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Bose has long been the king of active noise-cancelling headphones, and the company looks to extend its reign with the QuietComfort 3. These on-ear headphones deliver loud audio with accurate detail. Best of all, Bose's active noise-cancelling technology effectively blocks outside noise, creating a peaceful bubble in loud settings. Unlike Bose's over-ear QC15s, which require a AAA battery, the QC3s use a more cost-effective rechargeable solution. But quality doesn't come cheap, as evidenced by the cans' $349 price tag. Are they worth it?
Similar to its big QC15 brother, the QuietComfort 3 has a rather austere design. The majority of the frame is made of black and gray plastic. The very top of the headband is wrapped in soft black genuine leather, and a plushy black mesh secures the memory foam on the underside.
The QC3s have a bit more bling than the QC15s, thanks to the thick strip of silver plastic chrome lining the earplates. The centers of the plates consist of matte gray plastic with a prominent Bose logo above the rectangular air ports.
The power switch to enable the active noise-cancelling circuitry is located on the right plate. The top portion of the right earplate can be removed, revealing a lithium-ion battery that can be replenished with the included charger.
The earcups consist of more memory foam covered by black leather, with a small mesh opening in the center. The earcups can rotate 90 degrees to fold flat in the included carrying case. We wish the cans could fold inward for an even more compact shape.
We're disappointed that Bose doesn't offer the ability to trick out its cans with custom paint jobs like consumers can do with the QC15s.
The supra-aural (on-ear) QC3s are very comfortable; they needed very little adjustment before gently settling onto our ears. We wore the headphones in relative comfort for more than two hours. By contrast, the AKG K495 NC headphones exerted pressure on our ears for the first week we wore them. (Those headphones needed to be broken in.)
Thanks to the mostly plastic frame, the QC3 headphones weigh only 4.8 ounces, compared to the K495's metal and leather-clad chassis, which weighs 8.3 ounces. The larger QC15s weigh 6.4 ounces.
Bose ships the QuietComfort 3 headphones with two audio cables measuring 65 inches each. One cable lacks any mics or remotes and is simply for kicking back and enjoying your trip, while the other is decked out with a three-button remote complete with built-in microphone.
Unfortunately, the remote is iOS-specific, which translates to no functionality on our Nokia Lumia 928 (Windows Phone) and semi-functionality on Android phones such as our Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8. With our Android devices, we could stop and play music and answer and ignore calls, but we couldn't adjust the volume.
When it comes to active noise-cancellation technology, Bose continues to rule the roost. Similar to the QuietComfort 15 headphones, the QC3s use microphones strategically placed on the earcups. This enables the accompanying technology to create a cancellation signal opposing ambient sound, creating a quiet oasis in even the noisiest of settings.
Despite their smaller size, the QC3s cancel noise just as powerfully as the QC15s. The effect sounds and feels like stepping into a sound vacuum. While effective, the active noise cancelling provided by the rival $349 AKG K495 NC headphones delivers a subtle white hiss that can be distracting.
We wore the QC3 headphones on our noisy rush-hour subway commute to work. They blocked most of the ambient noise on the train, including a loud conversation taking place across from us. When we switched over to the K495s, we heard most of the discussion, but it sounded distant.
We couldn't hear any chatter after we started playing music on the QC3s. When we paused the tunes, we could hear a few muzzled musings. We experienced similar results with the K495s, but we detected a faint underlying hiss on each track.
When they're not insulating you from the outside world with electronically generated silence, Bose's headphones can kick up a joyful amount of (good) noise. The QC3s provided balanced highs and mids that were loud and crisp. However, the lows could have been more defined.
As we listened to Michael Jackson's "Love Never Felt So Good," the QC3s gave us good separation. We could easily focus on different elements of the track, such as the strum of the bass guitars, the swelling strings and the clean piano. The King of Pop's voice was bright, but not so much so that it became grating at high volumes.
The K495s are much louder than the QC3s and lack definition on the mids and highs. However, lows on the K495s are more refined than on the QC3s, which is good since the K495s deliver some sizeable thump. We had some trouble focusing on different sections of the Justin Timberlake-assisted track, however, especially the bass guitar.
To further test the lows, we switched to The Roots' "The Seed (2.0)." The QC3s were respectably loud but were overshadowed by the sheer volume of the K495s. However, the QC3s gave a cleaner performance, allowing some space amidst Black Thoughts' rap, the bass guitar and the kick drum. On the K495s, the instrumentals fought for space, creating an overly crowded soundscape.
According to Bose, the QuietComfort 3 headphones can last up to 25 hours on their rechargeable, lithium-ion battery. The AKG K495 NC headphones, which also have a rechargeable battery, last up to 40 hours.
We wore the QC3s for more than 3 hours, and the headphones were still going strong, alternating between playing music and acting as $349 noise-cancelling earmuffs.
Unfortunately, once the battery dies, so do both the wonderful noise cancelling effects and the music. The K495s can play music after the batteries die; you just lose out on the ANC.
Using the built-in microphone on the QuietComfort 3'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 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.
For such a small pair of headphones, the Bose QuietComfort 3s pack a potent punch. The cans have the same excellent active noise-cancelling technology as the QC15s. In addition, the headphones deliver loud, accurate audio with 25 hours of battery life. However, the $349 price tag might be prohibitive for some shoppers.
Jet setters looking for a warmer, fuller sound with longer endurance and a stylish, premium frame should check out the similarly priced AKG K495 NC. Overall, though, the QC3 headphones are the best choice for travelers who demand good audio quality along with a heaping helping of peace and quiet.
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Sherri L. Smith has been cranking out product reviews for Laptopmag.com since 2011. In that time, she's reviewed more than her share of laptops, tablets, smartphones and everything in between. The resident gamer and audio junkie, Sherri was previously a managing editor for Black Web 2.0 and contributed to BET.Com and Popgadget.