Australian travellers are stuck - getting anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere means suffering through at least five movies and three cardboard airline meals. But although they're very expensive, these Bose QuietComfort 2 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones are a great investment for those frequent flyers trying to overcome boredom and jetlag.
The QuietComfort 2 is a traditional full-sized, over-the-ear headset with soft leather cushioning over both ear cups as well as on the top of the adjustable headband. The ear cups swivel and fold flat into a zippered case that is slightly bigger than a CD wallet, so travellers will find them easy to pack in a carry-on bag. The case also holds a pouch for two included adapters (a dual 3.5mm jack used by some airlines and a 6.3mm jack for home stereos) and an extension cord.
The headphones are marked left (L) and right (R), so you can't put them on backwards. Once you've adjusted the headband to a comfortable position, you only need to turn on the power switch, which is located on the right ear cup. The noise reduction will begin working whether you are connected to an audio source or not because the noise-cancelling circuitry is built into the headphones themselves, not a little box incorporated into the cord.
Once you've inserted the headphone plug into the jack on your audio source, there's only one more setting to take note of. There is a Hi/Lo switch on the audio attenuator which can be used to adjust the output volume of different sources. You should use 'Lo' for airline audio or devices using A/C power and 'Hi' for battery-powered portable devices. The attenuator inserts cleverly into an opening on the left ear cup so that it is flush with the side of the cup. There is no volume control on the headphones themselves, so you must use the controls on the audio source.
The QuietComfort 2's run on a single AAA battery which resides in the right ear cup. The last thing you want is the battery dying mid-flight, but thankfully the battery life averages 35 hours, depending on usage. We panicked a bit when the battery life indicator started flashing four hours out from landing on my demo set, but they stayed the distance. Bose says the indicator kicks in with five hours of battery life remaining. This is a crucial concern because, unlike the Sony MDRNC11 noise cancelling headphones, when the battery dies on the Bose unit, you lose everything - noise cancellation and music. You can use rechargeable batteries if you wish, but expect only about half the life of an alkaline battery and note that the indicator light does not work with rechargeable batteries.
OK, for $599, what about the sound? Let's start with the sounds you don't get. While it isn't exactly a complete 'cone of silence', the noise cancelling feature cut out engine drone to a remarkable extent - so much so, that when you take them off, you'll wonder how the other poor passengers without them are able to cope with all the racket. You can still hear the captain's announcements over the PA, but you will have to take them off to hear the flight attendant's offer of "chicken or beef".
The sounds you do hear are worthy of equal kudos - the airline audio channels came through with surprising clarity, including rich base and treble detail that you would expect from a high-end home system. As the latest Jackie Chan movie held little appeal, I had a very enjoyable, relaxing trip perusing several of the audio channels, something never attempted before using the airline freebie headsets.
The other good news is that they are comfortable enough to sleep with them on your head - the soft cushioning fits snugly over your ears without being cumbersome over many hours. I can't honestly attribute it solely to the Bose headphones, but I've never been less affected by jetlag on numerous previous Australia-US excursions. Just say, I'm a believer.
The downside - other passengers in-the-know will covet your QuietComfort 2s, so don't leave them unguarded. The guy in the seat behind me had borrowed a pair before and was kicking himself for not having them on this trip.
And of course the whopping price tag is a definite hurdle. Bose heavily promotes these headphones in in-flight magazines and Skymall catalogues for US$299, so depending on the exchange rate, you may want to try to pick up a pair while you're overseas.