Bose AE2i Stereo Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Mar 28, 2013.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube video:

    Sources: iPhone4 alone, iPhone4 with FiiO E17 using LOD, various computers using Audioengine D1 DAC and the D1's headphone out.

    First impressions of the Bose AE2i: Better than average soundstage, great bass detail, very smooth sound, balanced midrange (not forward or recessed), and rather soft highs. I ran some test tones after a short break-in period (~6 hours), and from the mids down through the bass the response was smooth and even, and there was no rolloff until well below 30 hz. The treble needs a slight boost of about 2 db per octave above 2.5 khz (i.e. plus ~4 db at 10 khz) to bring it up to the "just there" level of some of my best headphones. Headphones such as the Sennheiser HD800, Soundmagic HP200, Shure SRH940 and 1440 etc. have much greater brightness levels than "just there", so when I say "just there" I mean for minimum audiophile quality treble response on typical music tracks. I think most users will be satisfied with the treble as is, since a softer treble is the going trend for most headphone manufacturers today.

    The comments in the music tracks listed in this review can be compared to other headphone reviews I've done, to get an idea of how the AE2i plays the different types of music listed here compared to other headphones. Based on my favorable impressions of the AE2i with the first series of tracks which are heavy on electronic sounds, and also on the second group ("MUSIC SAMPLES PART 2") which feature more conventional bands and acoustic sounds, I'd say the AE2i bridges these different genres very well. There are very few headphones that have a strong deep bass response and satisfying impact but don't have any upper bass emphasis or bloat, and the Bose AE2i is one of those few.

    Isolation with the AE2i is average for a good closed-back headphone, and leakage is low as well. My estimate of leakage is for someone in a cubicle in a very quiet office playing music at a decent audiophile level - not extremely loud, but loud enough for full detail listening: A person in an adjacent cubicle might hear some faint sound from the headphone, but whether that would bother them depends on several factors, and turning down the volume to a still-useful level would certainly fix any such problem. Since the AE2i's earcups rotate pretty far each direction and pull down far enough to fit a fairly large head, and the earpads are very soft and spongy and conform well to different head shapes, the isolation and low leakage I experienced should work the same for just about everyone. The AE2i is so light (5 oz; 140 gm) and comfortable that most users will be very pleased with the fit.

    The AE2i is supposed to differ from the AE2 only in the Apple-compatible cable and controls, so any new production of the AE2 series should sound the same as the one I purchased from the Apple Store. The AE2i I tested at the store was the black version, and the one I bought is the white version, and as nearly as I can tell they sound identical to each other. I've seen frequency response curves published at a couple different websites, and they were vastly different from each other. Suffice it to say that my AE2i sounds like the better of the two curves I saw. The AE2i is portable in the best sense of the term, since it can be worn around my neck all day when not in use, with the earcups pulled down far enough that they don't get close to contact with my chin like some so-called portable headphones. Unfortunately the AE2i is supplied with a completely useless thin cloth bag, while what it needs is a semi-stiff enclosing carrycase for transporting in a backpack or luggage without impact damage.

    The AE2i cable is detachable with a proprietary Bose connector, it's single-entry, and has Apple-compatible controls and a microphone. The cable is 64 inches long which seems OK, but it's only 1.9 mm thick, so it would likely fail if it's yanked too many times.

    The music tracks listed in my older reviews were carried over from what I mostly listened to 5-10 years ago. As I added more headphone reviews, I've gravitated more toward "techno" music, from 1980's New Wave to current house music, and even some hip-hop tracks. This new list began at the 2013 New Year and continues here. The older list follows this newer list (see "MUSIC SAMPLES PART 2"). My suggestion is instead of reading each comment below as an absolute unto itself, you could compare these notes to other reviews as they get posted, and see how the AE2i compares with each individual track.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Bose AE2i Part 2 - Music Samples

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has very good detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural, without favoring either. The AE2i plays this perfectly.

    Ben Heit Quartet - Suite-Magnet and Iron (Jazz with a Bebop flavor): The piano that leads off sounds realistic and the saxophone sounds appropriately soft. Overall, the AE2i plays this music extremely well.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The AE2i reproduces the space and detail convincingly.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, and the tambourine(?) sounds just right.

    Crystal Castles - Wrath of God (Electro-Pop): The bass in this track has a strong impact but little detail, while the ambient electronic effects are clear and distinct. The AE2i plays this track very well given the limited quality of the recording.

    DJ Shadow - Building Steam With a Grain of Salt (Electronic/DJ): This track opens with what sounds like very high and very low piano notes, and the AE2i renders those notes well. The ambient voices are slightly indistinct though.

    Franz Ferdinand - Ulysses (Pop-Rock): The moderate level of bass in this track is played with good detail by the AE2i, and the percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced. This track has a huge amount of high-frequency energy, but it didn't become irritating for me.

    Halie Loren - Sway (Jazz vocal): Bass instrument(s) here may sound boomy with some headphones, but the AE2i handles this pretty well. The trumpet sounds natural but soft, and the voice is done just right.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the bass tones beginning around 0:45 have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound and feel that indicates a good deep-bass response. Overall, the AE2i plays this music extremely well.

    Kaskade - 4am (Electro-House): The bass that kicks in around 1:01 into the track is subtle, but the AE2i plays it well. The percussion and female voice balance well with neither overwriting the other - the AE2i gets this right.

    Katy B - Perfect Stranger (R&B-House-Garage): The heavy bass that begins at 0:27 into this track is played very well by the AE2i. The voice is slightly forward, but it doesn't overpower the instruments or get lost in the mix. The AE2i balances the different elements in this music very well.

    Machine Gun Kelly - All We Have (Rap/Hip-Hop): The heavy bass beats that begin at 0:23 into the track do sound like drum impacts, although they're not sharp impacts. The male and female voices have a good balance, and the AE2i plays this about as good as can be expected given the limited quality of the recording.

    Massive Attack - Angel (Trip-Hop): This track begins with a steady low-frequency sound and some strong deep-bass impacts. The voices blend well with the music and have just the right presence, although the recorded quality of the instruments isn't great. The AE2i plays this about as good as can be expected given the limited quality of the recording.

    Morcheeba - Bullet Proof (Trip-Hop): Bright percussion and medium-strength bass impacts make up most of this, with some dance-club spoken intonations thrown in. The AE2i plays the percussion pretty well, and the voices sound good too.

    Peter Tosh - Get Up Stand Up (Reggae): The bass here has a decent but moderate impact, and the lead and backup voices have good separation that's not too narrow or wide. The AE2i renders the bass with good detail and the voices sound very natural.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that may lack clarity and proper harmonic detail on some headphones, but the AE2i reproduces those effects well.

    Rachmaninoff - Prelude in C-Sharp Minor Op3 No2 (Classical, Piano): Grand piano played mechanically from an original recording by the master himself. The bass is unusually light here, but the AE2i renders the notes as well as can be expected given the limited quality of the recording.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the AE2i renders the tones and transients superbly.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are unusually strong, and work very well with the horns and other instruments. The AE2i delivers the impacts with proper weight and great detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.


    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled extremely well by the AE2i.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note for this headphone are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts won't overwhelm you since they're soft and well in the background, but you can really feel the weight they carry.

    Blues Project - Caress Me Baby (1966): Rarely mentioned, but one of the greatest white blues recordings ever. The loud piercing guitar sound at 0:41 into the track is a good test for distortion or other problems. Handled very well here.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled very well by the AE2i.

    Buffalo Springfield - Kind Woman (~1968): A Richie Furay song entirely, rarely mentioned, but one of the best sounding rock ballads ever. This will sound good on most headphones, and sounds very good with the AE2i.

    Cat Stevens - Morning Has Broken (early 70's): A near-perfect test for overall sound - this track will separate the best sounding headphones from the lesser quality types. Nothing specific, except that almost any deviation from perfect reproduction will stand out with this track. Sounds very good on the AE2i.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the AE2i renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Def Leppard - Bringin' On The Heartbreak (1981): MTV goth/pop/metal at its best - good ambience and high energy - the better headphones will separate the details and make for a good experience. Lesser quality and the details tend to mush together. The AE2i plays this very well.

    J.S. Bach - E. Power Biggs Plays Bach in the Thomaskirche (~1970): Recorded on a tracker organ in East Germany, the tracks on this recording have the authentic baroque sound that Bach composed for, albeit the bellows are operated by motor today. The AE2i plays the tones seamlessly through the upper limits of the organ, which cover nearly the full range of human hearing. Of special note are the pedal notes - tracker organs have low-pressure pipes and don't typically produce the kind of impact around 30-35 hz that modern organs do. A headphone that's lacking even a little in the low bass will sound especially bass-shy with this type of organ, but the AE2i delivers the full experience of this music.

    Jamming With Edward - It Hurts Me Too (1969): Intended originally as a test to fill studio down time and set recording levels etc., this was released a few years later for hardcore Rolling Stones fans. Although not as good technically in every aspect as the Chess studio recordings of 1964, and in spite of the non-serious vocals by Mick Jagger, this rates very high on my list of white blues recordings, and sounds absolutely delicious with the AE2i.

    Jennifer Warnes - Rock You Gently (1992?): The strong deep bass percussion at the beginning of this track has been cited as a test for weakness or distortion in certain headphones. The AE2i plays those notes with good impact and control. Having played this track a number of times now, I'm impressed with the AE2i's bass reproduction and detail throughout the track.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has some loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical on some headphones. The AE2i provides excellent reproduction. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in, for maximum detail effect. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrumental separation and detail, and the AE2i plays them very well.

    Ladytron - Destroy Everything You Touch (~2009): Featured in The September Issue, this song has heavy overdub and will sound a bit muddy on some headphones. Sounds great with the AE2i.

    Milt Jackson/Wes Montgomery - Delilah (Take 3) (1962): The vibraphone is heavily dependent on harmonics to sound right, and the AE2i plays it very well.

    Pink Floyd/Dark Side of the Moon - Speak To Me (1973): Strong deep bass impacts will be heard and felt here.

    Rolling Stones - Stray Cat Blues (1968): Dirty, gritty blues that very few white artists could match. On some headphones the vocals and guitar lack the edge and fall more-or-less flat. If you're a really good person, playing this song will probably make you feel nervous and uneasy.

    Tony Bennett - I Left My Heart In San Francisco (1962): Frank Sinatra's favorite singer. Highest recommendation. With some of the best headphones, the sibilants on this recording are very strong, but they're not too bad with the AE2i.
  3. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Several people have asked me following other reviews whether I've had any headphones that I didn't need to EQ to achieve a proper frequency response balance. This Bose AE2i is on the very short list of headphones that I thought were balanced enough to not require any EQ for high fidelity listening.

    Other headphones that I didn't have to EQ:

    ATH M50 (some mids coloration).
    B&W P5 (soft highs).
    GMP 8.35D.
    Sennheiser Amperior (upper bass emphasis).
    Sennheiser HD800.
    Shure SRH1840.
    Soundmagic HP100 (very slight brightness).
    Soundmagic HP200 (very slight brightness).

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