While Apple has marginally improved the headphones it bundles with the iPhone (and the rest of the iPod family), their quality still can't touch that offered by other headphone brands. With its first foray into the cell phone earbud arena, Bose looks to make a splash with its mobile in-ear headset. While it boasts a comfortable, ergonomic design and excellent audio capabilities, the call quality could be better.
Available in black only with a twisted black and white cable, the Bose mobile in-ear headset is certainly stylish. Compatible with all iPhone models, these headphones come with three ergonomically-shaped silicone eartips, which are meant to rest gently in the outer bowl of the ear (as opposed to being shoved into the recesses of your ear canal). We found this design to be quite comfortable, though it felt like the buds were going to fall out until we got accustomed to them.
A useful and adjustable clothing clip helps secure the headset, and the included lanyard provides additional stability; it can be attached to the headphone cable and rests behind your neck, preventing downward pulls from yanking the eartips out of your ears. An inline mic hangs down about even with your lower jaw; a single button lets you switch between music and incoming calls, and also acts as a pause button when music is playing. At 52 inches, the headset's wires were plenty long enough to let us slip our iPhone into our back pocket during a full day of traversing busy city streets.
In addition to the lanyard and eartips, the in-ear headset comes with three 2.5mm adapters, which let you use the headset on a variety of phones (it's currently compatible with 55 models). It also comes with a black pleather carrying case, making it easy to take the headphones and its accessories wherever you go.
The touted feature of Bose's mobile in-ear headset is its TriPort acoustic headphone structure, which seeks to reproduce balanced tones and deep low notes--all without the need for artificial bass boost. Indeed, we were impressed with the clear, resonant bass line in Ben Harper's "Fight For Your Mind," along with the vibrant keyboard and lucid, blended vocals in OK Go's "C-C-C-Cinnamon Lips" on our iPhone 3G.
On the other hand, it's important to note that these headphones lack any kind of noise cancellation. Whereas passive noise isolation would involve a tighter eartip fit to help block out ambient sounds (such as with the Ultimate Ears super.fi 4vi), and active cancellation requires a form of battery-powered technology to accomplish the same task (as with the Able Planet NC200), the trade-off to Bose's comfortable fit is that outside noise still seeps in.
Indeed, we had to increase the volume dramatically (about 25 percent) when migrating from a quiet office to a busy city street (though this is generally the norm in New York City). When attempting to watch the movie Choke on a subway ride home, it was impossible at times to make out the audio--even at full volume.
Call quality on the mobile in-ear headset was acceptable, though not stellar. When calling a friend from a busy Manhattan street, he said our voice came in clearly, as though we were holding our iPhone up to our face. On our end, however, his voice sounded somewhat watery; we experienced this same effect with several different callers. When leaving a message to a landline phone, it came in clear, though the background noise of passing cars was easily discernible. The answer/end button on the headphones worked well, with about a two-second lag when switching between music and calls.
As a first effort, the Bose mobile in-ear headset is a good option for audiophiles who are looking for a pair of cell phone-capable headphones that are ready for the long haul. Though we would have better appreciated the audio quality of these buds had they employed some form of noise isolation, we were often willing to make this sacrifice for the sake of general overall comfort. $129 is a lot to plunk down for a pair of headphones (heck, the iPhone 3G itself costs $30 less), but the mobile in-ear headset is a solid choice for those who demand more from their media-centric phone.