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In the headphone realm, Bose is probably best known for its noise-canceling (NC) line of QuietComfort models. But it's long made some non-NC models, including an around-the-ear design as well as an on-ear design. Bose has shortened those names to AE and OE, respectively, and now the AE model reviewed here is up to version 2.
Formerly known as the TriPort, the AE2 still uses the same basic design, but Bose has implemented some significant design improvements. For starters, these headphones, like the noise-canceling models, now fold flat. Also, Bose has moved from a double- (running to each earcup) to a single-cord design--and the headphone cord detaches--which means you can wear these simply to cover your ears and muffle sound.
As noted, the Bose AE2s don't offer active noise-cancellation, but they do offer a tight seal and filter out a lot of noise from the outside world. When you put them on, the first thing you notice is that these are very comfortable headphones that have Bose's trademark plush, black leather earpads. They also feel lighter than your average full-size, closed earcup models from the likes of Sennheiser, Koss, and AKG. The headband is fairly thin and covered in a springy neoprene, which also helps increase the comfort level. A simple cloth carrying bag is included for storing the headphones. It's OK, but offers only minimal protection.
It's worth mentioning that Bose offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can try before you buy. Also, if your headphones break for any reason, Bose tends to be pretty good about replacing them.
Compared with our memory of the old TriPorts (the "AE1," if you will), Bose has improved the sound on these new models. Overall, the headphones are very accurate and offer good, well-defined bass. We threw a bunch of tracks at them, including some Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, the Kings of Leon, some classical tracks, and a Brooklyn band called The National. The only small gripe we had was that--because these headphones are as detailed as they are--they tend to come off sounding a tad brash, overemphasizing instruments such as cymbals (it's a matter of taste whether you like that "extra sizzle" or not). They also make poorly recorded music sound worse because they accentuate the flaws in the recordings (the flip side is they make good recordings sound very good).
That small knock aside, we thought they were very good. Are they the best-sounding headphones we've tried for $150? Probably not. But the combination of their high-quality sound and excellent comfort level make them easy to recommend, especially to those who don't want to spend $300 for the QuietComfort 15s. Yes, the 15s do a better job at blocking out more airplane engine noise, but the AE2s are arguably more comfortable and cost half the price.
Freelancer Steve Guttenberg contributed to this review.