BOSE Quiet Comfort Acoustic Noise Canceling Headphones: Silence is Golden
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BOSE Quiet Comfort Acoustic Noise Canceling Headphones: Silence is Golden

Air travel sucks. It really does – there’s nothing worse than the hassles of driving to the airport, standing in line with your luggage for an hour, being searched a dozen times (which includes taking off your shoes, belt, etc), waiting for countless hours because your flight was delayed, only to be rounded up and loaded onto the plane like a herd of cattle.

Once onboard the plane, you’re usually stuck sitting in the worst seat available, which is either the seat next to the obese gentleman who doesn’t appear to be a fan of effective deodorant, or worse – you’re near the engines and can now look forward to several hours of a deafening symphony of wind, engine, passenger (read: screaming babies) and other ambient noises.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, you discover that the $2 headphones the flight attendant just sold you are a complete rip-off. There’s no way they’re worth $2; they’re worth ten-cents, at best. You do your best to crank up the volume of the “Everybody Loves Raymond” re-runs on your airline headphones, crumple yourself into the corner of the seat and do your best to survive the remainder of your flight.

Thankfully, at least one of these major headaches can be avoided with a simple call to the Bose Corporation. Bose makes a special noise canceling headphone, called Quiet Comfort, that uses an electronic “ear” to find disturbing ambient noise, then generates a noise that is completely opposite of the offending noise. This effectively works to cancel the noise, as the two opposing sine waves zero one another out (you did know that sound waves, i.e. frequencies, are sine waves, right?).

You might be asking yourself, “Who wants to sit there in complete silence?” Again, Bose has you covered – not only do the headphones cancel surrounding noise, they also feature an input jack that works perfectly with any standard mini-stereo headphone jack, and includes adapters for other types of connections as well.

Sound a little better? We thought so. Letís take a better look at the headphones, shall we?

We ordered our headphones by calling the toll-free number that was listed with a Bose advertisement in one of the in-flight magazines. The cost was $299, plus shipping and handling – a little on the pricey side, yes, but Bose also offers 12 months interest-free financing. For around $25 per month, you can amortize the cost of the headphones to something a bit more manageable.

The first thing we noticed about the Quiet Comfort headphone system is that it’s a little on the large side. Bose does include two types of carrying cases – both are soft cases, one resembles a pouch; the other resembles a small shaving kit.

The headphones have what appears to be a synthetic leather pad around each ear cup. The padding is soft and supple, but the material causes your ear area to sweat if used for an extended period of time. I’ve noticed that on flights lasting more than an hour, my ears get very warm – the cups surround your entire ear, completely.

The ear cups are adjustable – you can make the headset bigger or smaller as you desire, and the cups are on pivots, which makes for a very comfortable fit (albeit a bit warm). Once fitted to your head, two thin signal wires make their way about 30″ to a small controller. The controller has a switch that controls “Off, Lo or Hi” settings, and also houses the two AAA batteries necessary for the headphones to work properly.

From the controller, a third, single signal wire is terminated with an angled mini-stereo jack, and is approximately 14″ in length. Our only other complaint with the system has to do with the signal wires and controller. Both the input and output (to headphones) wires are on the same side of the controller, rather than being in-line with one another. This is a minor annoyance, but it effectively shortens the wire length, and the controller hangs awkwardly from the headphones, suspended between the headphones and the source device at an odd angle.

The entire system is fairly lightweight – it weighs approximately 8 ounces, and battery life is outstanding. We’re still on the same set of AAA batteries that came with the unit (in May of 2002). Bose claims the battery life is approximately 80 hours, and we have no reason to doubt that figure.

How do the Bose Quiet Comfort Acoustic Noise Canceling headphones work? In a word, marvelously. On our first flight from Dallas to San Francisco, the headphones effectively silenced nearly all of the outside noise. We tried the headphones in several different configurations just to see how well they worked under varying circumstances. They are a definite life-saver on those long flights. We’ve taken over 20 flights in the past year (all over two hours in length), and the Bose Quiet Comfort headphones have yet to disappoint us.

During those 20 or so flights, we’ve had a chance to really experiment with the system. The Lo and Hi settings simply affect the amplification of the source media you’re listening to through the headphones. For example, while listening to music on the Lo setting, you might have to crank up your walk-man, iPod, or notebook computer a bit. When set to Hi, the Bose system allows you to set your source volume much lower (to help conserve battery life on the media player).

While on a cross-country flight and watching a DVD via my notebook computer, I found that with the Bose controller set to Hi, I can set the notebook volume to about 50%, and still hear the movie very well. Compare that to 80% on the Lo setting, and it becomes obvious how well the Bose amplifier works.

The audio quality of the headphones is good; it’s not audiophile quality, but it’s not tin-can quality either. True purists won’t like the emphasis the headphones place on certain frequencies (a bit of audio trickery), but for the average listener they should be more than pleasing to the ear. To me, they sound very warm and inviting and I find myself using the Bose headphones whenever I fire up my portable mp3 player, portable CD player, or any other audio device.

As a package, the headphones are a very good buy. There are a few minor annoyances (the cable length and configuration, the “hot” ear cups), but all in all, there’s very little to complain about. Once you try them on a flight, you’ll wonder how you ever flew without them, as the noise cancellation technology reduces that turbulent roar common to most flights to nothing more than a mild “whir”.

Do yourself (and your ears) a favor. Check out the Bose Quiet Comfort Acoustic Noise Canceling headphones by visiting or calling them at 1-800-999-2673. We’ve been using them for long enough to know they’re definitely worth the money – they really do take the mental fatigue out of air travel.

About Steve Litscher

Steve Lutscher Avatar
Food connoisseur, car guy, tech geek and dog lover.
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