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Much worse sound than the previous model, Triport/AE1
on February 19, 2011
The Bose AE2 is supposedly the next generation of Bose's famous Triport line, which was later renamed simply Around Ear, now retroactively referred to as AE1 in light of this new model, the AE2, i.e., Around Ear 2.
The AE2s are not merely a cosmetic redesign of the Triports/AE1s, and they are certainly not an improvement. They have much worse sound. This past week I've tried direct comparisons with my current pair of Triports on three different pair in three different shops through my very own iPod (a 5.5 generation model, but that's a whole 'nuther story), and it isn't even close. It's not a subtle difference (like the difference between the 5.5 gen iPod and the Classic, but still, a whole 'nuther story). The AE2s first of all produce much less sound volume (even pushing them closer to my ears to compensate for the collapsed foam on my old pair). They are not sufficient to the task of being satisfying on an iPod. Second, even adjusting for the lower volume, the bass response is much worse. Basically, they finally do sound like the $10 pieces of crap the audiophiles have long accused them of being (see below), but they still cost $150. These deeply unsatisfying headphones are a massive fail for Bose and a poke in the eye to their customers, so I'm going to use the annoying tactic of writing in all caps, to make sure I save as many people as possible from a terrible fate:
If you loved the Bose Triports and want to replicate the experience, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES PURCHASE A PAIR OF BOSE AE2s.
You can stop reading now if that bit of advice is satisfying, but I do have more to say on this topic.
Bose has always taken a lot of flack from the audiophile community for being overpriced and for sounding bad, but I have done a lot of research and think it's mostly undeserved, and the glib dismissals uninformative. They may be overpriced, but they are definitely in the top echelon of performance for portable audio players such as the iPod or Walkman (I was porting my audio around town, and doing all this research, before the iPod even existed). Let me explain.
It's a simple thing to find great sounding pair of headphones. There are dozens of models in the higher- and highest-end range that satisfy that need, ranging from $100 to $1000 and beyond. But if you want a pair of headphones for an iPod, there is a great limitation placed on what you can get. You have to get a pair that are highly efficient, meaning they can produce a loud sound with only a little power. Really cheap headphones (in the $20-40 range) do this just fine, and can sound passably decent as well. But if you want to do better than that, move up to a higher price point to get better quality, you find yourself at a bottleneck, where the higher the price and quality, the less efficient the speakers, so the more power that is needed to drive them. There are only a few models that hit the sweet spot between efficiency and sound quality, and the Bose Triports were always my favorites.
People often bring up AKG and Sennheiser as being better for portable audio and cheaper than Bose. There is definitely something to this. The AKG K519DJ actually do sound a bit better than Bose Triports (though not so drastically better as to justify the abuse heaped on the Triports), but they have one fatal flaw: they don't cup over your ear, they sit right on it, and crush your lobes against your head. I had a $150 pair like this from Audio-Technica that did this, and after about 40 minutes of listening my ears hurt (the flesh, not the drums). But if this type of design sits too lightly on your ears, it won't block out outside noise. I walk around Tokyo with my headphones on day in and day out, so isolation from the sounds of passing trucks and incoming subways is essential, not to mention isolating my music from the people sitting next to me on subway so as not to bother them. Any on-ear pair is going to either crush your ears, or sit so lightly on them as to not block out outside noise. The Sennheisers I've seen in this price range have this same problem. (Except the HD 202s, which just sit awkwardly on my head anyway and leave gaps in their closure). Grados have no sound isolation at all, and harsh treble on loud rock to boot. (I use them for films though).
So the Bose Triports are the only pair of headphones I have yet found that satisfy, for the following reasons:
-Highly efficient, so sufficiently loud with iPod
-Very good sound quality, big bass with non-harsh treble, even on loud rock like Nirvana
-Comfortable to wear for hours on end
-Sound is isolated
All this to head off any critics from the pious audiophile gallery who might wish to dismiss me as uninformed and dismiss what I have to say about the Bose AE2s as having been the problem all along.
I do wish that AKG or Sennheiser would come out with a pair of headphones as good as the Triports. I know they are respectable companies that care about their products and customers, and would not try to trick me into buying their newer, much-worse model by claiming it was an improvement over their previous model. I don't respect Bose, I don't like them, they just happened to make the only headphones I liked. Here's hoping the five pair of Triports I've stockpiled (plus the two pair I have that are on their last leg) will last until someone makes a satisfactory pair again, or I figure out how to repair them. (The wiring in Bose Triports tends to disconnect every 6-12 months, at the point of connection with either the cans or the plug, and I always returned them to Bose to get a new pair for $40).
I'm open to suggestions for other headphones to try out so I can break my reliance on Bose, or of how to fix the Triports. I'm not sold on noise-canceling, as the ones I've tried seem to sound wrong somehow, and seem too complicated. And in-ear are uncomfortable, fall out easily, and kind of gross.