Bose SoundTrue On-Ear Stereo Headphone Review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Jun 17, 2014.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube video: Bose SoundTrue On Ear Stereo Headphone review by Dale - YouTube


    Sources: iPhone5 with Portaphile Micro/PA2V2/Decware Zen Head amps using the LOD, various computers using Microstreamer/Beyer A200p/v-moda Verza DAC/amps.

    Review note: My impressions of the Bose SoundTrue On-Ear (STOE) sound are based on direct comparisons to other headphones - v-moda M80 and M100, Beyerdynamic DT1350 and T51p, FAD Pandora IV and VI, and notes that I've accumulated from many prior reviews. I describe how I relate to the STOE (i.e. my personal taste and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    I reviewed the white Bose OE2 (the previous version of the STOE) in March 2012, and I reviewed the black OE2i in November 2013, and so this update covers any possible changes to the physical design as well as my impressions of the sound, on the chance that it may have changed from the first sample I had. There is a change from the OE2/OE2i headphones to the new STOE headphone, and it isn't a change for the better. Note the EQ chart at the above link or on my dalethorn website under Photos and Audioforge. You can compare that chart to the chart for the OE2i that's on the same page to see what the differences are - they're very similar, but the new headphone's sound isn't improved from the prior version. I won't repeat the physical details from the original review, since that's still accessible from the various headphone sites. What did change was the choices of new colors, and I chose black this time.

    The STOE's sound has significant colorations and a recessed treble, as can be seen in the Audioforge chart linked above or on my website. This review won't be a rehash of my prior reviews - the purpose here is to determine whether the STOE has the sound quality to compete with other on-ear headphones I have now or had recently, using the Audioforge equalizer, or whether it's unusable for critical listening. Conclusion: I can recommend the STOE for non-critical portable use, since the quality is OK for the price. To use at home for audiophile listening, a significant EQ is necessary to reduce the colorations and restore some of the recessed treble. The STOE's EQ'd sound is good in most respects for an average audiophile listen, but it won't resolve upper harmonic details like the better on-ear headphones, nor does the bass response have the clarity or details that I hear with those better-quality on-ear headphones. Here is a short list of the things that stand out to me with this third (and EQ'd) review of the small Bose on-ear headphone:

    The sound quality (aside from the smoothed response) is essentially free of distortions and resonances, based on listening with my best amps and high-resolution music tracks.

    The soundstage is spacious and airy, and the musicality is very good.

    The comfort is excellent with the very soft earpads that don't pinch my ears, and the headband clamp is very light.

    The thin, clingy rubber cable is far from ideal.

    The portability is perfect insofar as having the ability to wear around the neck comfortably when not listening, plus the inclusion of a decent small carrycase for stowing in luggage or backpacks. The STOE's isolation is moderate - enough to be able to enjoy music in places that aren't extremely noisy, but not enough to get a sense of significant isolation. The moderate leakage is not likely to be a problem for fellow passengers on noisy public transports, but likely would be a problem in a quiet office or a public library.

    In spite of the above criticisms, the EQ'd STOE is one of my favorite headphones, for home or portable use. In previous reviews I've included the following music samples with notes about how the headphone sounds with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to other reviews and see how the STOE compares with each individual track. As noted above, all listening was done with the EQ settings shown in the above Audioforge link.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Bose SoundTrue On-Ear review part 2 - music samples

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has excellent detail and tone with a modest weight, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The STOE plays this very well.

    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 STOE.

    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 just feel a little of the weight they carry with the STOE.

    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 STOE plays this music smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

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

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The STOE 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 STOE reproduces the space and detail very convincingly.

    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 STOE renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

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

    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 sound is as realistic as I've heard with any other headphone since doing these detailed reviews. Note that without EQ, the tambourine isn't even identifiable as such.

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

    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 STOE 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 *should* have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound and feel that indicates a good deep-bass response, but the STOE falls short on bass impact here. Still, the STOE plays this music pretty well overall.

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

    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 STOE. 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.

    Human League - Keep Feeling Fascination (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's bass line is very detailed, but the somewhat forward voices don't have quite the "you are there" quality of the Heaven 17 track noted above. Still, the STOE makes this a good listen.

    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 STOE provides excellent detail. 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 instrument separation and detail, and the STOE plays those extremely well.

    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 STOE reproduces the fundamental tone with a light but appreciable weight.

    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 2014, 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 STOE is an excellent 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 fairly subtle with the STOE.

    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 STOE reproduces those sound effects very well.

    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 STOE provides an excellent musical experience overall, but the deep-bass impact is pretty light.

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

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

    William Orbit - Optical Illusion (Billy Buttons Mix) (Electronic): This is about as close as I want to get to easy-listening music. The string tones beginning at 0:18 are fairly soft, and while the bass isn't very deep, it still adds a good underpinning to the music. The short poetic rap at 4:14, preceded by an etherial female voice, works very well with this track.

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