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Bose Bluetooth headphones cut the umbilical cord Bose SoundLink headphones

By Jim Bray
December 3, 2015

Bose's new Bluetooth-enabled wireless headphones offer good sound and nice flexibility for those who want to take their tunes around with them.

In today's connected world, one area in which wireless connection has lagged is in headphones. There are indeed wireless phones, such as the  Sennheiser  R 175's I reviewed a few months back, but those are meant to be used at home and aren't practical to take with you when you're out and/or about.

This is where Bose rides to the rescue, with the SoundLink around-ear wireless headphones II which, if you can believe the name, is a follow up product to the SoundLink around-ear wireless headphones I. I never tried that older model, but when I got the news that Bose was introducing this new wireless headphone product, and that you can pack it around with you easily, I had to try them.

These Boses are of the persuasion that covers your ears when you wear them - as opposed to ones that merely perch on your ears (such as this model, which is the stablemate to the ones under discussion here) or ones that perch inside your ears - earbud-types. This means they cut you off from the outside world to a certain extent, so be careful using them in traffic lest you become the latest victim of distracted walking.

Bose says the phones combine "the best sound quality of any wireless headphone available today" and offer "a whole new kind of wireless experience: an amazing 15 hours of battery life, multi-point for connecting two devices, quick pairing with NFC technology, seamless audio/video sync, easy switching between music and calls, and intuitive controls and voice prompts that don't leave you guessing."

That's quite a mouthful, and quite a claim, but as usual Bose can back it up. I've found the battery life to be more than adequate for my generally shorter listening sessions and it's easy to know how much charge you have because when you fire the phones up they tell you the charge level verbally as well as via a lighted indicator. Recharging them (via USB) is quick and straightforward; Bose says you can get two hours' charge in 15 minutes.

Pairing and connecting your device is child's play and the controls (which are mounted on one of the cups)  are easy to find and use, though I found the multifunction button between the volume up/down ones (which skips tracks or answers your phone) a little tight for my stubby fingers.

Despite their mandate of offering wireless connectivity, the SoundLinks also come with a wire for added flexibility - such as for times you want to listen to music but aren't using a Bluetooth-enabled device. I tried them wired to ensure they worked that way - and they did, of course - but since that brief initial test I haven't hooked them in that way again. Because they're wireless! And they work fine wirelessly.

The headphones are also reasonably light on the head, so you can wear them for long periods without feeling as if you have the weight of the world on you. And since you can connect to two devices at a time you could watch a video on your iPad and still answer your cell phone if a call comes in to it. That's pretty cool.

The bottom line with such an audio device, once you get past the convenience aspect, is how they sound and I had no issues here. I streamed files in a variety of genres and sound quality, from classical to classic rock and classic country, to lossless and high resolution audio files. And some crappy files, just for testing's sake. Obviously, the better the origin file the better the sound that reached my ears (the old "garbage in, garbage out" saw) but when I fed the Boses properly, they responded appropriately. Sure, they can't match my multi-thousand dollar home theatre, but that isn't their mandate.

Bose says the SoundLink around-ear wireless headphones II use proprietary technologies, "including active equalization and new volume-optimized equalization," to ensure your music is "detailed and real at any volume." I like 'em cranked, and they've handled the signal and the volume without breaking a sweat - and without bursting my eardrums, fortunately. There are no tone controls, which is typically Bose, and that's fine with me - I never use 'em anyway, preferring that the signal going in comes out as uncoloured as possible. Or as Bernice Cramer, general manager of Bose Wireless Headphones, said, "we've never adjusted how a piece of music will sound when it's reproduced because it's not our music -- it's the artist's music and it's your music, and our job is to make it sound as good as it can."   

The headphones also use an advanced microphone system, HD voice and "adaptive audio adjustment technology for wind or noise" for the phone side of its performance. They also feature voice prompts to let you know who's bothering you from the other end of the call, and what device you're connected to. 

One thing that disappointed me was that the phones don't interact with my home audio systems. I had hoped I could use them to connect wirelessly for private listening, but they aren't designed for that particular use. They'd undoubtedly work if my audio systems had Bluetooth transmitters (they, like the headphones, only have BT receivers), but my systems don't offer such capability.

On the other hand, I love using them when I'm doing my chores around the house. I'm tasked with vacuuming as well as cleaning the bathrooms (always a musical treat!) and traditionally when I'm a-scrubbing the loos I use my SoundLink Mini portable Bluetooth speaker. It works fine there, too - I've always loved this little speaker - but when it comes to vacuuming it's pretty well useless because even if I wanted to pack it around in my hand I'd have trouble listening to it over the noise the vacuum makes. And that, like the vacuum itself, sucks!

Ah, but this is where the SoundLink wireless headphones ride to the rescue, marvellously. Not only can I listen to my fine tunes, streamed wirelessly from the phone in my pocket, but the isolating nature of the over the ear phones means I can also drown out the darn vacuum. And my wife…

And since it's wireless, I don't get tangled up.

The phones retail for $299.99 Canadian, according to Bose' Canadian website - which could seem like a lot of coin, but in my experience with Bose products you're not simply paying for the name; you're paying for a product that works as advertised, with no fuss. It's kind of like Apple. Their stuff ain't cheap, either, but it works well and is solid as heck. In short, you know what you're getting.

I wish Bose would make available some kind of Bluetooth transmitter dongle that would let the phones work with my other audio systems, but that's just me. And even without that capability the SoundLinks work as they were designed to, which means they not only sound good, they're light and comfortable on the ears (and of course you can adjust them to various head sizes) and easy to pair, connect and use. They also fold flat to make them easy to pack around with you. Hard to argue with all that!

The Bose SoundLink around-ear wireless headphones II are available now at Bose dealers across Canada, and from Bose' website.

Copyright 2015 Jim Bray

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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