stereo equipment. Plus, like anyone over 25, my hearing isn’t what it used to be, so unless I have a great *room* to put great stereo equipment *in*, it’s largely a waste of time.
But I digress.
From a lapsed audiophile standpoint, Bose stands in the same section of the pantheon that, say, some computer manufacturers stands among the computer geek crowd: often praised for their product quality, often snarked at for geek purity reasons (not always unjustifiably – in fact, often justifiably). In the case of Bose, they don’t publish their technical data, so in many cases the audio consumer needs to rely a bit too much on, “Trust us, we’re Bose” prior to purchase. This is the sort of antics that make “real” audiophiles want to froth at the mouth and grab pitchforks and torches… annnnd, it must be said, geek mob mentality can jump to conclusions just as often as any other mob mentality.
Like Mercedes, though, Bose employs a bunch of people who really do know what they’re doing. And also like Mercedes, if you’re buying one of the right models, you’re getting more than what you’re paying for, since the overpriced models (the ones that the chumps buy for the sake of the name) subsidizes the production of the good stuff.
The QC15 appears to be one such animal.
The first test was the noise cancellation. In my new glass-skinned building at work, the rooms have individual passive panels for air conditioning (just about the only way the building was going to make a high LEED rating while simultaneously having operable windows in every room). When the system needs to kick into high gear – like, say, when it’s 95+ degrees outside and the aforementioned glass skin has been soaking up the therms all day long – it sounds not unlike working in the main pump room of a large hotel when everyone in the building jumps into the shower in the morning.
Bam, you can’t hear it *at all* with these on, and yet you can still hear yourself snap your fingers. Outstanding ambient noise cancellation. I have not tried them on an airplane, but they get rave reviews for that test elsewhere, surpassing the Sennheiser PXC 450, which is fine company.
Second test is frequency response. Again, my hearing isn’t what it used to be, but I can still listen to a good recording of a symphony and follow any particular instrument I’m interested in listening to as it weaves in and out of the piece… at least, I can if I have good audio. The home stereo speakers are great speakers. The room they’re in is terrible for listening to music, however, so I haven’t really listened to music since 1998 or so, which was the last time I had a decent space in which to fire up the stereo properly. I can actually listen to a symphony again! Holy beejezuz! Check!
Third test is volume. This one isn’t too tough, I don’t blast anything the way I used to when I was younger. However, you want to be able to crank the volume up *past* your threshold of comfort and still have the sound quality come across without muddling or the like. A good test for this is George Thorogood or Metallica: if you can get it loud enough that it classifies as enhanced interrogation techniques without losing clarity of sound, your speakers/headphones pass. Check! Slightly weak on the low, low end of the base, but both Primus and Tommy Potter on Conception come through sounding better on these than any other audio platform I’ve heard in a while. Pass!
Fourth test is wearability. The QC15’s are closed-back (over-ear) headphones and I have big ears on the sides o’ my skull. Previous experience with over-ear headphones has been spotty, with 30 minutes to 1 hour capping out the maximum amount of time I can wear them without getting really uncomfortable. So far, I’ve worn these for up to four hours at a stretch with only minimal discomfort of the sort that you really can’t avoid with closed-back phones (ears warm up a tad), and that’s certainly worth the overall sound quality. Pass!
About the only drawback: they don’t work at all without the noise cancellation turned on. Which isn’t that big of a deal from an acoustic standpoint, but it does mean you’ll want to pocket an extra AAA battery for extended wear.