Frequent fliers have counted on Bose (opens in new tab) for years as the go-to brand for excellent noise cancellation and a fit comfortable enough for cross-country jaunts. By using microphones both inside and outside each ear cup, the Bose QuietComfort 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones eliminate even more noise than their predecessors, enabling you to hear more of your music and movies. Even better, the redesigned ear cushions that provide a seal against the racket around you are a pleasure to wear for hours on end. As long as you don't mind keeping a spare AAA battery handy, these high-end cans are the best money can buy.
Although they're crammed with a AAA battery as well as a mess of electronics, the Bose QC15s are no larger nor heavier than a traditional pair of headphones. The 7.3-ounce cans are mainly black, with the exception of silver caps on either earcup. The overall look is somewhat subdued but handsome nonetheless.
The right can has an inconspicuous latch on its top for inserting one AAA battery, and a switch to turn noise cancellation on and off. The left can has a 3.5mm jack to accept its lengthy 5.5-foot cord. A piece of molded plastic on this end of the plug blends seamlessly with the curves of the earpiece, resulting in a nice clean look when inserted. Also on this end of the cord is a switch to turn volume levels from low to high, depending on what you're plugging the headphones into.
The QC15s come with a hard case that protects them (not a bad idea considering their cost); the two earcups swivel 90 degrees to lie flat in the case. The battery is rated to last about 35 hours. Unfortunately, once the AAA battery dies, you'll need to find a replacement or else the headphones won't work. We'd also like to see Bose provide in-line volume controls at this price.
With this feature turned off, the QC15's cans do just as good a job of passively blocking out noise as a pair of good in-ear buds; the soft padding formed a fairly good seal around our ears. While on a plane (and sitting in line with the front of an engine), surrounding noise was reduced almost as much.
However, when we turned on the active noise cancellation, all ambient noise was nearly eliminated; engine noise was practically gone, and when a flight attendant's voice came over the intercom, we could hear her clearly. Ironically, we could now hear a person singing to himself a few rows back, too. Noise cancellation worked equally well while on a subway in New York City. While we still could hear faint screeches of approaching trains, the low-pitched rumble was nowhere to be found.
The QC15 headphones are best suited for those who like to listen to mid-range music. Bass came through strong and powerful, but did not overwhelm the higher tones. While watching "Kingdom of Heaven," the thunderous sound of artillery crashing against the walls of Jerusalem didn't dominate the clinking of swords and shields, or the swish of arrows flying through the air.
The bass line was clear and undistorted in Nina Simone's "Sinnerman," and the cymbal and staccato piano line was well defined, too. In Rodrigo y Gabriela's "Amuleto," the strummed guitars were warm, and the higher violin notes weren't abrasive. When listening to John Coltrane's "My Favorite Things," the bass complemented his sax well, and had just the right balance.
While playing Kool & The Gang's "Summer Madness," the higher tones came through clearly, but the bass, while at a good level, was somewhat less pronounced than what we heard with a pair of in-ear buds. In harder rock pieces, such as The Who's "Baba O'Riley" and Metallica's "Enter Sandman," bass wasn't as well defined or as present when the other instruments came in.
Is spending 300 bucks on a pair of headphones worth it? Yes, if you want a respite from the cacophony of airplane cabins, city streets, or other noisy environments, there is no better option. What's more, the Bose QuietComfort 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones offer the most comfortable design we've ever worn. We wish they could deliver sound without batteries, but overall they're well worth the splurge.