Bose In-ear Headphones Hands On

Let’s make this perfectly clear right from the beginning: Bose’s new $99 in-ear headphones do not cancel noise nor do they isolate your ears from the sounds of the outside world. They’re not intended to block the sounds of crying babies while on a cross-country flight nor are they intended to cut you off from the din of the office. Rather, Bose designed a pair of in-ear headphones that hardly go “in-ear” at all. What?

Unlike other in-ear headphones (like those from Shure and Ultimate Ears) that plug directly into the ear canal, Bose’s in-ear headphones nestle inside the ear’s concha. (Go ahead, look it up.) Bose engineered the headphones so that the actual tip of the headphone just barely makes contact with the mysterious inner workings of the ear. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to battle the sensation that they don’t feel “in” quite all the way for at least a little while. Eventually, you’ll grow accustomed to the fact that the headphones just kinda hang out — they’re not all the way in nor are they falling out. Definitely an acquired taste here. (Personally, I prefer the feeling of having the headphone jammed right in there, but I’m crazy like that.)

The headphones’ unique design doesn’t compromise their sound quality. Typically of Bose products, they sound just terrific. Despite the fact that they don’t go all the way in, they sound nearly as good as those that do (which I address later). I listened to a fine mix of music to get an idea of how they compare to other headphones, namely my piece of junk iPod earbuds (good for walking around New York while still being able to hear the sounds of oncoming traffic), my Ultimate Ears 5 pros (good for blocking out the sounds of humanity while I write) and my over-the-ear Solitude headphones (good for pretending I’m a professional DJ). I subjected the headphones to some trance in the form of Juliet’s “Avalon (Original Mix)”; to rock in the form of Sleater-Kinney’s “Turn It On”; to the hip-hop with Nas’ “Money Over Bullshit”; and to spicy crazy Latin beats in the form of Willie Colón’s “El Malo.”

I immediately noticed that Bose’s headphones sounded significantly better than the iPod earbuds, which, admittedly, isn’t exactly news. That the Bose jawns sounded so much better than the Solitudes did surprise me. Bass heavy tracks like “Money Over Bullshit” benefit from what Bose calls “Triport,” which improves low frequency response. While I would still say that the Ultimate Ears sounded better (you can actually hear the artifacts in compressed music with those bad boys — lossless is your friends, kids), they also carry a substantial price tag, $250. So for $150 less Bose nearly delivers the same experience as the fancy UEs. Well done.

Again, since they’re not noise canceling or noise isolating, you’ll still have to deal with ambient sounds getting in the way of your music listening. The Bose folks had a justification for this: it’s meant to keep you social. (Social? What’s that? People actually talk to each other? That’s news to me.) You can go to Starbucks and order a fine cup of Joe without having to remove the headphones from your ears. Let me tell you, if some punk kid was ordering a cup of coffee from me while still listening to “Panic! At the Disco,” I’d likely splash the coffee in his face. Damn kids and their lack of respect.

Now then, what does the package consist of? Not much, actually: the headphones themselves, two more rubber tips (small and large; medium is the default size) and a small leather case, all kept nice and crisp by the presence of a desiccant. I suppose that’s standard affair for headphones of this caliber, but since this is Bose and everything, I was half expecting a little sprinkling of gold dust, perhaps some vermouth.

The rubber tips snap onto the headphone pretty easily. In fact, the Bose folks told me the company put a great deal of research into figuring out how to make the process of putting on the tips as enjoyable and reassuring as possible. Apparently, people were having trouble with previous models telling if the tips were attached as snugly as they could be. If you say so, Bose.

Bose’s new in-ear headphones at least deserve a test run at your local Bose store. The fairly inexpensive price (again, $99) should entice people who may have been unsure of wanting to upgrade from their digital audio player’s pack-in earbuds. Like most of Bose’s other products they deliver top notch sound. You’ll have to get past the fact that, because they’re called “in-ear,” you’re still going to want to shove them all the way inside your ear. (If you use them while exercising you might want to try the larger size rubber tips since they’re likely to stay more securely in your ear.) If you can get past that, you’re looking at a decent pair of headphones. I know they’ll be my NO Xplode-fueled workout pair from now on.

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