You'd be hard pressed to find better-sounding active noise-canceling headphones than the Bose QuietComfort series. While more reviewers say the closed-back Bose QuietComfort 15 (*Est. $300) headphones are their pick for noise-canceling headphones (because they physically block more sound), some say the open-back QC 3 (as it's also known) has superior sound. The QuietComfort 3s are also slimmer and more portable; for convenience, Bose includes a battery pack and charger. Both experts and users find the premium price of Bose headsets to be their main drawback.
CNET and the Australian site Good Gear Guide -- now part of PC World (Australia) -- offer detailed reviews on the QuietComfort 3's performance. If you have subscription access to Which? or Choice magazines, both have helpful reviews based on their testing. PCMag.com also has a write-up that confirms the findings of other reviewers, while more than 200 owners provide feedback at Amazon.com.
David Carnoy of CNET compares the Bose QuietComfort 3's sound quality to the equally well-regarded QuietComfort 2. He says they have fuller bass than their predecessor, although detail isn't as good. However, Carnoy likes the battery pack and other minor improvements, such as memory-foam ear pads, and notes that the difference in sound quality between the two Bose models is negligible for the average listener. He awards 4 out of 5 stars.
Review: Bose QuietComfort 3, David Carnoy, June 30, 2006
Good Gear Guide's James Dickinson rates the QuietComfort 3 highly for noise cancellation, saying that they "really can transform a flight from a hellish experience to one merely of mild discomfort." Although sound quality isn't quite as good as other headphones in their price range, it's far from bad, and the price -- and being unable to listen without batteries -- are the only downsides for Dickinson. He awards 4 out of 5 stars.
Review: QuietComfort 3, James Dickinson, Nov. 23, 2006
3. Which? magazine
Which? says the sound quality of the Bose QuietComfort 3 is mediocre, though "with a pleasant character," including a prominent bass but muffled sound and distant-sounding higher frequencies. The noise reduction works well but can't be turned off, they note. They're comfortable. Which? awards a score of 40 percent to the Bose QuietComfort 3.
Review: Bose QuietComfort 3 Review, Editors of Which?
Reviewer Mike Kobrin prefers the noise cancellation circuitry and design of this model over the Bose QC 2s (since upgraded as the Bose QuietComfort 15), but says there is a slight trade-off in sound quality. He also wishes they were more portable, and says he would appreciate an on-off switch for noise cancellation that would allow the headset to function without battery power. And, he notes, they're expensive. He gives the Bose QuietComfort 3s 4 out of 5 stars.
Review: Bose QuietComfort 3, Mike Kobrin, July 14, 2006
5. Choice magazine
This Australian site rigorously tests 14 noise-canceling headphones, giving scores for comfort, ease of use, and passive and active noise cancellation as well as sound quality. The Bose QuietComfort 15 and QuietComfort 3 score highest out of the available models, as they are comfortable and perform well with active noise reduction. (A now-discontinued model is slotted at No. 2.)
Review: Test: Noise-Canceling Headphones, Matthew Steen, March 30, 2010
More than 200 users rate the QuietComfort 3 headphones, and a little less than half give them a perfect score of 5 stars. Users praise music quality, comfort and noise cancellation, but are split over whether the QC 2s or QC 3s are better. Some owners say they are uncomfortable with the sensations caused by the noise-canceling technology, while others complain about headphones breaking.
Review: Bose QuietComfort 3 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones, Contributors to Amazon.com