Top positive review
Best Bose Headset Yet (Comparison to QC15 and QC20)
Reviewed in the United States on September 18, 2014
The QC25 is Bose' best noise cancelling headphone to date. As someone who has been using Bose QC headphones daily for 3+ years now, I think I can give this a reasonably educated review. I have owned QC15 (predecessor to these headphones) for about 3 years now, and have owned QC20 (in-ear headphones) since they came out. My musical tastes are varied: everything from Yiruma to Taylor Swift to Childish Gambino to Zedd. I listen at my desk at home, in the office, and on public transportation.
Four things really mattered to me when I upgraded to the QC25: sound quality, noise cancelling, comfort, and the portability. So I'll skip aesthetics and the other features that you can easily read about. And I'll tackle each of those four critical points in this review, naming a winner in each category.
Sound Quality Winner: QC25
You do need to "burn-in" your Bose headphones. Play music through them for about 100 hours and you'll hear a difference—they'll sound much better than they did straight out of the box. After burn-in, indeed, the QC25 has a slightly superior sound to its predecessor. Also, the over-ear headphones have the easy sound-quality advantage on the QC20 earbuds because you get a wider sound stage and harder-hitting bass.
Noise Cancelling Winner: QC15/QC20/QC25 (3-way tie)
There's marketing hype about how the QC25 noise cancelling is superior. Honestly, I can't really tell. I could tell the difference between the QC20 and QC15 because the "StayHear tips" blocked the sound in a different way. But in every-day use, the QC25 noise cancelling is really about the same as that in the QC15—which is to say that it is excellent and industry-leading. Even at low volumes, you can block out most ambient noise and idle chatter: "quiet" indeed.
Comfort: QC15/QC20/QC25 (3-way tie)
The QC25s are just as comfortable as the QC15s: VERY comfortable. This is due to the light weight and light pressure on the ear cups. This is extra beneficial to people with wider skulls. They make Beats Studio/Pro headphones feel like strapping two conch shells to your skull. As a side note, the earbuds in the QC20 are also the most comfortable in-ear pieces that I have used—much more comfortable than they look. All three options live up to the "comfort" portion of their name.
Case/Portability Winner: QC20
The in-ear design of the QC20s makes it the easy winner. You can stuff them into their card-case sized pouch very easily and you can wear them in the office without looking too anti-social—not so, with the over-ear designs. The more-compact case for the QC25 is an upgrade, and folding the headphones is easy. In terms of storage, they did away with the card slot from the QC15 (seriously, that was a waste of space), and dropped the interior zippered pouch as well. In its place, there is a slot to store a single spare battery. I only ever stored one spare AAA battery in there anyway, so the QC25 case storage is sufficient for me. The back also features an elastic compartment like the QC15 case—never used it.
Hi/Low switch: I honestly have not found the absence of this switch to be a problem. I checked my QC15, and saw that I had set it to "Hi." I hadn't changed it since I bought it and have never had any problems with getting a range of volumes. Similarly, the QC25 work fine for me too.
Ability to listen without battery: They introduced this feature in the QC20. Unless you're desperate, you do NOT want to use the headphones without the active preamp because without active equalization, these sound worse than $2 headphones. Nice-to-have feature, but just be sure to pack a spare battery.
Long-term foam pad wear: About 2 years into my QC15s, I needed to replace the ear cushions because the leatherette was starting to disintegrate. I suspect the same thing may happen to these QC25s. Expect to spend $15 to $30 on this maintenance depending on whether you go OEM or aftermarket.
No aware mode: The QC20 headphones had "aware mode" which was supposed to let you listen to your surroundings. This feature worked, but after a while, I stopped using it and just popped an earbud out as necessary. It isn't particularly missed on the QC25.
Batteries: The fact that they use a single AAA battery is perfect. Eneloops are your best friend. I am grateful that this doesn't have a proprietary battery like the QC20.
Overall Winner: QC25
The QC25 represents the best Bose noise cancelling headphones to date. If you are considering upgrading from the QC15, the improvements are incremental and I would think twice about parting with $300. If you're looking to supplement a set of QC20 earbuds, this is a great buy. If you have no Bose noise cancelling headphones, this is THE clear choice.