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Bose OE2i headphones review: Bose OE2i headphones

Bose OE2i headphones

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
3 min read

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.

Bose OE2 headphones (White)

Bose OE2i headphones

The Good

The <b> Bose OE2i Headphones</b> are more compact than the original OE ("on-ear") headphones. They're lightweight, very comfortable, and feature a fold-up design with an included carrying case, a detachable headphone cord, and an inline remote and microphone for iPhone users. They also offer very good sound quality.

The Bad

The fidelity comes up short on bass resonance.

The Bottom Line

You can debate the price, but the iPhone-friendly Bose OE2is are very comfortable everyday-use headphones with a compact frame and balanced, detailed sound.

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).

The headphones are very comfortable, but the on-ear design doesn't block out all external noise.

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.

The OE2is include an iPhone-compatible inline remote.

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.

Bose OE2 headphones (White)

Bose OE2i headphones

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8