Bose has been on a tear recently, releasing a bunch of new, hip, fashionable headphones and speakers like the SoundLink Colour and FreeStyle. But the real feather in Bose's cap has always been its QuietComfort headphones, the object of envy for anyone shuffling through business class on their way to the economy pews. The new QuietComfort 25 is the first update to the legendary headphones in five years, and completely overhauls both design and audio.
What Is It?
- Headphone Type: Over-The-Ear
- Bluetooth: No
- Noise Cancelling: Yes
- Playback Controls: No
- Battery Life (claimed): 30 hours
- Charging: no (AAA battery included)
The $399 Bose QuietComfort 25 follows the standard set by the QuietComfort 15 in that it's an over-the-ear headphone with a detachable 1.4-metre headphone cable, no integrated Bluetooth, and a removable AAA battery (one non-rechargeable cell is included).
A single switch on the right earcup enables or disables the QuietComfort 25s' brilliant and class-leading active noise cancelling, there are six tiny noise cancelling mic ports arranged across both earcups, and apart from the Apple-compatible microphone, call and volume buttons on the 2.5mm-to-3.5mm cable, there are no other controls to speak of. These are headphones in the most traditional and conventional sense -- and that's a good thing.
Like the QuietComfort 15, the QuietComfort 25 is foldable to fit inside the small, eminently portable carry case included with the headphones, which measures 210x146x51mm and is finished in a sturdy leatherette. There's an elasticated pouch on the rear of the case that looks perfectly sized to store a passport, wallet and smartphone, too. In terms of accessories, you get a brilliant multipurpose airplane adapter (one of the prongs folds away for newer planes' in-armrest audio jacks), again integrated into the body of the carry case, and a space for a spare AAA battery.
The headphones themselves have beautifully smooth metal earcups finished in a dark, gunmetal silver, with a dark blue band on the outer edge, and each with a laser-cut Bose logo in the centre. As well as swivelling laterally across just over 90 degrees of motion, the earcups tilt vertically over around 45 degrees to accommodate larger and smaller heads. The plastic, metal and denim-wrapped headband of the QuietComfort 25 has soft foam suede padding, and the leatherette earcups are equally soft and plush and incredibly comfortable. Inside the earcups, the left and right markers are bold, oversized aqua-and-black diagonal lines with 'R' and 'L' characters in negative space -- it's a striking effect and you won't put the headphones on the wrong way ever again.
The overall fit and finish of the Bose QuietComfort 25 is superb. These headphones are incredibly well built, more so than the QuietComfort 15 or QuietComfort 20 or Audio Technica's ATH-ANC9 or Beats' Studio Wireless. Although I've only spent a couple of weeks with these headphones, I'm confident that they'll last a very, very long time. The detachable cable is a great start for longevity, the removable battery is even better, but it's the excellent construction quality that will mark the QuietComfort 25 as a smart long-term investment.
What Is It Good At?
The sound from the QuietComfort 25s is excellent. Audio is upfront, strong and musical when noise cancelling is switched on, with powerful bass and clear, sibilant treble. Music just sounds good with these headphones, made more so by the fact that it's not interrupted by any outside noise. There's no significant hole in the entire frequency range, and although midrange is slightly recessed compared to the more punchy mid-bass and treble, the overall feel of the QuietComfort 25 is quality -- you won't be unimpressed with the sound that you've paid for. A wide variety of music, from acoustic tracks to beat-driven electronica, all sound consistently impressive on these headphones.
Even better, and hugely improved from the previous model, is the fact that the QuietComfort 25s don't need the noise cancelling to be powered on to operate. The timbre of the headphones' sound is much changed, and you lose the vast majority of that low-end aural punch, but it works. This is a last-ditch solution, but especially for those final hours of a long flight, it will come in handy one day. Running out of power on the lesser 15 or 20, you're left in the lurch listening to crying babies and plane engines droning (or whatever your commuting or office-working variation of that theme is).
I have to reiterate how well built the QuietComfort 25 headphones are. The earcups specifically -- I don't feel like I could break one if I tried. The collapsible and flexible and adjustable headband is secured with sturdy hex screws, and so can be replaced if damaged. The plastic is incredibly strong, with no flex in the earcups' swivelling frames. The AAA battery case, hidden below the frame on the right earcup, swings outward on a hinge instead of popping out a fragile battery carrier. About my only complaint with the QuietComfort 25s' construction is the fact that if you try to move the right earcup with the battery door open, it gets stuck... as you'd expect.
To be honest, noise cancelling is the reason you buy Bose QuietComfort headphones. It's the best in the game if you're sitting on a noisy airplane, or if you're on a crowded train or bus heading into the office, or even if you're already in the office and wanting to throttle your obnoxiously loud coworkers. And on the QuietComfort 25, it's honestly better than ever. Ambient noise cancellation -- that is, the blocking out of outside noise without electronic help -- is already excellent, with the capable yet comfortable earpads and extremely solid earcups doing a great job of lowering the volume of outside noise.
Flick that little switch, though, and the change is incredible. Humming fans? Airplane engines? General office chatter? Gone. If there's any consistent noise, especially a low frequency one, it utterly disappears when you turn on the QuietComfort 25s' noise cancelling. I've listened to a lot of noise cancelling headphones and these Bose cans blow them all away. There's no competition. If there's one downside, it's that the silence can be deafening, and the world takes on an eerie character. You won't hear someone crossing the street behind you on your walk home, for one -- I managed to frighten myself once in exactly that way.
The battery life of the QuietComfort 25, too, continues to impress me as I write this review. I haven't reached the end of Bose's claimed 35 hours of use, which is a frankly incredible figure -- if it gets anywhere close, anywhere over 30 hours, I'll be amazed. 35 hours is a huge amount of time for even an energy-dense rechargeable lithium ion battery to last, let alone an off-the-shelf AAA. I'll update this review as the hours count down and the QuietComforts finally run out of juice. (Of course, I can just keep listening to music after the fact.)
What Is It Not Good At?
Bose needs to start including an Android-compatible cable with an inline microphone and volume controls with its headphones. It's not expensive, it isn't any more confusing for the end user, and it would open up the convenience of said controls to a very large audience. At the moment, the bundled cable can pause and skip tracks, and the microphone works, but there's no way to change volume remotely. For a pair of headphones with an otherwise excellent bunch of accessories, it's a glaring omission and it's quite unfortunate.
Feel free to tell me I'm wrong, and I understand this is a controversial statement, but I think the white QuietComfort 25 is hideous. When the grey and black model looks so amazing, how can white and tan look so naff? Maybe Kanye would wear them. I'm sure they're just as excellently built, and they're certainly more fashion-forward than the gunmetal, but the combination of colours -- including the aqua cable -- is not to my tastes.
As with any other pair of Bose headphones, and as with noise cancelling headphones in general, the QuietComfort 25 is quite expensive. The price jump from the earlier QuietComfort 15 is negligible, which is great to see, but dropping $400 on a pair of headphones isn't something you do every day and I think the high initial asking price will drive some consumers to look at cheaper alternatives. The QuietComfort 25 is a long-term investment, and has to be thought of as such, because if you're not intending on keeping these headphones for a long time then $400 is a lot of money to pay for the privilege.
Should You Buy It?
The $399 QuietComfort 25 is the best pair of headphones that Bose has ever made. There's no doubt about that. The quality of the noise cancelling is incredible, and the sound quality that goes hand in hand with it is of a similarly high level. These headphones suit a wide range of music, and do so while simultaneously doing an amazing job of blocking out droning constant ambient noise.
The construction of the headphones is excellent. The longevity of the internal battery is even better. The commitment to an AAA battery rather than a rechargeable cell struck me as odd when the QuietComfort 25 was announced, but it's clearly worked in the headphones' favour, and meeting the battery level of the outgoing model at a massive 35 hours is impressive.
You have to pay for the privilege, but if you want excellent noise cancelling, and good sound, and good build quality, you've come to the right place. There's not that much with the QuietComfort 25 that can go wrong, but there's a lot that the headphones get right as well.