More than a dozen headphones on the market claim to be noise-canceling but the Bose QuietComfort 15 actually lives up to that promise. At 30,000 feet, the QC15, over-the-ear headphones totally block airplane hum and drone while reproducing clear, clean sound from most any source, including the crappy audio systems built into many modern airliners.
On the ground, the QC15 is less successful at blocking background noise. But that's not a fault because headphones of this stripe are really designed for flying. That said, this model is recommended for train and bus travelers or anyone who wants to enjoy music or spoken words from their MP3 or other device while blocking out the world.
Even with the sound at low- to mid-volume, outside noise is muted substantially. The occasional shrill voice braying into a cell phone can still get through but the QC15 manages to block much offensive background chatter in a variety of ground-based locations.
Sound reproduction is excellent in the bass range and very good in the mid- and high ranges. The noise-canceling technology may give a slight sense of mechanical reproduction to some music but, overall, it's not worth worrying about.
Unfortunately, unlike most other headphones on the market, the QC15 needs a battery to reproduce any sound at all and thus is always in noise-canceling mode. The single AAA battery fits neatly into the headset and, in my test, the battery supplied with the unit lasted more than 50 hours. (Bose claimed 35 hours in its literature.)
When there's five hours or fewer of life left in the battery, a tiny LED starts blinking to alert you.
The headphones fold up flat and come with a nifty zip-up case and airline adapter. The cord plugs into both the headphone and the music device, which addresses the Achilles heel of many headsets by allowing you to replace the cord if it becomes frayed.
On the downside, the over-the-ear design fits so tightly that ears can get overheated after extended use, especially in warm weather. (An on-ear version, the QuietComfort 3, is also available.)
At $299 ($349 for the on-ear model), there are certainly cheaper noise-canceling headphones available. But it's difficult to imagine any better.