Bose OE2i Stereo Headphone (Black Edition) review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Nov 26, 2013.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Note: I reviewed the Bose OE2i white edition nearly 2 years ago, and while I can't say that Bose made any specific improvements, I've been very impressed with the new OE2i (black edition) for hi-fi listening.

    Youtube review: Bose OE2i Stereo Headphone Review by Dale - YouTube


    Sources: iPhone5 alone, iPhone5 with FiiO E07k using LOD, iPhone5 with Decware Zen Head amp, various computers using the Audioengine D3 DAC/amp.

    The Bose OE2i (same as OE2 except Apple cable) is one of the niftiest headphone designs I've ever seen, fitting into the supplied zippered case that's 5.0 x 5.25 x 1.5 inches thick when closed. This case can even fit into an ordinary man's jeans back pocket, although you would not want to sit on it. Bose warns about twisting the earcups past their design limit when rotating them, or applying any other pressures that could break the plastic parts. Unfolded and ready for use, they look like an ordinary on-ear headphone, and I never would have guessed they could fit into such a small carrycase. Besides being ultra-portable in the tiny carrycase, the OE2i can be worn around your neck all day long when not in use, by pulling the earcups all the way down so they don't bump against your chin.

    My first impression of the sound played without EQ was excellent musical tone with a neutral (but good) bass response, a clear and uncolored midrange, but a recessed high end. To separate my review judgements from my personal tastes, I compared the OE2i sound, particularly the treble, to the Shure SRH1540, B&O H6, B&W P7, Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear (MOE), and Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro (COP). The SRH1540 upper treble is mildly recessed, the H6 is very neutral, the P7 is slightly accentuated, the COP is reasonably neutral, and the MOE is somewhat recessed. The OE2i is more recessed than the SRH1540 or MOE, and when the OE2i's treble is boosted using the iTunes/i-device EQ setting, the highs are quite good and satisfying for demanding music, but don't have quite the strength and detail that these other headphones have.

    Bass response is a very hot ticket with headphones these days, and many if not most of the headphones in the OE2i's price range are quite bassy. The Bose OE2i is not bassy in any sense - in fact its bass is probably slightly less than what's typically reported as neutral (i.e. Sennheiser HD800), however it's close enough that if you prefer a truly neutral bass, the OE2i should be a lot closer to that ideal than the other 5 headphones listed above. I had one concern with the OE2i insofar as the treble boost EQ that I applied, i.e. whether that EQ could introduce audible peaks and dips into the response, so I listened closely for any of those. So far I haven't heard any roughness or uneven sound - just smooth clean reproduction.

    The earpads are oval and flat - a kind of soft spongy material, perforated in the center where the sound comes out, and more or less identical to the earpads of the Bose QC3 or the B&W P5. The OE2i weighs next to nothing, but the earpads put a mild pressure on the ears. I have headphones that weigh 10 times as much and exert 10 times the ear pressure, which doesn't bother me, but even the very mild pressure of the OE2i might bother people who aren't used to wearing headphones. The headband is padded on the top and bottom, but for people who are bothered by even the slightest pressure on top of their head, I suggest pulling the earcups down a slight bit more than the minimum necessary for the fit, so the very light weight of the headphone is borne mostly by the earcups and not the headband. The headband has an internal metal construction, but how far the metal extends either way I can't tell since all I can see of the internal part is 1.5 inches on either side when the earcups are pulled all the way down.

    The 2 mm thick cable is very thin, but not quite as thin as the B&W P5's cable. The cable is single-sided and detachable, ~6 ft.long, and terminated by a 45 degree angled miniplug. The OE2 and OE2i are the same except for the OE2i's Apple plug and controls. People who have purchased the OE2 at its lower price (compared to the OE2i) who have tried to get the Apple replacement cable have discovered that Bose controls the distribution of replacement cables, and won't sell an OE2i cable for an OE2 headphone. The OE2i is a closed-back headphone with average (or nearly so) isolation - about 10 db at the higher frequencies and less at lower frequencies. Leakage is low, and playing music at decent (not loud) volumes in a quiet office next to other workers will not be a problem in most cases. People who play the OE2i without EQ will experience a limited soundstage due to the treble recess, but my tests show that soundstage and other sonic qualities improve greatly when a treble boost is applied as described above.

    Now that I've covered the basics of the sound, it's time to describe how the OE2i sounds with a variety of music that's available on CD's or as high-quality downloads from Internet music stores. I've used the following examples in other reviews, so these will serve as good test tracks for this review and the results can also be compared to the results noted in the other reviews. Note that these music examples were played using treble booster EQ in iTunes and on the Apple i-devices.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Bose OE2i review part 2 - music tracks

    Ana Victoria - Roxanne (Pop Vocal): Spacious sound, good bass detail, and the vocal sounds very natural. Excellent reproduction by the OE2i.

    Ben Goldberg - Root and Branch (Jazz): Realistic you-are-there sound with great instrumental reproduction and bass detail. The OE2i plays this extremely well.

    Benedictines Of Mary - O Come Emmanuel (Medieval/Female Choral/Acapella): Very spacious sound and natural reverb for a large recording venue (cathedral). The OE2i makes the voices come alive.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Excellent instrumental detail - the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The OE2i plays this music smoothly enough, but the shy bass reduces the impact of this music.

    Candy Dulfer - Lily Was Here (Jazz): Narrow soundstage, but excellent detailed instrumental tone and bass detail. The OE2i gives this a reasonable sense of space, but in spite of being a modern recording, the net effect is only slightly better than enhanced mono.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The OE2i plays the male voices well enough to sound natural.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The OE2i plays this high treble energy recording with perfection - the voice and instruments are highly detailed but very smooth.

    Daft Punk - Lose Yourself to Dance (Electronic/Disco): Less than hi-fi quality recording, but the voices are very good. There's a decent amount of bass impact, but the bass doesn't have much detail.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The OE2i reproduces the instruments perfectly with a you-are-there ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    David Lynch-Lykke Li - I'm Waiting Here (Soundtrack/Vocal): Dark, moody song - Lykke's voice is very detailed, the strong bass impacts are good, but most of the instrumentation is soft and kept in the background. The OE2i plays this music very well given the sonic limitations.

    Dream Theater - Take The Time (Metal): The sound quality here is limited, but the OE2i is smooth enough to bring out the details in this very busy music without verging on harshness.

    Genesis - Follow You Follow Me (Pop/Rock):The OE2i plays this old and less-than-ideal recording well enough to be very enjoyable, but the soundstage is not very wide.

    Giant Drag - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): Annie Hardy's version of the Chris Isaak hit has a lot of energy, but the quality is limited - still the OE2i pulls out enough detail to be a pleasant listen.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The OE2i makes this an outstanding listen.

    Hubert Kah - The Picture (New Wave): This track has great bass detail and weight at the same time, which I find unusual for this type of 1980's pop music. The OE2i plays this music very well.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The strong deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track reproduce well indoors with the OE2i. This is a great recording for evaluating whether the bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many headphones that have a weaker bass, the deep bass gets absorbed and mostly lost when the environment contains a lot of low-frequency energy.

    Korn - Another Brick In the Wall (Rock): Aggressive rock that's very satisfying for hard-rock fans. The OE2i plays this pretty well, which is to say, with proper edginess and bass impact, yet without unintended sonic harshness.

    Kunika Kato - Fur Alina (Vibraphone): A very unusual instrumental - the tone quality is unlike anything I've heard before. Recording close-up is part of the magic here, but the OE2i does the rest in reproducing the full harmonics of this amazing instrument.

    Michael Buble - Nice 'n Easy (Easy Listening/Jazz): This is the only track I bought by Michael Buble, but it's a great recording and vocal performance. The sound of the backing band here is rendered very well by the OE2i with good bass detail, and the voice isn't pumped up for Loudness Wars thankfully.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone, brought to life by the OE2i. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, but those impacts have very little weight with the OE2i.

    Muse - Madness (Rock): The bass in this track has good impact and detail with the OE2i, and although the voice is somewhat forward, it doesn't interfere with my appreciation of the bass line here.

    Phaeleh - Afterglow (feat. Soundmouse) (Electronic/Vocal): The instrumental sounds that begin this track are played very nicely by the OE2i, but the voice tends to overwhelm those background sounds - until the heavy bass impacts kick in. If there is any doubt about whether the OE2i will play heavy impactful bass with good detail (if such sounds are really in the recording), this track is the proof. If you were to begin your OE2i listening with this track, you might think you were listening to a headphone that has a very boosted but tight and detailed bass. Simply amazing.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The OE2i conveys much of that experience for a headphone. The tympani also have excellent impact here.

    Sargis Aslamazian - The Sky is Cloudy (Classical/Armenian): The National Chamber Orchestra of Armenia has a great classical program, and the OE2i plays this music with good separation, tone, bass weight, and big-orchestra precision.

    Satri-Tomoko Sonoda - All The Things You Are (Jazz): This track came from Bakoon Products, who make high-quality audio amplifiers. There's a lot of upright bass plucking in this track, and the OE2i plays it well, although it's recorded pretty close-up and may sound somewhat boomy at times.

    Tommy Smith - Johnny Come Lately (Jazz): Small-combo jazz - sax, piano and drums. The sound is fairly close-up but well-recorded, and sounds very nice with the OE2i, although the wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are not as extended as on the David Hazeltine track above.

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