Editors' note (June 13, 2014): As of April 2014, Bose is retiring the OE2 and OE2i headphones reviewed here and replacing them with the new Bose SoundTrue models. That said, if you can find a discounted OE2/OE2i (for $100 or less), it's a great deal.
Here's something you don't see every day: a pair of white Bose headphones. Yes, it's the company's second-generation on-ear headphones, the OE2 ($149.95) and OE2i ($179.95), each offered in black or white.
That "i" in the step-up OE2i adds a microphone for cell phone calls along with an Apple- friendly inline remote compatible with more recent iPhone, iPod, iPad, MacBook, and MacBook Pro models. (Some Android smartphones also recognize the remote functionality, but volume control from headphones that carry the "Made for iPhone" stamp doesn't always work).
These headphones are smaller and lighter than Bose's original OE headphones that launched in 2008 and earned my approval for their excellent fit and comfort. Your ears will still get a little steamy under the OE2is in hot weather, but the material is plush for equal weight distribution, and just as importantly, they fold up to fit into a compact carrying case (included).
While they don't isolate noise as well as an over-the-ear model, they do pretty well muffling the sound. (If you want better noise isolation, go with the Bose QuietComfort series--which require batteries to cut out atmospheric sounds--or the Bose AE2 "around-ear" headphones.)
Bose claims that the newly redesigned earcup ports produce a more balance and natural sound without the manufactured "boost" across the frequency range. CNET contributor and audiophile Steve Guttenberg and I both listened for those improvements and agreed that the OE2is sound more natural and don't suffer from "Bose bloat," a term we coined for the obtrusive bass boost. Of course, some folks like the extra bass, so you may not enjoy these as much as the original OE headphones.
I also compared the OE2is to a pair of on-ear BlueAnt Embrace Headphones that have similar sound qualities and retail for slightly more.
The OE2i's balance from bass to mid to treble is excellent--the top-end isn't harsh or edgy, and they exhibit good detail with slightly more accurate tones than the Blue-Ants. If there's a pair of Bose headphones more geared toward audiophiles (compared with your typical Bose headphones), this would be it.
The Bose OE2i headphones don't quite sound like previous Bose headphones. For some, that will be a good thing, and we actually prefer the new sound, but others looking for a little more oomph may find them less appealing than the original.
Putting sound tastes aside, these are very comfortable, lightweight headphones that fit into a case half the size of the one included with $300 Bose QuietComfort 15s. When it comes to more casual, everyday-use headphones, that size and comfort is a big reason why I gave them high marks for design. In other words, you can wear these around without feeling like you've got a giant set of cans on your head.
As with most Bose products, price is often a source of debate, and many folks will ask whether these headphones are worth $150 (OE2) and $180 (OE2i), respectively. I can answer that simply by saying there are better values out there. Case in point: The Sennheiser HD 238i on-ear headphones. They offer similar sound, are comfortable, and can be found for less than $70 online (and they have an inline remote and microphone).
No, they aren't quite as compact as the Bose OE2is, and no, they don't fold up and stow away into as small a carrying case. Also, the fit and finish isn't quite as nice (the headphone cord doesn't detach, either). But they cost $80 to $110 less.
Take that comparison for what you will. As I said, these aren't a bargain, but they are good, comfortable headphones, and if they should break, Bose is known to be pretty good about replacing its headphones should you run into any snafus (they do have a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can try before you totally committing to them). And on the bright side, they cost around half the price of their on-ear active noise-canceling cousins, the QuietComfort 3s ($350). In that sense, they're reasonably priced--for Bose, anyway.