The headphone market is bursting at the seams with sheer variety in every size, color, design, and price range. The portable section alone can be overwhelming, to say the least. Do you want in-ear, on-ear, folding, or fitness-friendly? How about extra features such as noise cancellation, inline volume control, or cable extenders? Then, of course, there are the ever-pressing sound quality and value issues.
It's these last points that we decided to face head-on in our latest Prizefight, which pits the pricey Bose On-Ear Headphones against the affordable Audio-Technica QuietPoint ATH-ANC1. The Bose set has a reputation for supreme comfort and top-notch sound quality, but the QuietPoint earphones bring an ultracompact, lightweight design and noise-canceling capability to the table. In the battle between brand power and value, which will come out on top? There's only one way to find out: let the battle begin!
Editors' note: The Prizefight scoring system is as follows: Each judge rates on a zero-to-five-point scale. At the end of each round, we will take an average of the three judges' scores. The final score for each will be an average of all five rounds.
Round 1: Comfort
Here's where we examine the overall comfort of the headphones, taking into account the average wear time.
3They're very light, but the earcups are pretty firm and don't distribute pressure across your whole ear the same way as the Bose earcups do. With my short hair, the lack of headband padding was noticeable.
4The headband here isn't padded, so it's not quite as cushy-feeling as the Bose headphones are, but the lighter weight more than makes up for it for me. These don't feel like they're going to slip off.
3These headphones are comfortable, and are the lighter of the two. The earpads could be a little softer, but there's nothing to complain about.
5The soft padding on the earcups is exceptional. Very lightweight and minimal pressure on the ear, overall.
4Bose has some of the cushiest earpads around, and the On-Ear headphones are no exception. The one negative for me is that the headband feels like it wants to push off my head.
4The On-Ears have the softest and most comfortable earpads on a headset. They're like baby pillows.
Round 2: Portability and style
Since earphones are meant to be used on-the-go, for the most part, their overall size is an important factor, as is whether they come with a case. We also ask ourselves, "How cool do we feel wearing these headphones?" Also, earbuds have an excellent opportunity to be fashion accessories, as well.
3The earcups are so small on these that it looks like you're wearing a pair of children's headphones. I like the minimal look, but the fold-up design isn't as compact as the Bose.
5The QuietPoints fold down supersmall, and the earcups are very compact as well. The style may not be as polished as that of the Bose, but I actually prefer that these are understated to the point of being barely noticeable.
4Both headphones use the same black and silver tones. The Audio Technica's fold up easily, and I prefer their smaller size.
4I feel like Bose products should be handed out with khakis and a polo shirt. Too pretentious for me, but the fold-flat design is superior.
3The Bose has the whole "bling bling" factor thing for sure, if only in name alone, but next to the QuietPoint headphones, I can't help but notice how relatively heavy and bulky these seem.
3The Bose On-Ears fold up into a nice case, but they take up more space. Both headsets are even when it comes to style, but the On-Ears just aren't as portable.
Round 3: Durability
In Round 3, we look at the build quality of the earphones, paying special attention to the construction quality of the cable and the materials used to enclose the earbuds. We also take into consideration any warranty that the manufacturer includes.
3I can't imagine laying out this much cash for build-quality that feels like a toy, but I can appreciate the detachable and replaceable headphone cable.
4The On-Ear's relative heftiness wins back some points here. The headband is superflexible and seems prepared to take a beating. Again, getting a one-year warranty: nice, but it's not overly impressive.
4These guys might take up a little more space, but the thicker headset construction feels like it could take a better beating.
Round 4: Sound and science
In the fourth round, we measure the sound quality, bonus features (such as sound-isolating capability and accessories), and any other wonders of science present in the headphones, such as the internal technology and component size.
3A very detailed sound for the money, but a little too crisp for my taste. Better at blocking out noise, but I need more low-end and less sibilance in the highs.
4The Quietpoints have good audio, though they don't sound quite as clean as the Bose, and a few songs sound slightly brittle. However, you do get noise cancellation, which makes up for it slightly--especially if you're a frequent flier.
4This is tough; the sound quality is good and pretty balanced, and you get the noise-cancelliation option. But if you compared the ATs with Bose with noise cancellation off, the Bose headphones clearly sound better. This really comes down to your preference of a feature versus raw quality.
4Balanced and uncolored sound? From Bose, not a chance. But I like what I heard, and the low end really shines through compared with the QuietPoints.
5The Bose On-Ear Headphones offer clean, balanced audio with a punchy low-end and no muddiness to speak of. They handled every genre I threw at them with ease--a great option for eclectic listeners such as myself. No extra features, but I'm willing to forgive that for the sound.
4The Bose On-Ears have a greater dynamic range that you can distinctly hear, but I can't ignore the additional noise-cancellation feature from Audio-Technica. I'm calling it even.
Round 5: Value
Last, but definitely not least, we consider the headphones' cost. This round is for individual value, all things considered.
3These cost too much for what you get. There are many great, sturdy, closed-back headphones out there you could buy for the same price, if you can tolerate a little extra bulk.
3Compared with other Bose headphones, the On-Ears seem downright cheap; still, one has to wonder how much of your $165 is actually paying for that "Bose" label.
3Retail price starts about $180, and Bose doesn't drop the price too much. Even if you're purchasing these for sound quality alone, that's a lot to ask for that price.
The winner is...
Bose On-Ear Headphones (3.7 pts)
Audio-Technica ATH-ANC1 QuietPoint (3.7 pts)
Talk about a close call! The Bose On-Ear Headphones came out swinging with their "pillow-like" earpads in Round 1, landing some solid blows in terms of overall comfort. But the QuietPoint ATH-ANC1 headphones were quick to recover with their supercompact size in the portability round. Sadly, the QuietPonts' small size likely set them up for a loss in the durability round, and they took another minor hit in the sound and science department for offering less-balanced sound quality. Yet the Bose took a huge knock on the skull in the value round, with the judges preferring to save dough when it all comes down to it. At the final tally, the Bose On-Ear Headphones literally eked by with an average score of 3.72 compared with the QuietPoint's 3.68 score. Both round off to 3.7, but the Bose wins in the end with three rounds out of five. What a fight!
About the Prizefight
A collection of judges from CNET.com put the Audio-Technica QuietPoint ATH-ANC1 and the Bose On-Ear Headphones through their paces, pitting the earphones head-to-head in five bone-shaking rounds. See which will come out on top in this subjective battle.