Bose has long-held the title of the maker of the best active noise-cancelling headphones available, per reviewers of a wide variety of publications and from a range of backgrounds. The QuietComfort 15 over-ear headphones really were the apex if you wanted decent sound, along with noise isolation that made even noisy airplane cabins silent enough to sleep in. The QuietComfort 25 headphones, then, have a lot to live up to, as the new successor to the QC 15, which had a long tenure in a market where new models typically arrive at a fast and furious pace.
The QuietComfort 25 has some nice initial advantages just by virtue of being newer. The design is a little more sleek and modern, for instance, making these perhaps slightly less iconic (the QC 15 was always easy to spot as the hallmark of discerning travellers), and the hardshell travel case and folding method for stowage means that it takes up a lot less space than the previous model when packed away. The QC 25 headphones also ship with just a single cable, which has an in-line remote, instead of the two (generally useless) options of the previous lineup, and you still get that weird two-pronged airline adapter that almost no airlines actually use anymore.
The carrying case also comes with a convenient slot for including your AAA battery, which is required for active noise cancellation – but not, finally in this generation, for listening to music at all. The QuietComfort 15’s great Achilles heel was its inability to produce sound without power, meaning that if your battery died on a long cross-Atlantic flight and you didn’t have the foresight to purchase any spares, you were simply out of luck. The QC 25 will play music even without juice, though it lacks the womb-like sound isolation of when it’s running on battery power, and sound is somewhat more flat and less alive as well.
Addressing the QC 15’s main weakness means that the QC 25 is primed to be the new king of noise-cancelling headphones, even without any other further changes to the sound production or quality these cans put out. But Bose hasn’t just sopped there – these have way better battery life than their predecessor, and can squeeze out up to 35 hours of active noise cancellation on a single AAA battery. They have much larger and more easy to spot R and L indicators inside the cups to keep you situated, and they have a top band which is actually more comfortable for longer wear, even though Bose has ditched the plush leather finish (though it remains on the cups).
Noise cancellation on the QC 25 is at least as good as that on the QC 15’s, and I felt no occasional pressure on my ear drums than I have with my own pair of QC 15’s. They QC 25’s also seem less bass-heavy than the QC 15, and a little more sophisticated in terms of the sound they deliver, offering better mids and highs. The bass is still strong if that’s what you’re into, but pure audiophiles will find less to sniff at here. Bose’s in-line remote also performed very well for taking calls, and the noise-cancellation means you’ll definitely be able to hear who you’re talking to.
Bose didn’t really need to update the QC 15; it was still topping charts everywhere as the single-best pair of noise-cancelling headphones in the business. The QC 25’s launch probably had more to do with updating the line for a younger, Beats-hungry audience (there’s a custom order tool that lets you come up with crazy color configurations) but everyone benefits as a result, as Bose has fixed all the weaknesses of the previous model, and made genuinely useful improvements even to the QC line’s biggest strengths with the QC 25, which remains the best deal in noise cancelling headphones even at $300.