As shooters who sometimes work as one-man bands, we are all used to wearing headphones to check sound levels. Being very visual people by nature, a lot of shooters don’t really give too much attention on which headphones they are using. Many are using iPhone headphones because they are simply carrying it the whole time with them. I do that too sometimes, but it really isn’t a good idea. The standard Apple headphones are extremely bad – especially for anything production-related. I have had problems with sound recordings before because I judged the levels wrong using these headphones. Don’t use them for that. Get proper ones!
Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones
Production headphones vs. “consumer” headphones
I have been using AKG headphones in production environments for years and I like them a lot. I like the semi-closed design because it’s a good compromise between good sound and still being aware of your surroundings.
However, they are not ideal to wear for longer periods of time because they hurt after about 20 minutes. I have talked to many people who all seemed to have the same issues with these AKM headphones, so I guess it’s not just my big head ☺. Therefore I never use them for editing work on the road or simply listening to music, especially when traveling (which I tend to do fairly a lot these days).
I have tried all kinds of alternatives, very often simple small in-ear headphones from Sennheiser, relatives cheap ones with passive noise cancellation – which are “okay”, but you can’t expect too much for $30. It’s good I didn’t spend more as I have lost them twice ☺. But anyway, was never really happy with them, because sticking them into your ear for a longer time isn’t comfortable either, and the sound isn’t ideal with a lot of the high tones cut and the basses exaggerated.
Noise cancellation headphones & the Bose QuietComfort 15
It wasn’t until our Key West Filmmaking Masterclass in late April / early May that I came across the Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones. The last day of the workshop was mainly spent editing the amazing films these guys shot under our guidance within only little more than a day. We had one seminar room in which all the groups were editing their stuff. Naturally a very noisy environments as everyone was discussing their edits and reviewing stuff, so most people used headphones. As I was about to review an early version of my group’s edit (watch the resulting mini documentary “A Sovereign State of Mind” here), I put on the headphones by Hector Gil and was immediately blown away – total silence!
The Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones use active noise cancellation to cancel out surrounding noise from the environment. I am not an audio technician, but as far as I understand, they have a microphone outside that picks up the surrounding noise, and cancels out specific frequencies by switching the phase. They use one AAA battery which lasts for around 24 hours of constant listening.
The first time I put them on I switched them on right after, and it’s the most amazing listening experience I have had in a long time. Suddenly, all the low background noise is simply GONE. It is not there anymore. You still hear voices faintly, but they sound like from a phone which you hold really far away from your ear … it’s not distracting any more, but you know they are there. Which is a good thing, because I don’t want to be entirely isolated from the environment I am situated in. This allows you to still be aware if somebody addresses you right next to you – which is a big difference to some other (passive or active) noise cancellation headphones that I have tried, especially the in-ear ones I mentioned above.
If you asked me if I would buy headphones for $299 before I tried the QuietComfort 15 on, I would have called you mad. But the quality of the sound as well as their incredible noise cancellation performance have truly blown me away.
A few days later I walked into a Bose store in Miami and bought them – and on our 9-hour flight back to Europe, I literally slept for about 7 of these hours, like a baby. Their noise cancellation is optimized for low frequencies, so especially background noise in planes (which is VERY loud) or trains is simply gone when you switch them on. And usually sleeping on a plane isn’t that easy in the “tourist class”. But then I realized it’s not that much because of the small seats, it’s more because of the extremely noisy environment you find yourself in on a plane.
I now even put them on when I am not listening to anything, just to be able to concentrate better in noisy environments. The noise cancellation works just as good when you simply switch it on, you don’t even have to plug the headphones into anything. But of course you should be aware that this is draining your battery just as much – I always carry a spare one in the supplied case. Rechargeable Eneloops work just as good.
Neat case with smart marketing: “Courtesy cards” to give away for people who are interested in them. Simple and effective, but I haven’t come across other companies who have thought of this.
By now you can tell that I like these headphones a lot – but there is one more great thing about them to add. They are terribly comfortable! They cover your entire ears and you really don’t feel them at all, the padding is just right. You can wear them for hours on-end without any issues, and that is a big difference to the AKMs I know.
The QuietComfort 15 also come with an iPhone/iPod/iPad remote on the wire, with the same functionality as the one by Apple – you can adjust volume, pause, play and skip tracks. Nice treat and really adding to the overall comfort, not having to get out your phone every time you want to switch tracks or adjust volume.
The sound is really good, and of course it also helps that the background is cancelled out – you can hear even the finest tones in classical music, for example. However, I have to say that there are higher-end headphones out there that sound a little better – their dynamic range is probably not as good as from high-end studio headphones, but due to the noise cancellation I think you simply hear the few weaknesses a little better. However, don’t get me wrong: These headphones sound amazing, I am simply comparing them to higher-end ones that cost even more for a good reason!
Design-wise, the Bose QuietComfort 15 probably aren’t the sleekest or modern looking headphones you have ever seen, but they aren’t ugly either. Dr. Dre headphones might look nicer, but they sound like poo. To me, performance is of paramount importance, but clearly, design could be probably be improved. I believe Bose has concentrated on making the most comfortable headphones (hence the name), and I guess that’s why design consideration were secondary, which is totally legitimate. But yes, they are a little egg-shaped.
If you are traveling a lot like I am, and find yourself being forced to work and listen to sound in noisy environments, these headphones are a must-buy in my opinion. Unfortunately they are not the cheapest ones around, but you really get incredible value for money in my opinion. The are $299 in the US, but around €350 in Europe, which is of course a lot more (though that includes VAT). I wouldn’t necessarily use them for monitoring audio while recording, because that’s not what they are made for – but you can if you have to.
By the way, they come with a nice protective (stiff) case, and Bose had one of the neatest marketing ideas ever – the case includes several “courtesy cards” to give away to people who show interest in your headphones, telling them about the brand and product name. And I think it’s a great idea for a product like this – because you really have to try it to appreciate what it does and how good it is. As with all gear, trying them yourself is essential! So check them out yourself if you have a chance to, and let me know if you like them as much as I do. You could buy them on Amazon and simply send them back if you don’t like them – you gotta love Amazon’s straightforward and very fair return policy!!