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Bose currently has three full-size headphones in its lineup: the noise-canceling QuietComfort 25, the wireless SoundLink Around-Ear Wireless II, and its latest passive over-ear, the SoundTrue Around-Ear II headphone, reviewed here. It carries a US list price of $180, or £150 in the UK, and AU$229 in Australia.
Bose calls it a "design refresh" of the company's SoundTrue Around-Ear, but it's more of a design alignment, with this new Around-Ear II bearing a close familial resemblance to its noise-canceling and wireless siblings.
The biggest change is to the headband, which is now almost twice as thick as the headband on its predecessor. The earcups shape is a little different, too, and overall the Around-Ear II feels sturdier. At 6.4 ounces or 181 grams (with cable), it's a bit heavier than the Around-Ear (5.4 ounces or 154 grams), but still manages to feel quite light for a full-size headphone.
Bose's around-ear headphones -- or over-ear as these types of cans are often called -- have always been known for being very comfortable, and this model is one of the most comfortable full-size headphones you can buy. (I'm also a fan of the more expensive Sony MDR-1A and MDR-1R.) Like the previous model, this new version folds flat and comes with the same, nice carrying case.
It's worth noting that the headphone cord is detachable, and that cord has an integrated three-button remote and microphone for making cell-phone calls. You can choose between a version that's compatible with Apple iOS devices and another that's designed for use with Android devices. You can use the microphone to make calls just fine with any phone, but some of the remotes features, such as the volume controls, only work with compatible devices.
This headphone doesn't offer active noise cancellation, but it does offer a tight seal and filters out a lot of noise from the outside world (the earcups will also steam up your ears on hot days).
Overall, the headphones are accurate, deliver good, well-defined bass, and are fairly open-sounding for a closed-back headphone. I should make it clear that this isn't a bass-heavy headphone, and those who crave more bass will most likely be disappointed.
A Bose rep told me the sound quality should be the same as that of the previous model, but we did notice some small differences, which may be attributable to the new design of the headphone, not the driver. Even tiny design changes can affect the sound.
I found the bass a little tighter on the Around-Ear II and my colleague Justin Yu agreed, though he thought the old model sounded slightly more open. I preferred the sound of the new model -- I like my bass a little tighter, but that's a subjective opinion and others might prefer the old model.
Our gripe with Bose's earlier around-ear models was that the treble was a tad brash, overemphasizing instruments such as cymbals -- it's a matter of taste whether you like that "extra sizzle" or not. With each new iteration, the treble seems to be get a touch smoother and I didn't have a problem with it in this model.
In a lot of ways, that smoothness has become Bose's sound signature for its headphones, which are designed to versatile and work well with all types of music. They're also designed to make every thrown at them -- even poorly recorded and compressed tracks -- sound decent.
What's missing is a little of the richness, excitement, and clarity that you may get from a higher end headphone. You get more of that with a headphones like Sony's MDR-1A or Sennheiser's Momentum 2.0, but those cost headphones cost significantly more. Meanwhile, a headphone like Audio-Technica's ATH-MSR7 offers better clarity and a little more openness, but it's not as comfortable as this Bose and its abundance of clarity reveals harshness or distortion in recordings.
Bose's non-noise-canceling around-ear headphones have always been a more affordable alternative to its QuietComfort line, which starts at $300. With the SoundTrue Around-Ear II, Bose has made some small but important design changes that make the headphone more durable and arguably sound a touch better. It's not cheap at $180, but it is a very likable, ultracomfortable over-ear headphone that you can wear for long stretches without a problem.