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Bose SoundTrue Around-Ear review: A classic headphone gets a cosmetic upgrade

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Could it be that Bose is trying to get hipper as it heads into its sixth decade of making products?

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Bose SoundTrue Around-Ear

The Good

Lightweight and comfortable design; sealed earcups isolate the wearer from ambient noise; headphones fold flat; detachable cord; detailed sound with well-defined bass.

The Bad

Sound can be a tad brash.

The Bottom Line

While the Bose SoundTrue has only minor design changes from the earlier AE2i, it remains one of the most comfortable-to-wear, full-size headphones, and it also sounds good.

That's what it seems like if you examine some of its latest moves, which include putting a fresh, more modern face with bolder colors on some of its established headphone models that have been in the line for a number of years.

The SoundTrue Around-ear headphone is the rebranded version of the company's popular AE2 and AE2i headphones. It carries a US list price of $179.95, or £149.95 in the UK, and AU$229.00 in Australia. While I'd like to tell you that Bose has made these headphones sound even better, the changes are mostly cosmetic, with this new model coming in new, more eye-catching colors that are perhaps designed to appeal to younger headphone shoppers.

Bose SoundTrue Around-Ear headphones

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Bose's around-ear headphones -- or over-ear as these types of cans are often called -- have always been known for being relatively lightweight and very comfortable, and this model is one of the most comfortable full-size headphones you can buy. (I'm also a fan of the Sony MDR-1R .) The design hasn't changed much over the years, though this new version folds flat and comes with a new, nicer carrying case.

While it's not as compact as its sibling, the SoundTrue On-Ear , it's still a pretty good travel headphone, even if it doesn't feature the noise-canceling circuitry of Bose QuietComfort 25 . It also doesn't include the wireless Bluetooth component of the SoundLink Around-Ear Wireless , which lists for $249.95 or $70 more (the two models are identical aside from the Bluetooth module).

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The SoundTrue comes in standard black as well as some funkier colors. Bose

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. This is an Apple-friendly model, so not all of the remote's features will work with Android and Windows phones, though you can use the microphone to make calls just fine with any phone.

Performance

As noted, 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.

Overall, the headphones are accurate, deliver good, well-defined bass, and are fairly open sounding for a closed-back headphone. They sound quite good, but if we had a gripe with the earlier AE2 and AE2i, it 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). 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.

The headphones fold flat, and the cord (with inline remote/microphone) is detachable and replaceable. Sarah Tew/CNET

With an assist from Steve Guttenberg, who writes CNET's Audiophiliac blog, we compared the SoundTrue Around-Ear to the older AE2i and came to the conclusion that this new model still exhibits a bit of brashness, but the treble is ever so slightly smoother. We're not sure why that was the case, because Bose apparently didn't change the design of the drivers. But it's possible that it used slightly different materials on the inside of the earcups or on the earpieces themselves. Even tiny changes can affect the sound.

Conclusion

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, Bose has made some minor changes to an already good-sounding headphone that excels in the comfort department. It's nice to see the company experimenting with new color choices, but the sound essentially remains the same.

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Bose SoundTrue Around-Ear

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Sound 8Value 7