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Bose Quiet Comfort 25 Noise-Canceling Headphones Review

Shortly after starting a podcast with a friend he recommended to me the Bose Quiet Comfort 15 noise canceling headphones. While was doubtful about wired over-ear headphones, which I hadn't worn in a decade, none-the-less I tried them out.

They immediately became required equipment.

Since Bose introduced the QC 15s five years ago they have become a common sight on frequent travelers in airports and train stations the world over. Now Bose has updated the line with the Quiet Comfort 25 noise canceling headphones .

Here are my thoughts on the QC 25s after three weeks, two trains, and one transatlantic trip.

The Reason You Buy Them

You buy the Quiet Comfort headphones from Bose to distance yourself from the acoustic intrusions of the world: construction, babies, jet engines, music , traffic, babies, and babies.

Take, to pick a random example, babies. Their voices designed by millions of years of evolution to be unignorable. In the confines of a crowded airplane, a single baby can tear asunder the calm and quiet thoughts of a hundred or more grown humans with a mere cry. What baby is going to pass up that kind of opportunity?

There is nothing -- legally anyway -- that you can do about a screaming baby, but the Bose Quiet comfort headphones are the next best thing. Your metaphorical smothering pillow, as it were.

And a pillow really is the best way to describe the effect. The noise canceling doesn't really cancel out the sounds of the world around you, as the name claims. The headphones aren't a mute, but the make sounds muteed. The noise 'canceling' effect when combined with music, however, makes it easy to ignore the world and slip into isolated comfort. It works best for low constant sounds (Cabin airplane noises and street traffic almost disappear) and least well for irregular, high sounds (babies, sirens) but still makes them tolerable.

Once you stop actively listening to them, the sounds slip away from your mind. I've had the pleasure of living next to construction sites for, oh, the last five years. When I first put the headphones on, I can still hear the jackhammers, but any construction work that starts after that is hard to notice. Once in this state it can be startling to take off the headphones and be plunged back into cacaphonic horror.

All the above holds true for the QC 15s and, to my ears, the 25s are even better at reducing noise. So much better they can be too quiet for comfort in an already quiet room without playing music through them. If you have tinnitus you'll never want them on your head without some sound playing. (This has led me to the strange situation of playing recorded airplane cabin noise through the headphones, while on an airplane.)

The noise reduction is so good they need to come with a warning: these headphones are not safe to wear on the street. Sirens are still audible, but approaching cars are deadly silent. Without the ambient awareness of footsteps, people appear from behind without you noticing them in advance. If you're going to wear them on the street, even with one headphone off they can surprisingly limit your aural information.

What's the same

Two things that many people complained about the QC 15s are still the same in the QC 25s:

The headphones are still wired. This isn't a big deal: while wireless would be better, if the cost was battery life I'd rather stick with the wire. Besides, most situations where the headphones are at their best, like working in a cafe, are not high-mobility situations. If you plan to be moving around a lot Bose does have a line of wireless noise-canceling headphones. (I haven't tried these, I'm using and recommend the BlueBuds for wireless)

Second: the headphones still run on a AAA battery. People complain mightily and I'm baffled as to why: Running on AAAs is a huge advantage. The headphones are most needed when they can be charged the least. An 11-hour flight from London to San Francisco is no time to find yourself with dead headphones.

AAA batteries are easily bought at any airport or train station in any country. Charging stations, if available at all, are the rare oasis. Even if you find one, you better hope you didn't forget to pack yet another charging wire.

Bose claims the AAA battery lasts more than 30 hours -- and I believe them. Trying to run the headphones down by using them for everything all day took the better part of the week even on an old rechargeable battery.

Welcome Improvements

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The QC 25s are ever so slightly smaller than the QC15s. Glancing at them side-by-side it's hard to see -- but Bose picked all the right places to shave millimeters. For something you wear on your head small improvements in size and weight yield an outsized increase in comfort. You can wear them at work all day.

The case for the QC 25s is much smaller than the previous generation. New hinges in the headphones allow them to rotate to a collapsable position to fit in the smaller and, thankfully, more rectangular container. (A helpful illustration on the interior shows how they should go -- I use it every time)

One of my biggest complaints is also removed: the QC 15s would let you know the battery was about to die with a sudden 'clack clack clack clack' sound. It was loud enough that, if I left the headphones on in the room next to my bedroom when the batteries ran down in the middle of the night the clack clack clack clack could wake me. The experience of wearing the headphones when the battery went low was… not pleasant.

I have no idea who floated that terrible idea in the design meeting but I hope the near-removal of this 'feature' from the QC25s means they were fired. And hanged. I say near-removal because it took me almost three weeks to realize that the QC25s still do click, but so gently and softly it's easily missed. The tiny green LED on the side of the headphones now blinks when the battery is approaching the end of its life. Also as a plus, even without the batteries, the audio will still work (though with reduced quality and no noise canceling).

As a final small point: the new look is also much improved: the QC 15 was a little cyberman in its appearance. The black and blue color scheme is both less eye-catching (good) and more pro. The phrase 'anonymously handsome' comes to mind.

TL;DR:

The Bose QuiteComfort 25s are a welcome upgrade from the QC 15s. Never step on a plane or a train without them.

Politics in the Animal Kingdom: Single Transferable Vote

 

Extra: STV Election Walkthrough

 

Footnotes:

Script:

Queen Lion is looking to make the elections in her animal kingdom more fair. Currently she divides her citizens into ranges each of which selects one representative to go to the jungle council which makes laws for the kingdom.

But her citizens are unhappy, and it's easy to see why: the council is full of monkeys. Of course some of her citizens are monkeys, but not all of them. This council doesn't fairly represent her kingdom.

Queen lion visits one of the ranges to find out what's wrong and how to fix it.

In this range there five monkeys, four tigers, three owls, two lynx and one buffalo. One of each runs for representative and all citizens vote for their own species.

The election rule is that the candidate with the most votes wins, which is the monkey. But it's a pretty unsatisfying result considering that 2/3rds of citizens in this range aren't monkeys and wouldn't vote for monkeys.

This is the same across all the ranges of the kingdom, the monkeys have more votes than anybody else, so they win all the elections, even though they are a minority of the total population. Closer inspection reveals that the independent advisors hired to draw the range boundaries in the first place weren't as independent as they first appeared.

The result is unhappy citizens who don't trust the jungle council to make the fairest laws for all, quite rightly.

Now Queen lion wants to maximize the number of citizens happy with the election results. One way to do that is to abolish the ranges and use a proportional system... ...But her citizens want local representatives.

So Queen lion needs a system that both make her citizens happier by having a more representative council while keeping local elections in place.

After doing a little research she finds out how: Single Transferable Vote.

The big change with STV is that ranges send more than one representative, which may seem weird, but queen lion decides to test it out: she takes three ranges which used to each send one representative and combines them into one bigger range that will send three.

On election day citizens go to the polls and the results in this new range are just the same as they were in the old ranges: 34% for Monkey, 33% for Owl and 33% for Lynx.

But this isn't most votes wins: with STV to figure out the winners take the total votes and divide by the number of representatives needed, in this case 3 which gives 33% as the amount a candidates needs to win.

So all three candidates go to the council -- which accurately represents the citizens in the range.

Whereas under the old system each range would have sent a monkey. Leaving 2/3rd of the citizens without representation. A bigger range with more representatives allows the range to be more proportional.

This test turned out well, but it was also as simple as could be -- now Queen Lion wants to see what happens in a race where not everyone is a winner.

The next big range she tests has five candidates running for office: Gorilla, Tasier, Monkey, Tiger, and Lynx, three of which can be representatives.

Election day comes and goes, and here are the results of citizens first choices:

Tasier gets 5% Gorilla gets 28% Monkey gets 33% Tiger gets 21% Lynx gets 13%

As before, a candidate needs 33% to win. Monkey has that as so is immediately selected as one of the three representatives.

But no one else reached the winning 33% so how are the other two representatives selected?

Step one: get rid of the biggest loser. Sorry tasier -- you really had no chance at all.

Now, when the citizens voted, they could have just put an X next to the candidate they liked most but with STV they can also rank their favorite candidates. This is important because it shows how the election would have turned out if one of the candidates hadn't run.

Tiny and Worried Tasiers would have voted for the big calm gorilla without tasier in the race. So if their candidate can't win, they want their votes to go to Gorilla instead. This pushes gorilla up to 33% and he become the next representative.

Ranking allows citizens to support their favorite candidate without worry -- there's no point in strategizing about how everyone else is going to vote. The system works to maximize voter happiness with the result.

Back to the range: there's still one representative to select, so the next biggest loser is Lynx. His voters don't like simians, but they do think tiger's interests are similar to theirs and so if Lynx can't win they want him to have their votes. Tiger gets reaches 33% and becomes the third and final representative.

The election result looks pretty good especially considering citizens first and second choices.

Now more citizens have a local representative they can feel comfortable approaching, whereas using the old system, everybody gets a monkey.

Lastly queen lion wants know what happens in a range with just two political parties. Under the most-votes-wins systems, multiple candidates from the same party would be a disaster: they'd split their voters and hand the win to their opposition.

Queen lion makes one last test range with 2/3rd tigers and 1/3 gorillas that as before, needs three representatives.

Because with STV citizens rank their candidates there can be more than one candidate running at the same time without any problems.

The tigers run two candidates as do the gorillas.

White tiger becomes the first representative, but what happens next? While tiger seems to be the biggest loser, it's also obvious that he would have gotten way more votes if white tiger wasn't in the race. If a candidate has more votes than they need, like white tiger does, the first step is to give the extra votes to their second choice. This gets tiger to 33% and he becomes the next representative.

If that seems strange, there are two things to consider:

1) If instead the extra votes were ignored, and tiger eliminated then the gorillas would get the remaining two wins, which would obviously not be represent the range.

2) Ignoring these 'extra' votes is punishing citizens who backed the popular candidate, which makes voters start thinking about how everyone else will vote, rather than what they really want. If a candidate gets extra votes in the first place it also means that those who voted for him are a big section of the population and thus fairly should get more representation.

Right: after the extra votes go to tiger, the election finishes as before: Silverback came in last, is eliminated and his voters' second choice is the younger candidate so gorilla gets in. And the results are fair.

Queen Lion has now seen STV work. Whether a range has one party or lots the process is still the same:

  1. Citizens rank their favorite candidates.
  2. Any candidate above the threshold wins immediately,
  3. 'Extra' votes go to their next choice.
  4. If no winner, last place is eliminated, and the votes to go their next choice.
  5. Repeat until all the winners are found.

This whole this process is designed to maximize the number of citizens who are happy with the result.

This process gives STV has many advantages over the old, most-votes-wins system:

  1. Citizens can honestly vote for their favorite candidate without worrying about what everyone else is going to do.
  2. It's more proportional. So monkeying with the borders matters less.
  3. Almost all citizens will have a local representative they actually voted for.

In the end Queen lion decides to switch the council's elections to Single Transferable Vote to make a better jungle council for all.