Bose is king among music-loving business travelers, and products like the $299 QuietComfort 15 headphones are the main reason why. The over-ear headphones, ensconced in pillowy-soft earcups, deliver loud audio with accurate detail. Best of all, Bose's active noise-cancelling technology effectively blocks outside noise, creating a peaceful oasis in loud chaotic settings. These are the reasons that the Bose QuietComfort 15 earn Tom's Guide's Editor's Choice rating.
The QC 15s won't set the world on fire with their default look. (See below for customization options.) The outer headband and inner earcups are made of a matte black plastic. The top of the headband is wrapped in memory foam covered with supple pleather. The exterior of the ear cups is made of matte silver plastic with a hint of pearlescence accentuated by a shiny chrome oval in the center. A small round port at the bottom of the oval draws in air to enhance the bass.
A small power switch resides on the front of the right earcup below a green status light. Hidden at the top of the right cup sits the compartment for the single AAA battery used to power the headphones. There's a large port along the bottom of the left earcup where the audio jack fits. The audio cable jack is relatively large in order to accommodate the high/low switch; this adjusts the volume of an airplane's PA system when using the cans with the included airplane adapter.
Pulling down on the outer headband reveals the QC 15's stainless steel frame. Pulling on the ends of the outer band adjusts the cans' fit. When it's time to travel, the earcups can rotate 90 degrees, allowing the headphones to fit into a hard case that's about the thickness of six CD cases. The QC 15 is not particularly slim or compact compared with other headphones capable of stow-and-go, but you can still shove it in a backpack or purse.
Music lovers looking to brighten up the QC 15s while asserting their individuality will want to check out the design tool on Bose's website. Partnered with Colorware, Bose offers fashion-forward audiophiles 46 colors of custom paint in either gloss or matte finish. The custom colors can be added to eight different parts of the headphones, including the outer and inner headband and earcups. Custom paint jobs don't come cheap: Bose slaps an additional $100 onto the price tag for the privilege.
The primary use for the QuietComfort 15 headphones is business travel, so they have to be comfortable for those long flights. Thankfully, the QC15 are up to the task, wrapping your ears with Bose's slow-response foam and proprietary ear cushion technology. We wore the headphones for a little more than two hours without any pinching or pressure.
The QC 15 weighs 6.4 ounces, which is much lighter than the comparably priced Beats Executives with their 11.9-ounce aluminum frame.
The QuietComfort 15 come with a 65-inch audio cable with a three-button, in-line remote. The exterior buttons control the volume and skip tracks. The middle button does the heavy lifting answering/ignoring calls and playing/ pausing music.
However, we only obtained full functionality with iOS devices. With a Samsung Galaxy S4 and a Motorola Droid Razr Maxx, we could stop/play music and answer/ignore calls, but we couldn't adjust the volume. Our Motorola Droid Razr Maxx also delivered limited results. When we switched to a Nokia Lumia 928, the remote was merely a decorative piece.
When it comes to active noise-cancelling technology, Bose is one of the best in the business. The QuietComfort 15 headphones have strategically placed microphones on the inside and outside of the earcups. This enables the accompanying technology to create an opposing cancellation signal, creating a quiet oasis in even the noisiest of settings.
The noise cancelling on the QC 15 is like stepping into a sound vacuum. In comparison, the active noise cancelling on the rival $299 Beats Executive headphones delivers a noticeable white hiss that can be distracting.
When we wore the QC 15 headphones on our subway commute to work, they blocked most of the ambient noise on the train, including a passionate proselytizer's spirited speech. When we played music, we couldn't hear the woman at all, but when we paused the music we could hear a few muzzled musings.
Despite the persistent hiss, the Executives did a good job keeping out the din of a New York City subway. They effectively muted a loud argument taking place in front of us on the train, rendering it a comical pantomime. However, we found the artificial white noise annoying after a few minutes. It’s like having a faint staticky radio channel buzzing in your ears.
When they were not putting a much-needed muffler on NYC's hustle and bustle, the QuietComfort 15 delivered rich sound with balanced mids and highs. The lows aren't as full as we'd like, however.
On Anita Baker's soulful rendition of "Lately," the diva's silky voice blanketed our ears in a luscious alto, accompanied by rich piano chords. We also appreciated the delicate shimmying of a gourd shekere and ethereal wind chimes. The Executives delivered a comparable performance to the QuietComfort 15, but the Executives ultimately won out on this track due the warmer audio on the piano and brighter vocals.
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To test the lows, we switched to Kanye West's "Love Lockdown." The air ports on the QC 15 help to create solid bass amid the bombastic snares and drawling autotune. The Executives, being Beats headphones, ultimately won this battle with a deep driving bassline that dominated the track without overwhelming it. However, the white noise effect from the Executive's active noise-cancelling technology seeped into the track.
According to Bose, the QuietComfort 15 headphones can last up to 35 hours on a single AAA battery. We wore the QC 15 for more than four hours (a round-trip visit to our home in New Jersey), and the headphones were still going strong, alternating between playing music and acting as $299 noise-cancelling earmuffs.
Unfortunately, once that AAA battery dies, so does both the wonderful noise cancelling and the music. Monster's Inspiration headphones, in comparison, can play music after the batteries die; you just lose out on the noise cancelling. The Parrot Zik and the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7B headphones can also operate sans battery.
Using the built-in microphone on the QuietComfort 15's in-line remote, phone calls sounded crystal clear on both ends. Our caller sounded like he was walking right next to us, thanks to the active noise-cancelling technology that eliminated the street noise. On his end, our caller reported loud, clear audio with no background noise, despite our walking up and down a busy New York City Street.
The Bose QuietComfort 15 aren't the prettiest headphones on the market (at least in their non-customized form), but what they lack in beauty they make up for in audio quality and excellent noise cancellation. Jet-setters looking for a warmer, fuller sound should check out the similarly priced Beats Executives. Overall, though, the $299 QC 15 headphones are an excellent choice for mobile professionals who demand good audio quality along with a heaping helping of peace and quiet in their travels.
Accessories Type: Headphones
Battery Type/Life: AAA/35 hours
Size: 3 x 6.5 x 7.5 inches
Weight: 6.4 ounces
Company Website: www.bose.com