I would like to start off by saying that I am no audiophile. I am an unapologetic bass head and I don’t give a rat’s ass about frequence curves, headphone specs or “natural, balanced sound.” In other words, I’m ignorant, but I know what sound I like.
I think this is an important thing to note, as your mileage with the Bose On Ear Triports will likely vary depending on what kind of sound you are looking for and just how far up the audiophile ladder you are on (since audiophiles pretty much unanimously hate Bose and all their products).
So I got the Bose Triport OE’s two days ago for 7,000php, which translates to about $160US. My personal taste probably qualifies me best to become a Bose OE lover. Without using too much technical audio jargon, I would like to describe my experience with the OE Triports, in a way the average reader can relate to.
The phones have a very warm, full-bodied sound. To explain better what I mean by that, imagine yourself holding a metal tin can to your ear. This creates a pitched, metallic rattling sound if you hear something from that ear. Now instead imagine that you have a wooden cup to your ear, the sound will be thumpier and smoother around the edges. That is the kind of sound you can expect from these phones — they leave a nice thump in your chest, and embrace you in an earthy feeling, as if you were wrapped up in a thick wool blanket in your bed on a cool summer night.
I will also say that the bass is magnificent on these. Some people complain that the OE’s are too bassy and that they drown out all the other sounds — but this was not how I felt about these at all. But remember, I am a true blue bass-head so you might have different ideas. But I always felt that the rest of the sounds — like vocals, high hats, steel strings, etc. were never drowned out and instead were very clear out on the fore. The bass felt like a separate layer on the fringe underneath the other sounds, instead of at the forefront and the other sounds a distant memory.
And if it is really too much for you, well try reaching for the equalizer — iPods and most other sound sources have EQ settings and using “Treble Booster” or “Bass Reducer” can help if the bass is too much, and there is another simple trick you can do — I found that changing the position of the OE’s on your head changed the sound signature significantly. By moving it a little back on my ears (presumably causing sightly more clamp) The bass became more powerful, moving forward it became slightly weaker — though the crispness of the sound also suffered. Different heads probably will yield different results so experiment with molding the sound for your own head.
There is a sound hole (I believe these are one of the ports where the name Triport comes from) near the bottom of each earpiece. These seem to allow air to push out to create the powerful bass sound. If you cover these holes with your finger, the sound signature immediately changes and you hear far less thump in your sound. So whatever it is that Bose is doing with their Triport technology, it is clearly working. The effect was more pronounced than on its sister product — the Triport In Ears — where covering the sound holes did not signficantly reduce the bass response.
Outside of the sound, OE’s look very tasteful and classy. Today Skullcandies are all the rage and you still get some really retro-looking headphones in the vein of the Grado S60, but the OE’s have a very clean, minimalist appearance, with silver trimmings. It looks very good, and I think a lot of people wouldn’t mind being seen in public wearing them.
The design lets the earphones rest on your ears (what is known as supraaural) rather than around them — hence the name On Ears. They are an open set, meaning they are not meant to isolate your ears from outside noise. This also has the advantage of giving them an airy, roomy sound. However you will still hear some outside sound leakage, but the purpose of these cans is not to block out all sound — Bose has some really expensive headphones going by the Quiet Comfort monniker for that purpose.
Speaking of comfort, the OEs are perhaps the most comfortable supraaural headphones I have ever tried. The design is very unintrusive to your head and light on the ears. I will note though that the set I bought seems to clamp a little tighter on my ears than the pair I tried at various shops in malls. I am thinking I just need to loosen it a bit more by putting it around a basketball for a day or something.
*** Sound Test ***
Now, let’s talk more about the specifics of the sound and how they sound with different kinds of music. My taste in music gravitates towards smooth jazz, alternative, house, and various kinds of Japanese pop, but I will listen to pretty much anything that sounds “good” (wow nebulous term there). While I do like acoustic sounds, I am also fine with electronica. Strange dichotomy there, but what the hey. I think the Bose OE’s sounded fine with anything I threw at it, but its greatest strength is probably acoustic music with strong bass (like lounge jazz with the nice thump of an acoustic double bass).
To really get a good handle on this, I listened to a whole set of music and I will explain the sound more in detail for each piece. I will be comparing them to a set of Sennheisser HD 212 Pros. I realize the Sennheisers are about 1/3rd of the price, but they are the only comparable set in terms of size and type. I was thinking of comparing them to the Shure e2c’s, which is the most expensive set I have after this one, but those are in-ears and not really the same kind of earphone. (and besides I sold my e2c’s off to someone already so it’s impossible to do a side-by-side comparison)
The 212’s are a supraaural set designed for DJ use, and have a very bright, metallic sound to them. I find that they fall apart when playing tracks with lots of distorition, and work best to play “clean” sounds like Pop, Jazz and Acoustic. I find that strange for a DJ set that will probably work with a lot of electronica, but on the other hand the 212’s have a good bass presence — just nowhere near as much as the OE’s.
I will put both cans through the paces of these tracks and will use the 212’s as a point of comparison for the OE’s. All tracks are played through Winamp on my PC using an Auzentech Prelude. I did not use an DSPs for Winamp, and I disabled the equalizer. They are encoded as bitrates from 224 to 320kbps using the Auzentech’s music encoding functions, and also have the Prelude’s Crystallizer function on to 80% to help add some range to the compressed MP3s. I disabled CMSS-3D, which may be a dubious decision as it is less natural and creates a much better soundstage than the original recording’s, but I am trying ot judge the headphone’s ability to create a soundstage rather than the soundcard’s, even if I listen with the function on (and most people use Surround effects on their amps too). Disabling the 3D effect is also closer to how it would sound on a portable, and I am sure many people intend to use the OE’s for their iPods and what not. I’ve had the 212s for about 5 years, and they are well-burned in. The Bose went through a 2-day burn in period, probably around 30 hours total.
Take on Me (a-Ha) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2YJomTJboGk
I wanted to start off with an 80’s New Wave track. This song has a lot of synthesized sound, a fast beat and full male voice with a good high and low range and doing lots of falsettos while digging deep. The 212’s predictable gave a very crisp sound with all the electronic sounds, but I found that after a while the tinny sound of it grated on my ears about a minute into the song. The airy chorus sounds of the song sounded distorted and made me take the earphones off after the first chorus. It was that bad. Like I said, the 212’s fall apart when you have a lot of distorted electronic sound in the mix. The OE’s managed to provide a lot of energy compared to the 212’s by providing that thumping feeling. Yet it never lost the vocals even in the falsetto’s, and there are a lot of xylophone-like sounds travelling around from left to right that you can actually follow along the soundstage. The OE’s really sounded great with these.
All Along the Watchtower (Jimi Hendrix) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2Sn6AoQSWc
Now for some vintage rock from the late great Jimi Hendrix. I prefer the Hendrix version to the original Bob Dylan because it of the guitar riffs — this one has a lot of that raw sounding guitar riffs using phazers and all those cool, raunchy effects. With the 212’s, again, the sound was unbelievably bright. I lowered the volume to make it less harsh on the ears, but the annoying triangle metallic sounds still persistently got into my head. The guitar riffs came out really well as did Jimi Hendrix’s voice, and the drums were there in the back making a statement. Overall an okay sound. However when I went to the Bose, I then suddenly realized this track actually had a bass guitar in the back along with the drums, too. 🙂 The bass guitar was barely even noticeable on the 212’s. But it did not overpower the vocals or the guitar rifs, but provided an additional depth to the song. The metallic triangle sounds used were also still there intact, but not on the forefront like they were with the 212’s. This song definitely sounded better on the OE’s.
Enter Sandman (Metallica) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQQzVYqf_d
Next, I wanted to really make the 212’s bleed with a track from Metallica. This song uses a lot of distorted guitars all the way as is the norm for Metallica, but unlike some trash metal bands (and even just alternative bands) out there Metallica has very clean sounding distortion going on. Yes, that sounds like a misnomer but whatever. The 212’s actually gave a very respectable performance, to my surprise. It was especially good at the initial guitar riff before the bass drums kick in, but even when the distorted guitars jumped in it gave a very good sound. Overall it sounded great on the 212’s, but I barely noticed the bass details of the song — that’s fine Metallica was never really about its bass. On the OE’s the entire song again became more full-bodied because of the additional bass presence. And again, the bass was there, you felt it, but it never drowned out the rest of the sound. This track so far came the closest to providing a comparable experience between the two cans, but the OE’s still sounded better when all was said and done. I like to point out that the OE’s did really well with this kind of distorted guitar sound — again these cans can handle any kind of music as far as I’m concerned.
The Gate of the Hell (JAM Project) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJ8CISee7zw
JAM Project is a progressive rock band made of well-established artists in Japan. Don’t laugh, but they focus on making music for anime and video games. That said they are very good and their style of progressive rock reminds me a lot of Queen. This song, Gate of the Hell, is part of the Mazinkaizer sound track but it sounds a hell of a lot like Bohemian Rhapsody, with chorus voices, wild riffs and a melody that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and changes step every few seconds. The 212’s really struggled with this song; there was a lot of noise everywhere and the voice choruses all over weren’t helping. On the OE’s it was like a totally different experience; like night and day frankly. Aside from not being overwhelmed by all the noise in the song, I was able to make out more of the voice overs. The bass actually took a backseat on this particular song despite the OE’s bass-heavy signature; I think there was just too much sound in the recording. Despite that the different sounds – vocals (solos and choruses), electronic sounds, various distorted guitars, the drums, etc. they all were pretty individual and well-defined unlike with the 212’s where they all sounded like a big blob of noise. These Bose OE’s are excellent at imaging, make no mistake.
Alive (Pearl Jam) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPIwsAW2Q0w
Let’s move on to some Grunge from one of the biggest names in the genre. This one has that dirty guitar sound and lots of riffs, a strong bass presence, Eddie Vedder’s awesome vocals and a laidback drums that explode into action. I didn’t think it would be so bad after Enter Sandman but the 212’s just sounded like shit on this song. There was some great imaging on the two guitars used, the drums, and the bass as well as Eddie’s vocals, but it just sounded too “dirty” for a song that is supposed to sound dirty! They were really harsh on my ears. It sounded best in the bridge part after the 2nd chorus where the song mellows down a bit, but after that it dips into the ending jam and it becomes a total mess. On the other hand, the OE’s we got the same soundstage and imaging, AND once again, a more full-bodied experience. The “dirty” guitars sounded a lot cleaner and the chorus part “whooaa I’m still alive…” really felt like a change in the pace because the bass track changes deftly at this part, giving the song a different rhythm. It wasn’t as noticeable on the 212’s. Hitting the bridge part emphasized this even more, and the final jam at the end was not a mess but instead a more pleasurable experience. I do think that by the time I hit that part my ears were starting to get fatigued by all the sounds going on (It didn’t help that I listened to JAM project twice before this song). I would conclude I suppose that Grunge is not the OE’s strong point.
Lion (Jinn) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxjkBYf5Hps
For my final alterantive/rock piece I chose Jinn. Jinn is a J-Rock band with a really standout bassist. His basslines are really strong, complex and detailed, and he always stands out in the songs — even more than the shrieking lead female vocalist. 🙂 This song will really give us an idea of how well the cans handle a good bassline. The 212’s did really well on this song, it didn’t sound bad at all. The bassline was driven pretty well, but was in the background. And therein lies the difference; on the OE’s the bass was the star, although the distorted guitar riffs were very clear on the edge of the sound, and the vocals straight in the middle. The bass melded into the sound from below and really made the sound come together. So while the 212’s did a decent job, the OE’s were far better on this track, hands down.
Amber (311) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nk_WUs-zlNU
Now for something more rasta. Amber has a nice, laidback rasta beat to it in addition to some nice clear male vocals and drumwork. The 212’s were very good on this track, and I caught myself nodding my head back and forth to the beat. The 212’s bright sound signature actually complimented this song very well, adding a strong character to the drumwork and the rasta-style guitar riffs. That said, I much preferred how the OE’s delivered the sound, rasta is about beat and the OE’s delivered the bassline beat way better. And it’s not like the metallic quality on the high hats was lost. Another score for the OE’s, I think they handle this genre really, really well.
Burning Down the House (The Cardigans feat. Tom Jones) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8niqZPrRFUQ
Now for something different, an unusual sounding band with really smooth, sexy female vocals and the sex bomb of male vocalists, Tom Jones. The 212’s did well, the song wasn’t very noisy and the vocals for both Nina and Tom came out very well. The bright sound signature also gave the instrumentals a very strong quality. On the OE’s as usual gave a stronger impression with an emphasis on the low end. This actually made the soundstage feel wider and served to showcase both vocalist’s voices. It also sounded less fatiguing on the OE’s.
Love Potion (Aarron Ross Feat. Gia Mellish) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MUj_Iv095Y
Time to bring out some House! I know Tom Jones just burned it down but here’s another genre that really needs good bass response. I usually listen to this on my customized Z5500 setup for full effect, Hed Kandi stuff should really be on the beach house with a large sound system with a few sexy ladies around you to really appreciate. 🙂 This will really test a pair of cans on whether they can deliver it properly. This is the kind of music the 212’s was made to handle, and I think they did a competent job. I realize I said the 212’s fell apart when there’s a lots of electronica or distortion going around, but they were pretty good here and the highs were very distinct (again due to the 212’s sound signature) and the bassline could be heard — but not danced to. And that is the difference with the OEs — I actually got up and started dancing with those on! Which ended with the cord snapping off the OE’s but oh well I better get a longer cord to go with them next time, ~lol~ The OE’s officialy rock with House music.
Mass Destruction (Lotus Juice feat. Yumi Kawamura) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9E3VR8Fnj0
Here’s a videogame song. It’s dance music with some rap and female vocals, in the absence of some actual rap music (that I typically don’t like) this will be a decent substitute. The HD212’s sounded really dirty and subpar on this song with the guitar riffs, but did a good job with the vocals — not so much for the rap which was just okay, but Yumi Kawamura’s “Oooh Yeah! Baby Baby!” vocals were rendered excellent with some really nice imaging. The OE’s though really brought out the raunchy growling guitar riffs and brought way more life to the song. The rap was again fine, but I guess rap just isn’t my thing. Yumi’s vocals though were even better here in terms of the imaging. It sort of melded together on the 212’s but here the chorus vocals seemed a layer below the main vocals and it was a far better effect.
River Song (Bebel Gilberto) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKFhhqItsHM
Okay, time for some Bossa. Bebel Gilberto has this really smooth, sexy voice and Bossa has a smooth, loungy sound you’d associate with five star hotels. The 212’s I guess are just no good with this genre. The sound is too “sharp” and gives an edge to what is supposed to be a really smooth, relaxing song. The OEs though were *really* good with this one. The beat, the vocals, the background instruments all were in the right place and gave this a really smooth, airy feeling.
Nao Vou Fugir (Ive Mendes) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GlLz-ueN3w
Ive Mendes is such a sensual and erotic singer, I mean just listening to her I could come, lol. This is one of her signature songs and it’s not as jazzy as bossa but it’s her own brand of latin music. Such a rare sound, but once again, the 212’s were too sharp and harsh for this song. They actually did well all things considered, but there was too heady a feeling as opposed to a smooth feeling, and it felt like the sound was constricted in a tight space. The OE’s as usual delivered a much more airy feeling, with a far wider stage and with marvelous lows that really capture the sensual feeling. Ive’s voice was also a lot fuller and you could sync with that really erotic way she breathes in before a passage. I guess the OEs just do really well with lounge style music, and latin/Brazilian in general.
Tomorrow (Mikuni Shimokawa) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWoA9dvrlVY
Now for a huge change in pace. This track is a typical JPop song that is still listenable for the masses. The large number of ambient and background sounds you find in a JPop song in addition to the usual guitars and drums, melded with pleasing female vocals. The 212s frankly sounded horrible on these, like a distorted tin can, despite there not being much distorted sound in the song. The OE’s though did not really sound all that good either, it put bass in a song where I practically heard no bass with the 212’s, but all the weird sounds going around along with the drums and guitars did not really complement the vocals too well in this one. This might not be the best song to showcase either headset.
Bokura no Jikan (eufonius) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kab27pdBEtQ
Here’s an acoustic Jpop song that has a relaxed, jazzy feel. This one has a very nice acoustic double bass, among the best use of it outside of a real jazz lounge track. The 212s were really, really horrible on this one, unable to capture the essence of the bass. The solo in the middle of the song was totally fudged. The entire rendition also in general lacked warmth and space, with a very harsh edge to the pleasing female vocals. The OE’s on the other hand gave the vocals a very airy quality, as if floating on air on top of the very warm double bass notes and the elegant violins and acoustic guitar.
Rainbow (Round Table feat. Nino) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCsZ66mo64A
This is another acoustic style pop song that emphasizes acoustic guitar work. The 212’s managed to sound so-so, since the song has a very clean sound. However it sounded harsh at points when there was a high-pitched instrument playing or at points when the guitars hit notes, and the surround backup vocals were a mess. The OE’s sounded a lot more organic, although I think it overemphasized the ever-present bass a bit over the guitar work. At least there was none of the harshness, and the background vocals sounded suitably airy and atmospheric instead of grating on the ears. I got a better sound of the OE’s by moving the headset a bit forward, taming the bass and giving a better performance.
Taishou a (anNinna) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2LXnYCHDg4
I was going to put another jazz track up by Jill Decoy Association, but couldn’t find it on YouTube, so I settled for this one instead. This is a very smooth, sad song with excellent melancholy female vocals, a great double bass line, great synergy between all the instruments, and a wide, airy feeling. All I can say is, the 212’s really aren’t made to play songs like this. It sounded downright horrible, like listening to the entire thing inside a tomato can. A lot of detail on the lower end was lost. The OE’s though performed like a true champ. The airy vocals were right in your face, and you could make out the details of the double bass. The acoustic guitar also came out really well, as did the piano and strings and the high hats. This was a perfect rendition of the song, I think the OE’s really outdid themselves here.
In the end…
I was planning on adding a few more tracks to round out the genres like Amethyste by Nicolas Robin, an instrumental jazz piece, and a classical track just to see how well the cans do on that kind of music, but I’m lazy to bring out the Mozart CDs. I will leave it at that, 16 songs is a lot for one review anyway.
I’ll also note this: moving to my iPod Nano 2G (which frankly has so-so sound quality) and my Creative Muvo Nomad, which has much better sound quality but no EQ settings, I compared the sound output of Taishou A. Thise was the exact same mp3, but the quality was less especially in the lower end where the details seemed missing. I attribute this to the Auzentech’s crystallizer, I guess. The OE’s were powered well enough by both players, I was able to reach a comfortable listening level at a little less than half the volume slider on the Nano.
In summary, I would say the Bose OE Triports are well worth the money. I bought them for about $160US and they are unbelievable good, especially for the bass-head and people who like listening to lounge, jazz, and acoustic and other jazz-related genres like bossa, rasta/ska, and with House/dance music. It is probably not the best choice for alternative, metal, rock and the typical JPop song, though it handily outperformed another $50ish competitor. I will also say that I like these a lot more than my Shure e2c’s, and they have a very comparable sound signature to the VModa Vibes. The biggest drawback of these phones is their price, which is probably too steep for some people, and we will have the typical audiophile response that you can do much better than these cans at this pricepoint.
I won’t comment much on that since I don’t own any other cans at that pricepoint. I’ve heard and listened to a lot of cans at that price point but without owning them myself I can’t do a real side by side comparison. Maybe next month I’ll have a budget to buy the Audio Technica ATH-M50’s, which I really liked when I was auditioning phones prior to my purchase of the OE’s. These are well-regarded cans by audiophiles, and I loved their clean, treble-rich sound as well (without burn in). I want to really get them and put them side by side my Bose to see which set is truly better. That’ll have to wait until like next month, though.
Again I cannot stress enough how great these cans are. If you’re no audiophile, have around a $200 budget, and like rich, deeb bass and a warm sound, along with a very comfortable fit and do not need perfect sound isolation, then these are the cans for you.