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The worst part about airplane travel is, well, the plane. Besides being cramped, crowded, and short on any decent snack foods, they’re also noisy. So noisy that it’s difficult to make the hours zip by more quickly by revisiting your favorite albums on an iPod or watching a movie on your MacBook. Bose’s new Quiet Comfort 15 headphones are made for just these moments. The active noise cancellation helps block out background noise, and Bose’s considerable audio experience brings you a clean-sounding set of cans--with a couple of drawbacks, however.
In terms of sound quality, the 15s are a great pair of ’phones. The tone is clear, and they sure can go to 11 if you have ears of steel. For the price, they’re a bit bright on treble, which can be fatiguing with extended listening. Some listeners will also long for a little more bump at the bottom end of the spectrum, but then again, thin bass can count as either a positive or a negative depending on your musical tastes.
Bose's Quiet Comfort 15's are a great pair of 'phones if you can stomach the noise-cancelling sound waves--and the steep price.
The 15’s marquee feature--active noise cancellation--works by a process called destructive interference. The headphones contain a mic to pick up ambient noise, and circuitry inside the ’phones generates an identical sound wave 180 degrees out of phase with the peaks of the noise. The end result is that the two sound waves effectively cancel each other out, and what you end up hearing is your audio without any background noise. Since this process works best to negate constant, droning sounds around you, it’s great with stuff like plane engines, clattering trains, and office air conditioning. It won’t help with more varied sounds, like that guy in the next cube who talks on the phone like it’s two tin cans and some string.
This high-tech noise reduction miracle doesn’t come without a cost, however. The headphones require a AAA battery to power the gizmos inside. Thankfully, battery life is more than enough to get you through even the longest of flights (Bose claims 35 hours), but when the battery dies, so do your tunes. There’s unfortunately no option to bypass the noise cancellation and simply use the ’phones like a standard pair.
Some people (including me) are also sensitive to the signal generated by the headphones. You can feel a slight pressure in your ear from the sound waves, which can lead to anything from a minor dizzy feeling to full-on nausea. You’ll probably get used to it, but others will find it a deal-breaker, so it’s worth trying before you buy.