If you do not have $250 that you are inclined to spend on a set of headphones, I doubt I can offer you much incentive to continue reading. Then again, we all watched "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" knowing full-well that we were never going to live that way. So, if you are not in the high-end headphone market, just think of me as Robin Leach. I will gladly show you what you could be enjoying if you have a little more money, And a lot less sense:
Having a paying job minus children and a car, affords me the freedom to be able to indulge a few passions and a small number of luxuries. The years I spent producing music almost necessitates that one of those passions be high-quality sound. Even though the vast majority of my listening time is devoted to spoken word rather than music, I still want it to sound great.
I'm also one of those people who always has earplugs or headphones, in, on, or around my ears. When my ears are in plain view, the earplugs or headphones are always visible and nearby, usually dangling from the top of my shirt, or parked around my neck. I listen to a lot of podcasts and audio books. Thanks to some great accessibility features of iOS, I even listen to websites and articles. Almost all the reading I used to do is now done for me, and usually through headphones.
If you spend even half as much time listening to things through headphones as I do, then it may warrant a bit of luxury for you as well. That is why I am a fan of Bose, and Apple for that matter. These are engineering companies that solve for the problems that matter most to me, and do so with a view towards a luxurious experience. I don't care what consumer headphones produce some theoretical, "best" sound. Such a comparison requires an artificial testing environment and perfect testing conditions. In the real world that is loud and messy, the theoretical, "best" sound will never be appreciated.
Solving for Comfort
One of the big problems Bose solves for is comfort. Arguably, the On-Ear line is the least comfortable line Bose makes. But that is relative. The least comfortable Bose headphones are considerably more pleasant to wear than the most comfortable headphones produced by pretty much anyone else. There are no Beats headphones I can wear for more than a few minutes before needing to take them off, or readjust them. I can wear the On-Ear line for hours at a time, often forgetting that I have them on. The ear cups are softer than memory foam, but with a similar quality. They don't just look good. They feel luxurious when you put them on. That makes quite a bit of difference in the overall experience.
Solving for Bluetooth
Last year, I reviewed the noise canceling earbuds from Bose. They put their engineering prowess behind solving for noise and compactness. They succeeded. But no product can solve for everything. The compromise was cabling. Get a shortage in your stupidly expensive headphones, and you lose functionality. That's no good. This time around, Bose is solving for wires.
They have taken their popular OE 2 headphones and cut the cord. It is worth noting that Bluetooth is an exceedingly hard problem. No one does it perfectly. There are some inherent compromises in bluetooth. In this case, the laws of physics prove somewhat inconvenient. There are four bluetooth challenges that have to be addressed in all bluetooth products:
- Battery life
The degree to which these challenges are met, is what determines if a product has solved bluetooth. Currently, there is no perfect solution to bluetooth. But there are varying degrees of good. Price is arguable. But as for the rest, Bose has propelled themselves above the competition.
While other headphones claim to be able to connect to more than one item at a time, that feature never ends well. These are the first bluetooth headphones I have tried that actually work as advertised. They can be actively connected with two devices at a time, and inactively paired to a total of six. It automatically pairs with the last two devices you used them with, that happen to be in the vicinity at any given time. In my office, they automatically pair to my iPhone and computer. At home, they automatically pair to my iPhone and iPad. This, alone, is almost worth the price of admission
The real-world battery life is ridiculous. I mean that in a good way. I don't exactly know how many days it is because more than two is just showing off. I have averaged about 20% battery life usage per day. That suggests that I would get five days out of them. The point is that you are simply not going to run out before you get a chance to recharge them.
As for sound, they do not sound as well as their wired counterparts, unless you happen to be using a wire. The only way to make music over bluetooth sound as rich as it does in a pair of high-end, wired headphones is to nuke the battery life. Even so, there are bluetooth artifacts that most people cannot hear, but are there, and effect the overall sound. Physics.
That said, the sound is exceptional compared to every other bluetooth headset I've tried. You will not be able to tell the difference without doing a side by side comparison. That is something you are able to do with these, as Bose ships them with a cord. Plug one proprietary end into the headphones, and the other into your sound source, and these bluetooth headphones are just like their wired counterparts. So to, is the sound. If you are going to take a long trip on a plane, and will be in one place for a long period of time listening to music, just plug in the cord and enjoy superior sound quality. with no artifacts or battery loss. Honestly, though, they are the best sounding bluetooth headphones I've heard. You will not have a moment regretting the sound quality.
It Puts the Phone in Headphones
This section is just a brief reminder that headphones are not just passive head ornaments. They are also interactive. The controls are placed on the right ear cup, and are easy to access without thinking about it or fumbling around. The center button also brings up Siri, as well as answering and disconnecting calls. Call quality is outstanding. Though you wouldn't know it by wearing them. Sounds such as Siri and phone calls have much lower quality to your ear than media. However, the sound on the other end is pristine regardless of what is going on in the background.
Bose is using some kind of mic and software magic to automatically boost your voice for the person on the other end, and cleans up the signal while reducing background noise. You will only know this by reading their website, and having someone else call you while they are using these headphones. What you hear in the headphones and what the person on the other end hears are two very different things. The same is true for Siri. I use it a lot while walking to dictate messages. Neither wind noise nor traffic has caused the dictation to be garbled.
Conclusion: Bluetooth Done Right
I like these headphones a lot, and highly recommend them. They are bluetooth done right. However, they are not perfect. For audiophiles, the best sound these cups have to offer is when the included wire is attached. That said, audiophiles should not be looking at bluetooth headphones. Despite how good they are, they are still expensive. In that price range, though, they are the most luxurious. If you are looking for active noise cancelation, look elsewhere. These do not solve for noise. They solve for wires. I find that sufficient except in the noisiest of environments.
All of this means that with the march of technology, we can expect this product line to get even better. Physics be hanged. But there is no reason to wait. These are the best of what today has to offer. And to my ears, they are pretty great already.