Speaking of phones, it's worth noting that Bose offers a version of the On-Ear headphones that includes an inline microphone that lets you use the headphones as a headset with your cell phone. Four adapters are included to ensure compatibility with various music-enabled cell phones. That product is called the Bose Mobile On-Ear Headset, and it retails for $20 more.
As for sound, we liked what we heard. The On-Ear headphones don't deliver quite the clarity or more thumping bass of the QuietComfort 3s, but users graduating from lower-end headphones will most likely be wowed by these headphones' crisp sound and ample low-end. Discerning listeners may note that the bass is a little on the boomy side (read: not incredibly detailed) and that the On-Ear's aren't quite as clean-sounding as some headphones we've listened to in this price range.
On Rihanna's top-40 hit "Umbrella," you can easily hear the differences between the On-Ears and QuietComfort 3s. The QuietComfort 3s' bass just has more punch to it (though, again, it's not terribly refined)--and when it comes to listening to hip-hop, punchier tends to be better. That said, the On-Ear headphones offer about 80 percent of the sound quality of the QC3s, which is pretty good, considering they basically cost half the price.
But what about the noise-cancellation? Well, as we said, the snug fit of these headphones manages to cut down a lot of outside noise--but it can't cut it like the active noise-cancellation circuitry of the QC2 and QC3 (or even the passive noise-cancellation offered by good in-ear headphones such as the Shure SE310). If we had to put an estimate on it, we'd say that the On-Ear headphones are able to muffle about half the sound of the noise-canceling models. Not bad, but the frequent traveler who wants to deaden the sound as much as possible--and is willing to pay the extra dough--would be better advised to look at the QC2 or QC3, if not the growing number of competing models. One caveat: as we've pointed out before, Bose's noise-canceling headphones, as with other headphones of their ilk, produce a slight sense of pressure on the eardrum, which some sensitive listeners find mildly uncomfortable. If you're part of this group, you'd do better going with the On-Ear headphones, or--if you don't mind penetrating your ear canals--in-ear headphones.
In the final analysis, while we can't call these Bose headphones a bargain--yes, they're still expensive at $180--they're somewhat of a bargain for Bose headphones. They may not offer best in class performance, but their compact size, appealing design, comfortable fit, and full sound make them easy to recommend.