Editors' note (December 2, 2011): The product reviewed here, the Bose OE Headphones, has since been replaced by two updated models: the Bose OE2 Headphones and the Bose OE2i Headset. After testing those new models, we've lowered the ratings of this one from 8.0 to 7.3.
Editors' note: Since this review was first published, Bose has shorted the name of this product to "Bose OE." Readers interested in this model should also check out the sibling Bose AE2 headphones, which utilize an around-the-ear design.
With a potent blend of quality products and what seems like an almost ubiquitous marketing campaign, Bose had managed to persuade thousands of people to spend large sums of money on the company's QuietComfort 3 and QuietComfort 2 noise-canceling headphones. While those models are mainstays in the business-class section of any aircraft, not everyone can afford business class--or wants to pay upward of $300 for a pair of headphones. So, Bose has come up with a model simply called the On-Ear, which borrows many of the design elements of the QuietComfort 3 but leaves out the active noise canceling and retails for a more palatable $180.
Like the QuietComfort3 headphones, the On-Ear's feature--you guessed it--an on-ear (supra-aural) rather than the cupped around-the-ear (circumaural) design of the QuietComfort 2s or the step-down TriPort headphones. 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 (on-ear models 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, they are going to get pretty steamy on your ears if you wear them in warmer environments.
The On-Ears have virtually the same size earpieces as the QuietComfort 3s and offer a similar fit. Where the On-Ears have an advantage over their more expensive sibling is the way they're able to fold up--and flatten out--into a more compact footprint than the QuietComfort 3s. We really liked the case that ships with the On-Ear model: it's about 40 percent smaller than the case that comes with the QuietComfort 3 'phones and is more travel-friendly.
The only "accessories" beyond the case are two detachable headphone cables: one 43-incher and one 16-incher. (You can also daisy-chain them together if a long connection is needed.) Bose seems to have kept iPhone owners in mind when it designed the headphone plug for these headphones. The rubber casing around the base of the plug is not much bigger than the plug itself, which ensures that you won't have any problem plugging into the recessed headphone jack on the first-generation iPhone.