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(Re)Discovering Music: A Review of the Bose Quiet Comfort 15 Noise-canceling Headphones

Posted on the 07 March 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost

(Re)Discovering Music: A review of the Bose Quiet Comfort 15 noise-canceling headphones

On a recent trip to Jerusalem I arrived at 5.30 in the morning to find the pre-booked cab annoyingly absent. After queueing to get a cab, I landed on possibly the one person in Israel who apparently enjoys the sound of taxi dispatch cackle blaring at full volume and interspersed with what sounded like local folk songs.  As if to even further enhance the discomfort, the driver had an suspiciously selective command of the English language; it extended to an understanding of where I wanted to go but not to repeated and gesticulation-assisted requests to put the volume of the dispatch babble down.

It was, therefore, the perfect opportunity to test my newly purchased Bose Quiet Comfort 15, headphones. And when I tell you that it opened up a whole new world I’m only mildly exaggerating.

Before sharing this novel experience I should mention, for the record, that nobody has ever accused me of having even the mildest clue about music. Indeed I know people who would pay good money to make me stop singing along. To anything. Ever. Even in church with choir and congregation to hide behind. If I tell you that my iPod includes everything from Eminem to Vasco Rossi to David Guetta, perhaps you’ll understand just how incoherent are my music tastes. I’m not ashamed to admit that “To Thee My Country” is even in there, not to mention a nostalgic inclusion of the theme song from Ski Sunday (don’t ask, it’s a childhood thing).

Back to the Quiet Comforts. As soon as you put those headphones on you enter a cocoon. Turn on the music and the noise canceling switch and the door to the cocoon glides blissfully closed. In an instant you switch from harried traveler to a legend in your own lunch-break, with your very own Shaft-style hero band following you wherever you go.

The driver looks confused as I sit back, looking peacefully out of the window, and grin serenely. His plot to discombobulate me (I’ve always wanted to use that word) falls down.

I guess there are a few elements that combine to make the experience of using these headphones  such a pleasure. First, the noise cancellation feature effectively blocks off outside sounds ranging from taxi dispatcher to lousy radio. Second, the music you’re listening to takes on a whole new level of clarity – at least new to amateurs like me. Every note is crystal clear, every word of the lyrics is perfectly discernible (for better or for worse). Tinny becomes a thing of the past. Third, there’s the comfort. The full ear covering padded headphones of the Quiet Comfort 15 adds to the cocoon effect and seems reassuringly to tell the listener, “everything’s going to be just fine, and by the way, you’re now officially cooler than the too-cool-for-school cab driver yammering away on the phone again and chewing gum.” Finally, notwithstanding the high quality technology, the Quiet Comfort 15 headphones offer that most necessary of travel accessory traits – robustness. They come in a solid yet sleek travel pack with room for spare headphone plugs and a few batteries. The  headphones themselves have so far proved resilient, surviving even the heavy handed prodding and poking of security personnel at Tel-Aviv airport – and anyone whose lived through that harrowing experience will confirm that that’s no small feat.

I haven’t compared the the Quiet Comforts with other brands but most professional reviews I read before buying agreed that the sound quality is comparable to that of other market leaders – even the painfully fashionable Beats – but that the noise canceling function on the Bose was far superior.

On the very limited negative side of the ledger, the primary drawbacks are the battery operation and the spare plugs. The non-rechargeable batteries that are necessary both to activate the noise canceling function and to listen to music mean that you have to carry around AAA batteries to avoid the risk of getting caught short mid-journey. Also, one of the spare headphone plugs promises the prospect of dispensing with those crappy airline headphones by being designed for airplane socket use, only to disappointingly let the listener down by not working with British Airways sockets. Although the price, at £273, is clearly high, it is counterbalanced by the excellence of the product and the hugely enhanced travel experience it creates. Plus, you know from the outset that you’re buying a luxury extravagance so you sort of expect to pay a lot of money. On balance, the advantages far outweigh the drawbacks.

As I sat in the back seat of that madly careening taxi, I felt like I was living in a bubble, a bubble I didn’t ever want to leave. I felt a whole new empathy with grumpy, headphone-encased teenagers. The clarity of sound was astounding. And who knows, at this rate I may even muster up the courage to sing along again next time I hear a song that I like – but don’t tell any of my friends that or there’ll be a mad rush for the doors and a boycott of an otherwise flawless product.

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