Bose QC-25 Around-ear Noise Canceling Stereo Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Jan 24, 2015.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Youtube review: http://youtu.be/8TGj4UzoWoM

    Photos:
    http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Leica_Dlux/Headphone_Bose_Qc25_01.jpg
    http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Audioforge/Bose_Qc25a.jpg
    http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Audioforge/Bose_Qc25b.jpg

    Sources: iPhone6+ with Portaphile Micro/PA2V2/Decware Zen Head amps using the LOD, various computers using Microstreamer/Beyer A200p/v-moda Verza DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the Bose QC25 are based on direct comparisons to other headphones - the v-moda M100 and XS, the FAD Pandora VI and IV, the Beyerdynamic T1 and T90, the AKG K812 and K712, and notes that I've accumulated from many prior reviews. I'll describe how I relate to the QC25 (i.e. my personal tastes and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    Noise Canceling notes: A long time ago, Ray Dolby came up with a Noise Reduction scheme that involved boosting certain frequencies (mostly high frequencies) during the recording phase, then when users played back those recordings they could use "Dolby Playback" codecs to restore the proper sound, which reduced those frequencies by the same amount that they were boosted during recording. That way, any noise that would be introduced by tape recorders or other things that were not part of the musical sound would be reduced in volume compared to the musical sound. Noise Canceling (NC) in headphones works differently - tiny microphones in the headphone sample the noise that's not part of the musical sound, and then the NC codec generates "opposite" waveforms that effectively cancel the outside noise. Presumably this NC doesn't interfere with the finer musical details in good quality recordings. Based on long listening to the QC25, I'd say the NC scheme works extremely well.

    As good as the QC25 NC is, I'd like to describe where I think the ultimate limitations are, so users will understand the difference between noises that aren't fully treated (or which occur in the NC codec itself) and the untreated environmental noises, and the musical details that will be much more audible due to the reduction of noises in the environment. Put the headphone on in a very quiet place with the NC switch off (to the left), and then flip the switch on (to the right) and hear the faint "shhhhhhh" sound coming from the headphone. That's the NC "opposite" waveform at rest, waiting for music to start playing and for any outside noises to be suppressed. If it's very quiet where you are, you should be able to easily hear the difference between the NC waveform and any noises that originate in your head (blood movement etc.). So far I haven't found an instance where this NC waveform interferes with any music.

    The only other anomaly I've encountered with NC is where sudden low-frequency sounds occur (NOT steady rumble etc.), such as nearby car doors being slammed, or vehicles hitting loose plates on roads where those plates are covering repair work. Those sudden sounds may combine with low frequencies in the musical sound the headphone is playing, resulting in a "wobbly" kind of low-frequency tone that's odd to hear, but not loud or especially irritating. NC used in headphones does not fully reduce low frequencies as it does high frequencies and most mid-frequencies, but the overall noise reduction is still fantastic, and I grant Bose 5 stars for the QC25 NC, as well as other aspects of the sound and the physical build quality.

    In many of my reviews I've used the Audioforge equalizer out of necessity, since many of those headphones have steep treble rolloffs, or less often, excess treble brightness. In the QC25's case, there's probably no need for EQ of any kind in Active mode, since the response I hear compared to many 'flagship' headphones is very neutral, or approximately +/- 2.5 db across most of the spectrum. In Passive mode the response is more like +/- 6 db, with a significant recess around 2 khz and some treble rolloff above 10 khz, so to get audiophile quality** sound in Passive mode, some EQ would help. Some of my headphones sound quite a bit different (usually better) after "burn-in", which is a simple matter of playing them at a good volume for 12-24 hours before making any judgements about their sound. Some of them don't change much at all, and I suspect the difference isn't always the make or model - it may be that the manufacturer runs them on a "play" bench for a number of hours before packing them up for shipment.

    **With some judicious EQ, the Passive mode sound can equal the quality of the Active mode sound in most respects, although it's more difficult to compensate accurately above 10 khz without creating a project just for that.

    Summing up the sound in Active mode, the treble is my kind of neutral - i.e. less bright than headphones like the Sennheiser HD800, AKG K812, Beyer T1 and T90 etc., but still very present and extended. The bass also is neutral - i.e. near perfect for classical, jazz, folk, and other genres that have a similar bass requirement, but somewhat shy of what's common among modern headphones for pop, EDM, hip-hop, metal, and other such genres. I can't make a critical analysis of the midrange as many experts do, with descriptors like 'liquid', 'dry', 'forward' and so on, but I can say that I haven't found anything that isn't just right - I hear great clarity and detail, and natural musical tone. The sound in Passive mode is similar in some ways, but with much less treble. Critical listeners will hear that +/- 6db difference in frequency balance as I noted above. There may be other NC headphones that do better in their Passive modes, but I haven't heard one yet.

    Isolation in Passive mode is at least average, possibly better for a good closed-back headphone, but the leakage is just enough that if the QC25 is used in offices, libraries, or other very quiet places, the volume would probably have to be kept below typical audiophile levels. The headphone is pretty light overall, and thanks to that and some excellent luxurious padding, extremely comfortable. The earcups go around my average size ears perfectly, but people with very large ears may not fare as well. That may not always be a problem for large ears in Passive mode, but likely would be in Active mode where a complete seal is necessary. The total range of adjustment for different head sizes is about 11/8 inch (35 mm) on each side, and my fit is right in the center of that range. The QC25 folds up very neatly into its 8 x 5.5 x 2 inch high stiff zippered carry case, and that case would probably be OK for most backpacks, and certainly no problem for travel luggage.

    The QC25 is an ideal portable headphone in the sense that it can be pulled off the head when not in use and worn around the neck with no comfort issues, with the earcups folded flat against the chest. This is important to me because when I walk around town and stop to talk to people or purchase things, I don't want the headphone to interfere with my movements, and I don't want to carry the case with me. The QC25 cable is single-entry (ideal), it's detachable, and has a good durable thickness that doesn't add noticeable weight. The control box on the cable has a microphone, a center button for stop/start and previous/next track, and buttons for volume up/down, for Apple i-devices at least (don't know about Android devices). The 4-conductor plug that goes into the earcup is 2.5 mm, while the other end is 3.5 mm - also 4-conductor for Apple (and possibly other) smart-phones.

    In previous reviews I've included the following music examples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to those other reviews and see how the QC25 compares with each individual track. The following comments apply primarily to the Active mode sound, but in cases where the Passive mode sound is significantly different, I'll note that as well.
     
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Bose QC-25 review part 2 - music tracks

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has excellent detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The QC25 plays this perfectly.

    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 very well by the QC25.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note here are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts are soft and well in the background, and you can really feel some of of the weight they carry with the QC25.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Very good instrumental detail and the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The QC25 plays this music smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Great sound quality - this is a good test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled extremely well by the QC25.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The QC25 plays the voices with enough low end warmth and weight to sound very natural, yet there is no added emphasis of the lower register of the male voices on this track.

    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 QC25 reproduces the space and detail perfectly.

    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 QC25 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The QC25 plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are very detailed but not edgy - very musical in fact.

    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 is clearly recognizable. Note: In Passive mode the tambourine is very dull.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The QC25 reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed. Note: In Passive mode the harmonics are very recessed.

    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 QC25 plays this music perfectly.

    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 that indicates a solid deep-bass response. The QC25 plays this music extremely well.

    Heaven 17 - Let Me Go (1980's New Wave/Techno): The bass instrument (guitar?) has excellent detail, and the voices and ambiance have a "you are there" quality that's uncommon in early 1980's pop music. The QC25 plays this track perfectly.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track reproduce very well with the QC25. This is a great recording for evaluating whether a headphone's 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.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has several loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical with some headphones. The QC25 provides excellent reproduction. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for best-case detail. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrument separation and detail, and the QC25 does those near-perfectly. Note: In Passive mode the horn crescendos are very muffled.

    Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek Michigan, Aeolian-Skinner Organ (1933) - Pedal, 32', Resultant, Arpeggio: This 16 hz organ pedal tone differs from other music tones in that you won't "hear" the tone - you'll only feel it. Although most music tones have harmonics (including this one), the harmonics from this tone will be too weak to provide any "feel", so whatever you actually hear would not be part of the fundamental 16 hz tone. There are ~30 hz sounds in the outdoor environment in big cities, generated by large trucks, buses, and subway trains, and they have a quality of "rumble" that's similar to some deep-bass tones found in music. This 16 hz organ tone is easily distinguished from those sounds when compared on a headphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz. The QC25 plays this with enough weight and detail that you can hear/feel the 16 cycle per second "beats" of the fundamental tone.

    Mantovani - Sunrise Sunset (Easy Listening, ca. 1972): A master musician and conductor who specialized in light classics and orchestral pop music, Mantovani's accomplishments were overshadowed by music critics who couldn't tolerate the notion of "light classics" or "semi-classical" music, even when those recordings were no threat to the classical music genres. In any case the later Mantovani recordings from the mid-1960's through mid-1970's had the advantage of being mixed for much better hi-fi systems than those which the music critics possessed at the start of the Long Playing (LP) record cycle. Here in 2015, at least some of those digital remasters have improved the sound further, although it's not always the case. This track as played on the QC25 is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and the weight of those impacts is subtle but appreciable with the QC25.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the QC25 renders this music as perfectly as I've heard an energetic pop-rock recording played with any headphone.

    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 should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The QC25 reproduces that sound effect to some extent, but not perfectly.

    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 QC25 conveys as much of that experience as is possible on an average decent stereo headphone. The tympani also have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the QC25 renders the tones and transients very well. Note: In Passive mode the brightness is very subdued, but much of the tone and transients come through anyway.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The QC25's reproduction is near-perfect, and the close-miked piano is also a treat. For comparison, I have several Maynard Ferguson tracks that feature a similarly strong trumpet with lots of brassy bite.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are strong and work extremely well with the horns and other instruments. The QC25 delivers the impacts with great weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.
     
  3. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    I've been discovering more as I go along. One big thing I didn't know in the review tests - if you're in a noisy area and benefitting from the Noise Canceling, and it's outdoors and windy, the mics that measure the ambient noise will also pick up the wind, just like a digital camera making a video. And that wind noise will overpower the music even with a 10 mph breeze if you're facing into it. That makes me wonder if there's already a solution for it, or whether a solution is even possible.
     
  4. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Another discovery about the QC25: If you listen with your head down somewhat, with chin close to chest, the QC25 produces a fairly strong rumble, which disappears as soon as you lift your head. It may be that the mics are in those small holes at the bottom of the earcups, and they don't like being crowded or blocked.
     
  5. Jupit3r

    Jupit3r New Member

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    Nice, wonder how it compares to the Monster Inspiration Active Noise Cancelling headphone.
     
  6. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Based on Innerfidelity's reviews of the QC series, odds are that the MI will not equal the QC25 in noise cancellation. The sound quality should be comparable, if the MI is as good as the non-canceling version I had. Oftentimes that doesn't prove to be the case though. As to comfort, the QC25 is way, way better.
     
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