Bose QuietComfort 3
Whether or not you think they're overpriced, Bose's luxuriously designed QuietComfort models have set the standard for premium noise-canceling headphones. As their model number indicates, the $349 QuietComfort 3s are the third iteration of these popular headphones, and for this go-round, the folks at Bose set out to make a smaller pair of headphones that would sound just as good as the QuietComfort 2s, which remain on the market at $299.
The Bose QuietComfort 3s are indeed significantly smaller their predecessors, and they feature an on-ear (supra-aural) rather than the over-the-ear (circumaural) design of the QuietComfort 2s. Impressively, the earpieces employ a cushy memory foam that conforms to your ears nicely, and they do a better job than you'd think of passively shutting out noise, unlike most on-ear models, which tend to let in--and leak out--a fair amount of sound. The headphones are very comfortable, but because the deliciously soft leather pads are pressed right up against your ears, the newer models are going to feel steamier if you wear them in warmer environments. They're probably not the best choice for workouts.
The Bose QuietComfort 3s feature the same fold-flat design as the QuietComfort 2s and have noise-canceling circuitry that's built into the headphones themselves, not a little box incorporated into the cord. They also come with a protective carrying case that's a little smaller than the one that ships with the QuietComfort 2s, as well as a two-prong adapter for plane travel and an extra bit of cord that extends the length of the headphones.
Aside from the more compact earpieces, one of the big differences between the two headphones is the inclusion of a proprietary lithium-ion battery with the new model. That's a nice plus--the battery slips out of the headphones and into a compact travel charger that fits right into a wall socket, obviating the need for annoying wires or cables. Bose says you'll get about 20 hours of battery life before you need to juice up--and you must have the battery charged to actually hear your music or movies. While backup batteries are available for $50 each, you won't be able to pop in a standard AAA cell like you can with the QuietComfort 2s. However, the charger fits snugly in the headphones' carrying case, and you can purchase additional chargers compatible with international voltage requirements.
Companies such as Sennheiser make noise-canceling headphones that are smaller and cost much less than Bose models. Apparently, Bose has received feedback from consumers who prefer these smaller designs, especially for everyday on-the-go use rather than just airplane travel. In other words, the company hopes to get more people walking the streets with these headphones. To that end, the company sells a $40 adapter that lets you use the QuietComfort 3s as a stereo headset for multimedia cell phones, such as the Nokia N91 or the Palm Treo models.
The big question, of course, is whether Bose has succeeded in its quest to go smaller while not sacrificing anything in the way of performance. Well, the short answer is yes--mostly. On the noise-canceling front, this model appears to be just as affective at diminishing external airplane noise to a hush (no, it doesn't completely shut sound out). One caveat, however: The QuietComfort 3s, like most other noise-canceling headsets, produce a slight sense of pressure on the eardrum, and because the earpiece is directly on your ear, it's arguably a hair more present in this model than in the QuietComfort 2s. Listeners sensitive to this effect may feel uncomfortable.