Editors' Note: As of August 2009, the QuietComfort 2 headphones reviewed here have been replaced by the QuietComfort 15s.
When it comes to noise-canceling headphones, Bose's original QuietComfort model set the gold standard. Now the company is offering the QuietComfort 2 (listed at $299), which delivers improved sound, a superior design, and--most notable--noise-canceling circuitry that's built into the headphones themselves, not a little box incorporated into the cord.
The QuietComfort 2 looks much like the full-sized, over-the-ear original. One of our gripes with the first model, now going for a reduced list price of $249, is that it takes up too much room in a bag. The new QuietComfort is still somewhat hefty, but its earcups swivel so that it folds flat and fits in a stylish case. The resulting package is slightly bigger than a CD wallet, which makes it easier to tote. For good measure, Bose threw in a headphone extension cord and a two-prong in-flight adapter.
Yes, the noise-canceling circuitry really works, but even without it, the earcups' deliciously soft cushions effectively sealed off our ears from the noisy environment. Flipping on the noise cancellation damped down the noise even further. Curiously, you have to engage it to listen to music, and when the battery dies, so does the music. Luckily, battery life is good. Bose rates it at 35 hours, and the single AAA battery, which resides in the right earcup, was still going strong after 20 hours of air travel.
The first thing we noticed about the QuietComfort 2's sound was the bass--it was wonderfully rich and full. Of all the noise-canceling headphones we've tested, this Bose came closest to delivering the shock and awe of the better speaker systems, though treble detail and sparkle were mellower than on our reference Grado SR 60. All sorts of music--classical, rock, and jazz--sounded refined and natural. One caveat: The QuietComfort 2, like some other noise-canceling headsets, produces a slight sense of pressure on the eardrum. Listeners sensitive to this effect may find it mildly uncomfortable.
Clearly, the rationale for laying out this much cash for a set of headphones isn't just sound quality. In this case, is the noise cancellation worth the extra freight? That's your call, and thanks to Bose's 30-day trial, you can buy the QuietComfort 2 and see and hear for yourself.