After reading David Pogue's NY Times column on noise-canceling headphones, I went to the Bose store (only three blocks from my apartment, Bose sure makes it convenient for the consumer) and bought a pair of Bose Quiet Comfort 3 Acoustic Noise Cancelling [sic]* Headphones (or the QC3 for short).
People most commonly buy these things for airplane travel (I presume the kind of person who flies a lot is also the kind of person who can afford $350 for a pair of headphones), but the crappy window air conditioner in my Manhattan studio kind of sounds like a jet engine, so I thought I'd give noise-canceling headphones a try.
I walked over to the Bose store and tried both the QC2 and the QC3 models. The QC2 is an around-the-ear design while the QC3 is an on-ear design. The QC3 is marketed as being more comfortable, and for me that was the case. When I put on the QC2 headphones, it felt like a massive weight was pressing against the top of my skull. It was not comfortable at all. So I went with the QC3s. But this is strongly a matter of personal preference. Some people find the QC2s to be more comfortable. The QC3s put more pressure on the side of your ear, and I do find that they get uncomfortable after wearing them for a while. Alas, nothing is as comfortable as the $10 Sony earbuds.
Another advantage of the on-ear design is that they are smaller. So the QC3s don't look quite as silly as the QC2s. And they take up less space in your bag.
On the other hand, the around-the-ear design of the QC2 provides more passive noise reduction. However, the "memory foam" on the QC3 model makes a mostly airtight seal on your ear and they provide a surprising amount of passive noise reduction, along with excellent bass.
No brand inspires more hate on audiophile internet forums than Bose. Overpriced junk that doesn't provide true high fidelity quality is what audiophiles would say. But what they don't understand is that Bose is a marketing driven company rather than a sound quality driven company. Bose's objective is to create the perception of value in upper middle class consumers, and then charge a premium price for that value. I'm sure that Bose has discovered that the vast majority of people with six figure incomes can't tell the difference between true high fidelity and the stuff that Bose offers. Bose products are engineered to the tastes of the upper middle class masses rather than the true audiophile. The upper middle class masses apparently like a lot of bass. The Bose in-store experience is designed to give the consumer the feeling that he is buying a luxury good. It reminds me a lot of the Tumi in-store experience (I recently purchased a Tumi notebook computer briefcase at the very same Timer Warner Center).
The appearance of the QC3s definitely advance the perception of quality. They look very nice, the "memory foam" is luxuriantly soft, and all of the materials feel like they are a cut above everyday plastic. And they have the "Bose" logo printed in large enough type so that people will know that you are wearing expensive headphones. Does this matter? I'm sure the same people who think it makes sense to buy $300 True Religion jeans will think it makes sense to be seen wearing $350 headphones.
So how does the noise canceling work? It works great! The jet engine air conditioner sounds like a quiet fan after I turn on the noise cancellation switch. However, it should be noted that the noise cancellation circuitry is primarily effective against low pitched sounds and white noise. It does little against higher pitched sounds like police car sirens or crying babies. It isn't very effective against human speech. I can't compare Bose against any other brands, because these are the only pair of noise-canceling headphones that I own, but after reading a lot of online reviews, the evidence is that Bose may not have true audiophile quality sound, but their noise-canceling technology is the best that money can buy.
The primary downsides of the QC3 headphones are (1) they use a proprietary and expensive-to-replace lithium-ion battery that, according to Bose, only lasts 20 hours per charge; and (2) these headphones will not function as regular non-noise-canceling headphones. When the switch is turned off there is no noise canceling and no music either. So when the battery runs out, they are useless. And (3) repeating what I said above, they are not as comfortable as $10 Sony earbuds.
* * *
*Spelling "canceling" with a double "l" is like spelling "judgment" with an "e." Shame on Bose.
To clarify the spelling mystery, I sent the following email to Bose sales support:
I recently reviewed your noise "cancelling" headphones in my blog:
However, I was wondering why you misspelled the word "canceling" in the product description. The proper American spelling is with only one "l." Was this intentional, or an accident? If it's intentional, what exactly is the intent?
I got the following email back:
Thank you for your interest in Bose Corporation.
If you look up the word in Webster's Dictionary, the it is spelt both ways. Therefore, no misspelling occurred. You should note that the word cancelling in the title QuietComfort(R) Acoustic Noise Cancelling(R) headphones has been copy written (R)..
Note that the customer support person used the word "spelt." He's probably based in India, because no one in the United States would ever write "spelt."
I sent the following reply:
"Cancelling" is the British spelling and "canceling" is the American spelling. The question is why is Bose, a company based in Framingham Massachusetts, not using the American spelling?
Secondly, the fact that Bose trademarked (not copyrighted) "Acoustic Noise Cancelling" doesn't explain the choice of spelling. Surely, Bose could have trademarked "Acoustic Noise Canceling" instead.
Could you, perhaps, forward this inquiry to someone who could answer the original question, which is why the word "canceling" is being spelled with a double "l."
I suspect that the person who originally wrote the product description was a clueless individual who saw the spelling "cancelling" in a dictionary and ended his inquiry there. And now Bose is stuck with the trademarked spelling.