- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 2, 2009

ABOARD BRITISH AIRWAYS FLIGHT 264 TO LONDON

At 34,000 feet, the new Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones can block the most rambunctious child’s shriek or a woman complaining to her significant other or just about any other ambient noise that might keep you from enjoying your flight.

On the ground, one almost can forget being in a “cube farm” — the noise-canceling properties of these new $299 wonders are that good.

These are serious cans, as audiophiles of a certain age might declare. All I know is that over the next week, when I’ll spend close to 40 hours aloft going to and from the southern part of Africa, I’m going to rely on these headphones quite a bit.

The QC15s are the successor to Bose’s QC2 headphones, also over-the-ear models that were quite popular among the traveling set, whether that travel was to Phuket, Thailand, by air or L’Enfant Plaza on the Metro. Thirty years of Sony Walkman models and now the Apple iPod family have given us our own soundtracks; Amar G. Bose and his colleagues have given us our own private concert halls.

Although the QC15s help isolate what you’re listening to from the rest of the world, the headphones would be worth far less than their list price if they didn’t reproduce music with extreme clarity, fidelity and definition.

The QC15s excel in just about every aspect of sound reproduction. As I write, I’m listening to a Gypsy band called Kal and its album “Radio Romanista.” It’s incredible stuff I haven’t heard before — music I’ll buy as soon as possible.

The sound is just wonderful, as if Kal were playing in the airplane’s cabin and not via British Airways’ surprisingly varied entertainment system. Attach the QC15s to a desktop computer or an Apple iPhone using the iPod function, and you’re just as easily transported to another place via music. (It should be noted that these headphones do not come with a microphone attachment, so they can’t be used for cell-phone calls unless you buy an optional kit from Bose.)

I like a few of the other touches the Bose engineers have included in these headphones. Unlike the on-the-ear QC3s, which I still would recommend, the QC15s are powered by a single AAA battery. While the QC3s use proprietary rechargeable batteries, I can repower the QC15s with a quick stop at any number of stores. I’m told the battery should last for 35 hours of normal use but haven’t had the opportunity to put this to the test just yet.

The cord that connects the headphones to your audio source includes a hidden “high” or “low” switch to set for final volume levels; the “low” setting blocks a sudden increase in volume, as with some television commercials or in-flight announcements.

It is important to make sure the cable is firmly connected at both ends: Mine wasn’t properly seated on the headphone side at one point, and I wondered why only the left audio channel came through. Pressing in the connector solved the problem.

I can find few flaws in the QC15s. The cushioning for the over-the-ear cups is relatively comfortable for long stretches — by the end of my flight, I did notice it a tiny bit. But these are headphones, after all, and the argument could be made that one is supposed to notice them at some point.

And, let’s be clear: These are noise-canceling headphones, not noise-eliminating. On an airplane, for example, you’d want to hear announcements from the cabin crew, and if the fire alarm goes off in the office, you’d want to hear that, too. However, if you want to isolate yourself from the world around you, the QC15s, in very large measure, succeed incredibly well.

Doubtless other makers — at higher and lower price points — will claim to match or exceed Bose’s accomplishment here. I’m guessing actually doing so might be a tougher quest. These headphones helped me rest and enjoy my travel across the Atlantic, smoothing out the aural “bumps” as effectively as good shock absorbers on a carhandle the road.

On a plane stuffed with screaming children, that can be very valuable, indeed.

E-mail mkellner@ washingtontimes.com.

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