For the past five years, Bose's QuietComfort 15 headphones have been the gold standard for active noise-cancelling headphones. They're so good that a number of airlines offered them to their first-class passengers for use during their flights.
Last month, Bose launched the sequel to its well-reviewed headset, introducing the Bose QuietComfort 25. For anyone who flies a lot and doesn't already own a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, I can't recommend the QC25's more highly. Buy them before your next flight. They're that good.
Flying on an airplane can be exhausting, thanks to delays, other passengers, low air pressure, dry air, engine noise and more. With a great pair of headphones, even if you don't listen to music, at least one of those (and maybe two) can be removed from the equation.
For the uninitiated, slipping on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones like the Bose QC25 is like removing all the background noise from a plane — the drone of the engines and, on a more limited basis, the drone of talking passengers and plates clattering. In a silent room, there are still noises in the background, called the "noise floor." What the noise-cancelling headphone do is to lower the noise floor and actively "cancel" out other sounds.
Turning the headphones on, achieved via a switch on the right earphone, is something like having all the air sucked from the room, at least as far as your ears are concerned. Put them on for an hour in a quiet room, even without any music playing, and you'll be amazed at how much "louder" it is when they're taken off.
Bose says there are new audio enhancements and an updated noise-cancelling chip, as well as a new design that allows the headphones to fold up smaller than before (Figure A). The leather ear cushions are said to be more comfortable, with Bose saying they've made something "better and different" than their previous models.
The Bose QuietComfort 25 headphones fold up smaller than before.
The gadget review site The Wirecutter lists the QC25's as their favorite noise-cancelling headphones, saying they "offer the best active noise cancelling of any headphone available."
Like its predecessor, the QC25 is powered by a single AAA-battery with a storage slot for a backup battery cleverly designed into a headphone case that Bose says is smaller than any of its competitors. There's also a dual-jack airplane headphone adapter for connecting to some specialized on-board multimedia applications.
Bose has added a iPhone-compatible three-button volume and play/pause control on the headset cable, as well as a microphone for making hands-free calls. In testing, it worked very well. The QC25's also work as non-noise-cancelling headphones after the batteries die, a nice change from the QC15's that were useless once the AAA battery passed on.
My main gripe is that I would sometimes take the headphones off and leave the noise-cancelling portion on — once I left it on all night, nearly draining my battery — so, an auto-shutoff control would be nice. However, that's a minor nitpick, particularly given the excellent 30+ hour battery life on a single AAA battery.
The new unit has slightly better bass and an increased upper-midrange sound profile according to The Wirecutter's testing, but it's not significant enough to deserve an upgrade if you have the existing noise-cancelling headphones. For everyone else, if you're looking for something to make your flights more comfortable and enjoyable, or to block out generic background noise at work, give the QC25 headphones a try.
Like the prior model, the QC25's are available for $300 (and Bose rarely allows sales) from a wide variety of retailers, though rumor has it that Apple is removing Bose products from its stores. For $100 more, customers can order customized units in a huge variety of colors.
Do you use noise-cancelling headphones? If so, which ones do you recommend?
Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.