November 8, 2007

Let's take a closer look at these noise-cancelling headphones.

Needing to get a night's sleep on an airplane a couple days ago, I got to thinking about getting some noise-cancelling headphones. I tested the Bose® QuietComfort® 3 Acoustic Noise Cancelling® Headphones yesterday, and I would have bought them impulsively, but the store — at the Apple Store in SoHo — was out of them.

So now I've got to contemplate the purchase rationally.

Pro: Sounded good. Seemed to cancel some noise. Rested softly but solidly on the ears (and no ridiculous cup around the ears).

Con: $349 is expensive. No built-in microphone-switch for the iPhone. Too big and bulky to look good walking around in outdoors.


ADDED: I think I should hold onto my money until Bose comes out with headphones that work with the iPhone. That's so important to me, and I heard they were going to do it soon.


Moose said...

They're all the rage with air travelers. Everyone who has them that I know loves them to death, and are quite happy paying the premium for them.

Now, you can get custom molded ear inserts for certain types of in the ear type phones that do a good job of keeping the noise out. However, those are quite expensive too.

All in all, if you travel alot and need to have that solitude, the Bose can't be beat.

Albireo said...

I love my Shure e2c earphones ($60 from They are about as effective as good earplugs at muffling external sounds and their audio quality is great. However, since they actually fit into the ear canal, it can be difficult to get a comfortable fit.

Meade said...

A dollar a day is too expensive for the option of instant peace and quiet? Cut back on Starbucks.

"To big and bulky to look good walking around in outdoors."

Walking around outdoors with any kind of headphones/earphones on is fatuous. It says, loudly and clearly, "Hey all you mugger bugger fugger tcTom types, I can't HEAR you creeping up on me! La la la la la!"

rhhardin said...

I have the over-the-ear quiet comfort and the quiet comfort II. I used to use the former for power mowing the lawn, and keep the latter on the desk without audio input attached for taking out teenager noise, when it comes up. I think that in public in general they'd be odd.

Haven't tried the on-the-ear III model.

You're likely to lose the pieces unless you're really good at keeping them in the original box in some spare bedroom.

The price is a problem if you're worried about not getting some better price on something just as good ; but the $349 may be worth it to you anyway.

You can also get fatigued from too much absence of ordinary noise, by the way. In an airplane it isn't a problem, but at your desk it might be.

Unknown said...

I have a cheaper set of headphones from Bose (~$150) that are available at Target. I find that they do a good job cutting down on environmental noise -- I can barely hear outside noises walking in them, and they really did cut down on the airplane noise.

I'm sure they're not as "good" as the more expensive model -- but they certainly work well enough for me, and the sound is a light year above the earbuds.

brylun said... has Sakar Noise Canceling Headphones for $17.95 plus $5 shipping today.

rhhardin said...

There's of course ordinary foam earplugs available up to NPR33, that are so comfortable that I sometimes forget to take them out, and they are throw-away cheap even though they're reusable until misplaced.

Just squish them up and shove them in, and they expand in about a minute to seal. Of course there's no audio input jack.

They deaden sound with a different spectrum from noise-cancelling headphones. Part of the pleasantness of the sound of noise-cancelling phones is what they leave behind as audible.

TMink said...

$349 = $249 advertising, $50 electronics, $50 headphones. (Just my opinion and all prices are editorial statements for any Bose lawyer looking to sue me like they did Consumer Reports. Not that anyone reads what I say etc.)

Bose products are seriously overpriced for their performance because of the huge investment the company makes in advertising.

Check out the headphones at Audio Advisor or Music DIrect. I have these

and they are killer. There are lots of choices in over the ear phones as well.

Dr. Bose is a certified genius, he is currently working on a laser assisted car suspension that uses the laser to read the bumps in the road and compensate. You can take speedbumps at 55 mph and not feel a thing, not that any sane person would want to. But the company that makes him rich does not provide the consumer with much value due to the industry high marketing slice.


Randy said...

A friend has the Sharper Image version of these and swears by them. Don't know how they compare in price or quality, though.

Steven said...

I've had the Bose over-the-ear model for several years. I take them on every plane flight, and they are wonderful. Well worth the cost. They block out the noise of the screaming baby who is invariably sitting nearby.

Clang!Honk!Tweet! said...

I have a pair of Sony MDR-NC50 headphones (about $90), as well as the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7's mentioned above, and I've tried lots of others.  The Sonys go through batteries like mad, have mediocre, muddy sound, and are inefficient, requiring the iPod to be cranked, causing the iPod battery to drain quickly.  The Audio-Technicas are uncomfortable, and have a colored sound favoring the highs—lots of sizzle and no warmth.

I finally broke down and bought the Bose QuietComfort 3's and I couldn't be happier.  I am told that the audio quality isn't as good as some very high-end headphones, but for most listening they are fine, AND they do a dandy job at noise-cancellation.  If I want really hi-fi, I'll listen to speakers or go to the BSO.  The Bose 'phones have that characteristic Bose sound, but I don't mind, and neither should you.

One side of our building is subject to a fair amount of jet noise, and, frankly, it's never completely absent anywhere here.  My office is on the 'quiet' side of the building, but if I'm trying to get something done that requires concentration, I find those Bose headphones are the best.  They're light and the most comfortable of any 'phones I've tried, so you aren't aware of them and can wear them for long periods. 

They're no substitute for proper hearing protection for really loud environments, but to block average ambient background noise they're the best I've tried. As others have said, don't wear them on the street.

AND they're overpriced, but, hey, so is my iPod and the rest of my Apple gear at home.  TMink is right: They're really $50 headphones, but the $100 Sony ones are really $20 headphones, so you get what you pay for. Plus, coolness never comes cheap.

Unknown said...

A few months ago, the New York Times published a detailed review of this type of earphones. The final paragraph sums it up: "So what’s the verdict? Nobody has yet knocked Bose off its pedestal, but Panasonic and Audio-Technica have climbed up there with it. These headphones sound amazing, but cost a half or a third as much."
The reviewer has more info on his blog:

Anonymous said...

Why would you be buying? If for an occasional nap on a flight, Bose is not worth the price; if for sound quality, Bose price/performance doesn't measure up. Hey. Maybe it doesn't matter why you would be buying. The answer is, "Don't." - unless you value over-priced compromises, or being considered "cool" by the ignorant throng.

On the other hand, if ipod output qualifies as your idea of high fidelity music, please ignore the above.

ChrisF said...

If the $300 price point is within your budget, also check out the new Creative Aurvana headphones. PC magazine gave them a very good review, saying they were as good at noise cancelling and better sounding than the Bose.

The review is at,2704,2188163,00.asp

Unknown said...

Before going to Australia, I tried both the QC2 and the QC3. I find on-ear headphones uncomfortable, and I found the QC2 better at doing the job I wanted them for (that is, isolating me from sound), so I went with those, but I found the QC3s surprisingly good at it -- much better than I expected. If you do a lot of flying, they're worth having, though I wouldn't get the QC3 unless I absolutely couldn't stand over-ear headphones.

As headphones ... they're okay. They're not great, they're not terrible. If you're enough of an audiophile to care about how lousy Bose headphones ostensibly sound, you're probably enough of one that you wouldn't consider buying these in the first place, so why not?

paul a'barge said...

Buy the Bose II over the ear. cheaper and just as good, if not better.

Unknown said...

(Note capital 'C' in 'Christopher'. Hm, I'll need to find a different handle if I plan to comment here regularly, lest confusion ensue.)

Doug Sundseth said...

I have the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7 QuietPoint Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones and I wear glasses. I'm quite happy with them so far. Specifically, I've not had any problems with discomfort and their sound quality is good.

TMink said...

"On the other hand, if ipod output qualifies as your idea of high fidelity music, please ignore the above."

Well, I can listen to lossless compressed files or uncompressed files on my iPod. Both sound really good. Many nights when I cannot sleep I play those files through a little tube amp and it sounds great.

I agree that you cannot get great sound out of an mp3 file, but I am not locked into that file type on my iPod.


Unknown said...

$350? Dear Lord.

If you fly less than once every 1-2 months, go for a cheaper pair and just keep them tucked in your luggage. I picked up a cheap set of $50 Sony headphones (MDR-NC6) about a year ago, and I love them. I fly 1-2 times a month, and I don't know how I survived all the pre-headphone flights.

Just as an example, here is the exact same model on

Ann Althouse said...

I am flying at least twice a month, but I have other uses too. If I'm trying to concentrate in the office or in a public place, I often use music. Music with noise-cancelling headphones would be better. I don't want the music to distract me either, and I tend to play something very quiet and ambient, so I think it would be very helpful.

Bill said...

If you just want to sleep on a redeye, as I do, I'd think earplugs are at least as good. And a tiny fraction of the cost.

Ann Althouse said...

Bill: It's essential for me to listen to a spoken word recording if I'm going to sleep.

reader_iam said...

So, Althouse, you're saying you can only sleep if someone's whispering sweet nothings in your ear?

Oooh, baby.

Justin said...

Bill said...

If you just want to sleep on a redeye, as I do, I'd think earplugs are at least as good.

I tried to sleep with earplugs once. I had dreams that people were talking to me but I couldn't hear what they were saying. I never wore them again.

Hazy Dave said...

You might want to try the inexpensive NC headhones here - Creative Labs HN-700 - $25 after a $30 rebate.

KCFleming said...

I wore some Bose noise-cancelling headphones during work, but the patients got all pissed at me for not listening.

I was at peace, however.

Kirk Parker said...


Spot on about the headphones-in-public thing, plus they also permit drivers of all types of cars, rather than just the Silent Deadly Prius™ to make their stealthy approaches, too.

TitusVK said...

No adult should wear those monsters.

They are a major fashion faux pas.

I would definitely buy them if they were tiny and cute.

They are fine for a college kid or student but for an adult no.

I travel quite a bit and do see SOME business travelers wearing them and they look hideous.

Sorry but the golden rule is style before comfort-remember that my republican friends.

TitusVK said...

Bitch, don't be complaining about the money. You can afford them.

It isn't the cost that is the problem. It is how they look and what they will do to your coif.

Gedaliya said...

I own the over-the-ear model (QC2) and I couldn't be more pleased. I fly to India every three or four weeks and the trip (25 or so hours of total travel time) was almost unbearable until I purchased those headphones last Spring.

I now take them on all my other airplane trips, which include frequent trips to Chicago (from NY).

They have my unqualified endorsement.

former law student said...

the golden rule is style before comfort
Following that rule provides podiatrists with a comfortable living, repairing the corns, bunions, and hammertoes of middle-aged women who've worn stylish, uncomfortable shoes all their lives.

Ann Althouse said...

TitusVK said..."Bitch, don't be complaining about the money. You can afford them."

Thaks for the info.

"It isn't the cost that is the problem. It is how they look and what they will do to your coif."

Nothing short of a hot flat iron has any effect on my hair. I have relentless hair.