If you're a frequent flyer then you've probably already heard about the Bose QuietComfort 25 headphones, otherwise known as the QC25. They're renowned for being lightweight, comfy for long periods of wear and offer killer noise-cancellation that can mute the hum of a Boeing's jet engines.
If you're not a frequent flyer then the benefits of all those points are still obvious. Having used the QC25 over-ears for a number of weeks - whether on train, plane or automobile; or, you know, just sat at the desk - we're confident in their skills.
Yet Bose has opted for a traditional AAA battery rather than a rechargeable onboard one, which feels at odds with their heralded status. Are the QuietComfort 25 headphones the ultimate noise-cancelling cans, or is there a whirlwind of unwarranted hype surrounding them?
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Bose QuietComfort 25 review: Design
The folding design of the QuietComfort 25 over-ears is quickly revealed when unzipping the included carry case, where they nestle neatly, earcups face-down. This case is half-way between a soft pouch and hard shell, delivering some degree of protection, but without eating up stacks of bag space (it measures 146 x 210mm and is 51mm deep). There's an included double 3.5mm jack adaptor - the type used for some aircraft entertainment systems - and a slot for a spare AAA battery.
You'll want to ensure that battery slot is filled with a spare too, because the QC25's proper operation depends entirely on one being planted inside (via the pop-open flap to the right side earcup). Unlike pretty much all other modern noise-cancelling headphones Bose hasn't opted for a built-in on-board battery, which would typically be rechargeable via Micro-USB. Nope, here it's AAA or the highway.
But by avoiding a built-in battery the weight of the QC25 is kept to a minimum. At 195g these headphones are light and airy. You'll still feel them against the ears, but the fit is so subtle, absent of almost any pinch whatsoever, that they're endlessly comfortable for long periods of wear.
For £270 headphones, however, the build quality is actually rather plasticky. Not that wearing more metal on your bonce is going to make you necessarily feel better - indeed it might just add to your neck strain due to the weight. But that's the compromise and balance of these Bose cans.
Bose QC25 headphones review: Noise-cancelling
The other stand-out feature of the QuietComfort 25 is just how high-performance the noise-cancellation is. After flicking the on switch to the centre of the right earcup the headphones all but mute the outside world. It's like a personal anechoic chamber Sellotaped to your skull (ok, slight exaggeration there; but it's impressive nonetheless).
We've used the QuietComfort 25 on many a tube and plane journey and been really impressed with how it dials out the nuisance sounds from the outside world, while engaging top quality audio direct to the ears. Distortion from wind is largely avoided too.
However, there are caveats. First, if the noise-cancellation feature is switched off then the headphones sound horribly average - all echoey and not really worth listening to at all. Which is why nobody would ever listen to them without noise-cancellation activated - unless you're forced to. After all, if that AAA battery depletes then there's no power left and they'll cut out of that engaging listen into second-rate mode. We got around 30-hours of use from the one battery, though, so they're not short-lived.
Secondly, noise-cancellation can be scuppered by external sounds in some circumstances. As there are microphones used to cancel out the external audio, they can pick up and, interpret sound in a less-than-useful way. Once, when sat on a train, for example, the repeated "whoosh" sound when passing bollards caused the playback levels to pulse up and down, which was disconcerting and made us feel kind of sick.
Bose QuietComfort 25 review: Sound quality
Not that we're being pedantic, because despite those couple of minor issues the QC25 headphones sound utterly brilliant.
With noise-cancellation engaged there's also a feature called Active EQ which clicks in. This powered equaliser technology is automated, ensuring deep bass and all-round richness whatever your musical genre of choice.
We've been flicking between underground dub, pop-tinged bands like Pvris, through to heavy rock, and streaming radio - everything has sounded absolutely on point. When the battery depletes so too does Active EQ, though, hence the sound quality being entirely dependent on power.
Sound is delivered via cable only too, which includes an inline remote/mic to switch between music and calls, adjust volume, play/pause/skip or change playlists (for Apple). But that means no Bluetooth wireless connectivity to be found here, again putting the QC25 feature set a step behind some of the competition.
Even so, headphones should be all about the sound quality. And with noise-cancellation and Active EQ engaged, we can see why there's so much hype surrounding the QuietComfort 25 over-ears. Simply put, they deliver exceptional sound while drowning out the outside world.
The Bose QuietComfort 25 headphones are mighty impressive over-ear headphones. As noise-cancelling headphones go they're right up there among the best, delivering great sound quality from their comfy, lightweight build.
However, the QC25 are not always up to class-leading standard considering the feature set of their near competitors. No rechargeable on-board battery (it's a replaceable AAA cell only), no Bluetooth connectivity, plasticky construction considering the price point, and poor sound once the battery has depleted (as Active EQ disengages) might make you think twice about considering buying into, say, Audio Technica, Bang & Olufsen, Sennheiser or one of many other makers.
That said, for long haul flights the Bose QuietComfort 25 are ideal - probably some of the best we've had the pleasure of wearing for such use. If the next-generation adds an on-board battery and Bluetooth then they might well be the perfect headphones for travelling. Can't say better than that.
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