Bose QC25

Bose is a company that is often a little light on supplying product specifications — apparently instead preferring that its potential customers simply listen and decide for themselves (rather than making often meaningless comparisons between numbers that don’t fully represent performance).

And I have no problem with that.

What the company does deliver in spades is stories — one might even call them ‘legends’. One of these concerns its late founder Dr Amar Bose when he was on a SwissAir flight back in 1978. This was when acoustic ear-tubes (don’t ask!) were being replaced by electronic headphones for passengers, and the good doctor was so disappointed by the difficulty of hearing anything against the background noise of the plane that he not only conceived noise-cancelling headphones on the spot but had a notepad of equations to achieve it by the time he touched down on home soil back in the USA.

The idea, with hindsight, seems simple enough — use a microphone to record the external noise, then invert it and feed it back into the headphones. Presto — sweet silence. Yet noise cancellation is a fiendishly difficult thing to actually achieve in practise. In order to cancel out noise in real time, you have to invert it and add it back pretty much instantaneously. And you have to do it all in a portable device that people will be happy wearing on their heads. So it took 22 years of development before the company’s first consumer noise-cancelling headphones made it to market — and some in the company thought it would never happen (see panel).

Since then, however, Bose has not looked back, and while there are more competitors now than then — and Bose wasn’t actually

the first to bring a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to the consumer market — the company still rules the consumer marketplace with its executive-friendly models, and absolutely owns the professional noise-cancelling headphone market, with the overwhelming majority of commercial and private airplane and helicopter pilots using Bose A20 Aviation Headsets.

Bose QC20Equipment
Last year I was absolutely blown away by the company’s QC20 and QC20i noise-cancelling earphones (pictured right), an in-ear model of marvellous comfort and remarkable noise-cancelling abilities given the difficulties of doing so from an in-ear position. They took out a 2014 award from Sound+Image Magazine last year, and if it’s in-ear ‘phones you’re after, I still recommend them highly.

But this year’s noise-cancelling wonder is the new Bose QC25, an over-ear model that has already won the 2015 award from Sound+Image magazine in the noise-cancelling headphone category. The QC25s are smaller, lighter and feel less luxurious than the company’s QC3 and earlier models, but they have a number of significant advantages over those models.

First, they use just a single AAA battery, and these are easy to find or replace (or recharge) at any time, but most especially when travelling — you just push the right headshell forward in its mount and pop open the plastic tray to remove or insert the battery, which goes in point (positive terminal) first. But second, and even more importantly, the QC25s will work (passively) without any battery power at all… whereas some earlier Bose models simply didn’t.

Use and Performance
The light weight (195 grams) of the Bose QC25s is an immediate boon for comfort, and it doesn’t detract from the quality of the noise cancellation at all — when you flick the switch the world recedes into the muffled distance with just the slightest feeling of sucked-in eyeballs, after which you can then either simply enjoy the quiet, or enjoy the in-flight movie over a background of near-silence.

The top attraction here, though, is that Bose has delivered a great-sounding pair of headphones for music. That is, they sound great whether you use the noise-cancelling or not. The bass is rich, lively and solidly supported, but not bloomy, and they make as handy a pair of cans for the daily bus commute as they do for distancing yourself from the horrors of a long-haul flight. As is often the case with noise-cancellers, the sound is slightly different when you kick in the active circuits required to do the cancellation. The mids and treble are immediately lifted with an extra dose of presence, and there’s just fractionally less bass, but since the bass also benefits from a fresh tightness and impact from the presence lift, I preferred the active balance to the slightly softer passive one. You settle into either sound balance very quickly, and both represent top-notch performance for noise-cancellers at this price.

Battery life proved extremely impressive — I used the QC25 both ways on transatlantic flights without reaching for the spare battery I’d packed in my hand luggage just in case. Bose says you’ll get 35 hours from an alkaline battery (and 28 hours from a rechargeable) when using active noise-cancelling (depending on playback volume, obviously) after which the battery light will start flashing, but even when it does you’ll find you have a good few hours of battery life left. And of course, it’s not like some previous Bose models which fall silent (in the wrong way) when power is exhausted; the passive mode here means you can carry on listening, just without that silent background that brings the music or in-flight movie into such clear relief. The silence of noise-cancellation is also something of a hearing protector, since you don’t need to crank levels so high when you’re listening over silence.

The Bose QC25s have an inline remote control and microphone on the cable, and they come with the usual hard case and airline adaptor (though not the cards Bose used to include with its noise-cancellers to hand out to interested fellow passengers, which I always thought was a marvellous bit of marketing!).

Bose QC25

The headphones need to be folded twice in order to fit into the supplied case — first inwards, then upwards, and they fit quite tightly, the case being 21cm long and the headphones less than 2cm shorter. It would be a little tricky to find the right position to fit them into the case had Bose not most helpfully included a little picture of the correct folded position, carved in relief into the inner velour of the carry case. The only minor inconvenience for daily users is that to fit them into the case safely you’ll find it’s best to first remove the headphone cable and fully retract the headband. But if that’s my sole criticism of the QC25s (and it is), I reckon that’s nothing short of a rave.

The Bose QC25s are the best-sounding noise cancelling headphones I have ever heard, and cancel noise better than any other noise cancelling headphones I have ever used.

So when you consider that Bose has also improved ease of use, plus added a special version especially for use with Samsung Galaxy phones, yet still kept the price below $400, you can see why I’m happy to rave about them. 

Bose QC25

Bose QuietComfort QC25 noise-cancelling headphones

RRP: $399

+ Excellent sound, active or passive; Light and comfortable; Bose’s best cancellation yet
- Needs cable removed to fit in case

Warranty: One year

Product page: Bose Australia