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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 11 January 2012
Read around on the internet and you will find a fairly reliable consensus emerging on Bose noise-cancelling headphones. Audiophiles tend to hate them, because they are expensive but have low fidelity (compared to headphones in their price bracket); people who buy them purely for noise-cancelling tend to like them, and even think that they sound pretty good.

NOISE CANCELLING

Audiophiles who want noise mitigation tend to go for the passive attenuation used with IEMs (in-ear monitors, like the sort that performers wear on stage). I have some Shure IEMs, and they are very good at blocking out external noise, but at the cost of inserting something into your ear canal. Worse, in an environment such as a plane, you are often interrupted and have to pull them out of your ear canal, meaning that you have to keep struggling with refitting. (Yes, you can get a microphone unit to avoid this, but that's pretty inconvenient in itself.) Let's not even talk about earwax!

The Bose headphones are very easy to move and replace, so what you lose in absolute attenuation is more than offset by convenience.

The attenuation itself is very good. Without noise cancelling turned on, the headphones do a good job of muffling the external world, but when you turn it on there is a clear "silencing" effect. I haven't tested other noise cancelling headphones, but from reading reviews I'd say that it's pretty clear that Bose are technically the best and - even though these headphones will not silence the external world or even come clear to it - once you actually start playing music your brain tends to go along with the process and exclude any distracting noises that might make it past the active cancelling.

It took me a while to get to try these in a plane, but there is absolutely a reason why the QC15s are so popular with air travellers. I always assumed that the audio output from plane seats was very poor, but once the environmental sound has been reduced from a rumbing bass roar to a comparatively benign mid-level hiss you can enjoy a film far more ... or your portable music player, if you'd rather. For a substantial part of the flight I was completely unaware of ambient noise.

Note that the lower listening volumes possible with these headphones, together with the passive attenuation in the earpad designs, means that these headphones have very little leakage. They are certainly kinder to other people in the room than any other headphones I have used.

BUILD QUALITY & COMFORT

Bose are often criticized on build quality: certainly the QC15s are very "plastic" in feel and you may be disappointed compared with some other headphones in the price bracket, which employ expensive or exotic materials. The "leatherette" headband and ear pads are functional, no better. My AKG K701s, which cost about two thirds of the price of the QC15s, look and feel like a much more expensive headphone.

That said, the QC15s are very light and surprisingly comfortable. Rather than being directly above the crown of the head, the headband is angled slightly forward, meaning that they are not going to move about when you lean back in your seat, and although the clamping effect against the ears is strong enough to result in hot ears, it is perfectly comfortable to wear spectacles at the same time as these headphones.

There are also some nice design touches in the QC15s. The battery compartment is very easy to access (yet secure) and takes one AAA battery (unlike the QC3s which used a special rechargeable battery). The cable snaps into the headphone on a special proprietary coupling. This means that the cable should be fairly easy to replace if it becomes damaged. (In any case, in the UK Bose give you a second cable included in the price: it's the cable for controlling Apple devices, which has a microphone on it, a volume switch and a pause/answer button.) The cable also has a slider on it so that if you are using the headphones on a plane you can set it to a higher resistance in order to compensate for the high gain circuits used in flight cabins: the difference is not enormous, but it is definitely helpful. Oh, and the cable is very light and straight: you might feel that it is flimsy, but actually I think that a light cable is very practical.

Stated battery life from one AAA battery is about 30-35 hours. You can't run the headphones at all without battery power, so battery lifetime is important. Fortunately, the operation light on the side of the headphones gives you very generous warning when the battery is low: it starts flashing when you have about five hours left. Some reviews have pointed out that it would be nice to be able to run the headphones passively without engaging the sound cancelling circuit (for example, for listening at home in a quiet room) but my feeling is that, in the real world, you are unlikely to be caught without a battery.

The QC15s come with a clamshell case that is really quite nice. The ear units fold flat against the moulded inside of the case, and it seems to offer enough protection that you could stuff it in a bag without worrying, although do bear in mind that overall the headphones in their case are a similar size to a hardback book, so they do take a toll on space in your hand luggage.

SOUND QUALITY

The QC15s are not neutral: they can sound airless in the highs (although this may be a feature of the noise cancellation itself); they sound slightly thin (I could almost say "tinny") in the mids; they boom in the lows, giving a likeable but not natural bass, and their bass extension is okay, but nothing special. You'll notice their weaknesses most on drums and acoustic or electric bass, which can have decent volume and boom but lack the impact and weight that you would get from a really good headphone. That said, the stereo image is good and the QC15s can be quite impressive on music that has sustained bass notes: what you lose out on attack is made up for on sustain.

You can compensate for the lack of punch by turning up the volume, but I don't recommend this. These headphones drive very easily and can be played at absolutely deafening volumes, but (in addition to being very bad for you) this is completely contrary to the entire design: these are intended to be listened to at comparatively low volumes, where their sound characteristics makes them a natural "loudness" circuit. If you listen to the QC15s at (very) high volumes the sound gets very muddy and uncontrolled.

Although it may sound as though I am really down on the sound quality, if you listen generally to popular music, classical or jazz, these headphones are easily good enough for dedicated home listening. They definitely struggle on hip hop, where their bass coloration and lack of real weight clashes horribly with the artificial EQ on that music. To be honest, though, unless you live on a constant diet of bass-intensive music you will be fine, and many owners will be trading up from headphones that may sound nowhere near as good as these do.

One big surprise with the QC15s was how good they are for surround sound. For interest, I tried the QC15s out of a Creative DDTS-30 (which is a little pocket-sized decoder that can provide a Dolby Headphone output) and they do a wonderful job with DTS sound such as the Steven Wilson mix of King Crimson's Starless and Bible Black. The colouration of the QC15s is also spot-on for gaming, with a lot of volume and a very good "out of the head" performance. It's a rather niche use for Bose headphones, but definitely worth trying.

I also tested these headphones with an iPhone and the Apple-compatible cable and was impressed how well the QC15s handled a phone call: the two people talking in the room with me were nicely "muted", the headphones were much better than the iPhone's built-in speaker at reproducing the voice of the person I was talking to, and the in-line microphone seemed to do a good job at picking up my voice. I don't have much use for this aspect of the QC15s, but it's something to bear in mind if you have a need for this functionality.

You should also note that I did listening tests for this review against the AKG K701s out of a headphone amp in a quiet environment. The K701s are a lot more difficult to drive than the QC15s, so if you are using headphones primarily with, for example, an iPod then the QC15s will cope a lot better than many "hi-fi" headphones.

OVERALL

These headphones are designed to be used in noisy environments, whether that means a plane or just a living room where someone is watching a television. As such, it isn't fair to complain that they don't have the same sonic fidelity as other headphones at their price point; the simple fact is that the Bose will sound much, much better than a high-fidelity headphone because you can hear them much better at tolerable volume settings. These headphones are absolutely not "jacks of all trades": they serve a practical purpose and the price premium that they carry reflects how well they do that.

There seems to be a lot of room for improvement in the QC15s but, at time of writing, they are pretty clearly the class leader for what they do and I didn't want to subtract a star since (on a major investment like this) most readers would be seriously put off by the suggestion that these are anything less than a five-star product. Bose has got the key things - noise cancelling, comfort and technical design - right.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 4 March 2014
What do you want these to do?

Do you want great sound quality?
Do you want them to be comfortable?
Do you want the best Noise cancelling available?

If the answer to all the above is yes, then you have to buy these head phones - it's that simple.

There are various combinations of yes and no answers to the above for all the other headphones on the market, but none that does everything as well as these.

I didn't want to spend this much money, I tried other headphones but ended up returning them to the shop as they either didn't cancel noise or were damn uncomfortable.

Amazon won't like this bit - don't buy them from here, buy them from a Bose shop - you get a month to play with them and if they don't do exactly what they promise, take them back within a month, no questions asked.

I tried several headphones at this price point and the Harmon Kardon at over £300 and honestly, these have the best, most balanced sound and with a really good sound-stage for making you music sound 'spatial', like surround sound...

The noise cancelling is fantastic, all background and ambient sound is removed - if it struggles in anyway, it's with blocking out someone speaking - it takes it right down to a muffled whisper, but I'd be lying if I said it deletes it all together - but this IS when there is NO MUSIC playing though - put music on even quietly and all noise vanishes...

If like me, you've tried to find cheaper noise cancelling headphones and been disappointed by everything except these Bose headphones and had to give in to the significant price tag - but still felt like you'd got value for money, click the helpful button!

UPDATE:

Just took these on a flight for the first time. Worth.Every.Penny! Cut out all of the drone and roar of the wind and the engines and left me sitting in peace and quiet. Happy Days!
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on 25 December 2011
I managed to snatch a pair of these headphones when Amazon was offering a slight price reduction, just short of £230 if my memory proves right. However, like all Bose products, whatever store you go to, it's going to be the same price.

Anyway - on to the review. I did a lot of research on these headphones, and in my opinion you can't go wrong. WhatHiFi gave them a "Best noise-cancelling headphones Award", so they must be pretty good. Granted, they're not flashy and if you're looking for something like that (with mediocre sound quality) you'd best go for the Beats. However, Bose have kept to their standards with this fantastic pair of headphones. It comes with a hard-shell carrying case, perfect for throwing in a bag and for storing them safely. They also include two separate audio cables (as the cable is detachable), one includes an in-line microphone and button set which is compatible with Apple devices and some select Android handsets, the other cable is just a standard one. As Bose always seems to advertise this product for the airline traveler, they include an airline adapter, but I must admit they fit very well in all normal situations!

The sound isolation is very good. I was able to block out the vast majority of outside and ambient noise. I've tested them in a car as well and they worked amazingly well. If you've never had noise isolation/cancelling headphones before, it might take a while for your ears to become adjusted to it - but I suffered no problems with this.

All in all, a fantastic product and a fantastic buy at any price!
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on 15 January 2014
I never thought I'd call a gadget "life-changing". It sounds like the hyperbole of intelligence-insulting marketing. But I think it's fair to call these headphones just that.

I have a middlingly horrible commute through central London in my working week. An hour each way on two of the Tube's busiest lines. All the research shows that commutes over 45 minutes significantly overall life satisfaction. But now, most days I look forward to this commute, thanks to these headphones. The noise-cancelling is good enough to turn the grimmest part of my week into a couple of hours of self-indulgence, of proper concentration on the music and audiobooks I love.

Then, in my highly distracting open-plan office, I listen to hours of music, or recordings of background noise like birdsong and rivers to help concentrate and block out colleagues' conversations. Sometimes I just have the near-silence of the noise-cancelling. Although earplugs can do this for just a few pence, they represent a passive aggressive rebuke to everyone around you that will give you a reputation as an angry loner. By contrast the headphones mean you can pass yourself of as someone who just really likes his or her music. Such things are important.

So, five out of seven days in my week have now been improved significantly by theheadphones. Life changing by any measure.

It's important to point out that the noise-cancelling does not totally block out the sound of a rattling train or most other intrusive noise. But it's equally important to try the phones properly, for at least an hour, before making your judgment. Having shelled out over two hundred quid you may get annoyed to hear any background noise over your music when out and about. But wait and you'll learn something interesting about the human brain: if the distraction is below a certain threshold, it gets totally edited out. These headphones, crucially, get the background noise of trains and aeroplanes below this threshold. Even for classical music, which has many quiet or silent bits, the noise-cancelling is good enough for you to enjoy it in most everyday scenarios.

They are also very comfortable. I've gone several hours wearing them without my ears getting hot and painful. And the single AAA battery lasts a weirdly long time. I listen for several hours a day and seem to need to change the battery only every four or five weeks. This is longer even than the manufacturer's estimate of battery life.

They are expensive, but in terms of pleasure per penny spent, I've never owned anything better.
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on 7 April 2013
I work at home sometimes. However, our downstairs pole neighbour made it impossible. The poles never leave the place quiet for a second! The music or TV will be turned on from very early in the morning, and you will constantly hear singing, loud speaking (in polish) and baby crying, etc. At night, they made sex ridiculously aloud. The Bose here comes to help! With the headphone, I am able to read, write have some peace at home! However, there are situations when Bose cannot help at all. The pole stamps on the floor, clashes the door, cut the woods, crack the wall, other sudden loud sounds. The first Bose I ordered online has some fault that noise cancelling function lasted for a few mins and then started to beep. The second Bose has been functioning properly up till now, however, I found my friend's one, the noise cancelling is even better than mine,which you cannot hear anything even you were typing. Mine was bought with discount offer from Amazon. My friend one was bought in full price. I am not sure whether it were a coincidence or not. Overall, The Bose definitely helps if you were unlucky as me to have a noisy, cheeky, ignorant and uncivilised neighbour.
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on 12 July 2012
I have been looking for a decent set of headphones for some time and these are just what I have been looking for. I have had them for about 2 months and use them on a regular basis so feel my review is based on a reasonable amount of use.

I usually have problems with headphones causing pain after about 30 minutes wear. I have worn these for up to 3 hours on a plane on 2 occasions with no pain at all.

The noise reduction is very good. Whilst it does not cancel all the noise (it is not supposed to), it does reduce the background noise to a minimum and does allow you to listen to the music/DVD. One of the flights had 2 big Stag party groups making a lot of noise. The headphones cut out the aeroplane noise and made the voices sound as if they were mere whispering.

I like the ability to use them as a noise reducer simply by turning them on, even if not listening to music etc.

They are very comfortable and come with a good carry case and spare cable.

I have noise reducing in-ear Sony headphones and whilst I thought they were good, the Bose are much much better. I accept they are over the ear rather than in ear, but as a user I find there is no comparison.

I use a rechargeable battery and find it lasts for several hours. The current charge has lasted for 2 flights(3 hours each) and respective airport checking and about 30-40 more hours use.

I am not sure if there is an auto cut off, but there have been a few times when I have forgotten to turn them off even though I have turned the music off.

As to the sound quality, I listen to various types of music, from classical to Hans Zimmer, Phil Collins, Queen and Jean Michel Jarre and find the sound to be brilliant.

Whilst I accept they cost a lot I am very pleased with the purchase and thoroughly recommend them.
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on 30 December 2013
I replaced my bose oe2 with these because I was tired of having earpads sit on my ear rather than around. For most people, having headphones sit on their ears is fine but for me, after long periods of listening to music, it felt uncomfortable. Whilst on the bus (with my old headphones) I had to turn up the volume to the max (which was damaging my ear no doubt) but with these I am at peace because I don't have to turn it up to the max. It doesn't block out everything but blocks ouy enough to justify the purchase. Yes it's fairly expensive but like the good old saying goes... 'with price comes '. I am happy with the purchase, I am just a regular user who loves music but not an expert to go into details about highs and lows and mids and trebles nor do I need headphones that's heavy on bass...
These do the job for me and I'm sure all you regular fellow commuters who use the tube on a daily basis will be happy to agree with me that these improve your daily commute. Life isn't perfect but these sure as hell make it feel like it is.

Sorry I didn't mention the boxed contents as it's already detailed on this page...

You really need it because hearing is believing...

Like repeated advice (which is good for you) I highly recommend you purchase this product (qc15). If you don't like it, you can always send it back (which I doubt you'd do :-)

Not much of a review but take care peeps...

Ps the sound quality is immense!
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on 8 November 2011
I have had this product for almost a year now. I don't use it a huge amount and I hardly fly anywhere (which I think is one of Bose's key markets for this product). However, whenever I use this product I am always impressed.

I use this product in my office to cut down the surrounding noise, and also when I am working in noisy server rooms. I suppose a server room is a similar sort of "thrum" as you would get on a plane. It won't totally stop sudden noises (for example fireworks), but it will reduce the volume of them considerably.

In short I think this product is excellent - it takes an oppressive, tiring environment and turns it into easily bearable near-silence.

I find them fairly comfortable, but I see how some people would feel that they were putting pressure on their ears. I think this is an area where you just have to see how it affects you. They do make your ears a little sweaty after a while, but you will find that both of these situations occur with any closed back headphone. I suppose the answer is to take them off for a couple of minutes every half an hour - which can only be good for you.

In terms of sound quality, I am used to high end hi-fi at home (so I know what I am listening for), and yes, these headphones would be beaten by an equivalent-priced pair of Sennheisers or Grados. However, they produce a very good overall sound that I don't think anyone should really complain about. Remember, you are buying these headphones because you want to isolate the outside and have a bit of tranquility for yourself - so why would you want to replace that outside noise with thumping heavy bass?

I think Bose deserves two thumbs up for this product - technically they are well thought out (they even have a nice slim 3.5mm connector that will fit into a smartphone without fouling the smartphone case). I have the Bose Stereo upgrade (with noise cancellation etc) in my Audi and I am suitably impressed with it as well.

The main criticism that I tend to read is about sound quality - if you are nit-picking, yes, you can find better, but in terms of the way it transforms a tiring nightmare environment into a near-silent foundation onto which you can lay your favourite tunes, I think these are a very tough act to beat.
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on 13 November 2011
"I utterly love these and they have absolutely the best noise cancelling of any headphone I've tried. They are comfortable but quite warm, and compared to the AE2s (which I also have) they are a little heavier and seem to squeeze a little more. On a long flight my ears did get hot - but that's a necessary part of the design I guess. They need a battery in order to work - no battery no sound at all! The sound is excellent too, and I don't notice the "whoosh" that you get with some other noise cancelling sets.

If you are going to travel regularly by aircraft, or even bus or train, or really want to use the noise-cancelling function then I don't believe there's a better set of cans out there. However for "lighter" listening or longer-term stuff (say, every day at work) I'd sooner choose the Bose AE2 model for comfort, weight, price and coolness. I went a bit mental and ultimately bought both - I'm glad I did as they are both quite different."

So I wrote the above on 13th Nov 2011, so Amazon tells me. And here we are in 2014, where I feel compelled to update you.

I STILL love my Bose QC15s, in fact I love them even more! Originally they were just for aircraft use but I had a midlife crisis and am now back at university. I have to work in a library with irritating noisy people and these are totally my salvation! Tunes on, ahhhhh solitude. I'm in London now and they're brilliant for noisy screechy tube. In student accommodation they block out most of the irritating noise. Also if I decide to work in a cafe etc. the same applies - block out the irritating outside world and get on with my work. In my work bubble. Win.

They are quite big to carry to around, and I did try normal in-ear ones in place, but no. These are worth effort of carrying around as they are peace and solitude in a box!

If you have the cash please BUY THEM!! Cannot recommend highly enough - they keep me sane!
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on 30 December 2011
What a wonderful item. Really impressive, sound quality superb, nice carry case and really comfortable to wear! Wish only that the branding wasn't so visible on the side of the earphone which I am sure would not pose a problem sitting in a business class airplane cabin but potentially a tad more problematic on the London underground!!!
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