The purpose of this review is to assess the sound quality of both headphones regardless of the environment they are used in. I have reviewed them in a hotel room with very little in the way of background noise. My source is a lowly Apple iPhone with MP3s created from WAVs using VBR-3 (approx 190kbps files).
### Testing the Headphones
They are both noise cancelling headphones. The Bose were tested with noise cancelling ON, largely because they don't produce any sound when off. The Sennheisers were tested ON and in bypass mode.
I used a variety of tracks:
Faithless - To All New Arrivals - Music Matters (For its velvety sound)
Hybrid - Morning Sci-Fi - Blackout (Another velvety track but a little dancier)
BT - Monster - Various Tracks (Wider dynamic range, 48khz audio)
BT - This Binary Universe - See You On The Other Side (As above)
Sarah McLachlan - Surfacing - Angel (Soft vocals)
Sarah McLachlan - Surfacing - Do What You Gotta Do (as above)
Norah Jones - Come Away With Me - Various Tracks (silky vocals)
Both headphones are over the ear designs, so they don't sit on your ears. I think this is a generally a more comfortable design. I know that my reference Senn HD25-1s are not comfortable after an hour or so. The PXC450s are physically larger than the QC2s - they could certainly accomodate the larger ear, whereas the QC2s seem to be the perfect size. The pressure on my head is about right with the QC2s. The PXC450s are firmer, and whilst not uncomfortable for longer listening sessions, you are aware of them more so than with the Bose.
Another thing worth mentioning is that I am a wearer of spectacles. This is not a problem for the QC2s but the PXC450s seem very sensitive to the seal around my ears. There is a bass drop if I have my glasses on, as if the seal is no longer 100%. This is not the case with the Bose phones, they don't care whether I have glasses or not!
My ears felt contact with the innards of the 450s at times. Not uncomfortable but not an issue with the QC2s.
One last thing to mention is that because the PXC450s are larger, there is more scope for misaligning the phones to your ears - a different sound can be obtained depending where you wear the cans. I think they are supposed to be worn with your ears towards the back of the phones - it sounds and feels wrong middle to front. Again, the Bose fits perfectly every time and doesn't suffer from this variation.
Both sets can be used in noise cancelling mode with their cables detached. They both use a single AAA battery integrated in one earphone. The 450s have extra controls for volume and a talk-through function, which is a bit gimmicky but works quite well if you can't be bothered to take them off.
So lets get down to it, how do they sound? I'll break this down into four sections: bass, midrange, treble and the whole picture.
Bass: This is an interesting one. The PXC450s have almost too much bass in bypass mode (and without glasses!). Engage the noisegard circuitry and the bass drops significantly. The effect seems to be slightly less on a plane when there is a lot of low frequency noise to contend with, but nonetheless they are bass light when in noise cancelling mode. The QC2s only run in noise cancelling mode and they are unaffected by glasses so they perform consistently in this department delivering a balanced mix I would say. Not bass light, not bass heavy. However, they are not as detailed as the Senns. Bass notes are lost in a muddy warmth. Warm is probably the right description, the sound is warmer but somehow confusing. There is not the depth or scale either that the Senns can deliver (when you get the right combination of specs/modes etc). The bass presentation is much larger, wider. The Bose sounds boxier. Enable noisegard on the 450s and this changes, they lose their depth and scale but remain composed, never muddying the audio.
Midrange: Both perform well vocally, delivering plenty of detail. The soundstage, again, is slightly better on the 450s. There seems to be a slight lift in the presence band on the QC2s that makes it sound boxy. The Senns sound open, light and airy.
Treble: The 450s have oodles of detail and never sound harsh or sibilant. The same can be said of the Bose too, but I would say they have slightly less detail and because of the boxy bass and midrange, this takes the edge off the overall presentation.
The Whole Picture: The 450s have a light, airy, big, deep and powerful presentation. They deliver subtly when required and power if its needed. The QC2s have a chunky, slightly muddy less defined presentation that doesn't quite hit the spot.
### On A Plane
Ok this is a bit unfair as I've not taken the QC2s on a plane but I have sat a 10 hour flight from London to San Francisco with the 450s. Firstly, they cancel plane noise unbelievably well - If i could measure the drop in db I would. As I have to describe it instead, its like pressing the mute button on your hifi and the audio dropping 20db. I expect the QC2s would perform in much the same way. I also expect the QC2s to win the long term comfort test but that said, I wore the 450s for 8 hours of the 10 with two short breaks in between. Aside from getting slightly moist ears, I felt no discomfort at all. Unlike my reference HD25-1s which leave my ears sore after about 1 hour. Ok they are on-ears!
Incidentally, the same picky seal that loses bass when I wear my specs also lets in plane noise, so I had to wear my specs outside the phones. Not a big deal but I don't think the QC2s suffer this problem.
These headphones are physically massive and they have a big sound to go with their size. To me they are more like having speakers on my ears - I mean that in a good way. Yes they are large, but they also sound hifi. Unfortunately, they are let down by noisegard robbing them of bass in operation. They are also let down by a picky seal that does not like spectacle wearers. They do cost less than the QC2s and if the PXC350s (which doesn't have talk-through) sound the same as the 450s, then they are a real bargain and undercut and outperform the QC2s considerably. Even at dabs current price, the 450s have set a new benchmark in performance and value.
Bose Quietcomfort 2
Comfortable and easy to live with. They don't have the scale and authority of the 450s but they aren't far behind. They are let down by a muddy bottom end that robs the user of detail. One could argue that not being able to use them as normal headphones without noise cancelling is also a negative. Not being fussy about specs is good. They don't convince if you want headphones to use at home.
So which am I keeping? Its a little bit of a tough one. One the one hand I like how easy the Bose cans are to live with. They sit nicely on my ears, their presentation is consistent, they get on with my specs, they are smaller and slightly more comfortable. On the other hand, the sound quality of the PXC450 is way ahead of the QC2s. The fact that I wore them for 8 hours of a 10 hour flight says that I can live with their bigger frame. I can also live with their picky seal and ear position. I'll be keeping the Sennheisers!
Detail, subtly, velvet, open, great soundstage, power, control. Spine tinglingly good! Just awesome. Perhaps a little bass heavy. Audiophile headphones that happen to have noise cancelling as an extra.
Unfussy, nice but muddy, boxy and constricted. Decent headphones but they aren't normal headphones as well as noise cancelling.