Recently, without a warning my trusty and excellent Sony MDR EX81LP cans gave way after more than a year of service. Since I am pretty much on the road all the time – and also since I forgot to carry the other headphones I use – the sonically stunning Etymotic ER 6i Isolator – I decided to go out and buy one.

After contemplating getting a cheap pair, I decided to get the Bose In-Ear headphones. Searching on the internet, the information and opinions are so conflicting – I decided to add to the confusion and add my two cents based on three days worth of use – especially now that they are “burned-in”.

A disclaimer first – I am no headphone snob. I like to believe that I have a relatively evolved and eclectic taste in music – but I dont necessarily have adequate appreciation of the likes of those who can tell the warmth of the 8th Octave of a particular speaker over the other – but I do listen to – very passionately – to a vast array of music including Bollywood, Indian Classical, Ghazals,Rock (both classic and modern), 80’s pop, Western Classical, World, Hip Hop, Jazz, Blues, Country and everything in between.

So to come back to the main topic – all reviews of the Bose headphones fell in two distinct categories – the professional reviewers gave it mediocre marks and the listeners and users very high marks. The professional reviewers disliked the “bass heavy” nature of the sound signature while the users presumably loved it. Also, there is a lot of chatter on the internet about how the headphones tend to “fall off” from the ears and the tips pick up dust and have a tendency to fall off from the main body of the headphones.

First the sound – I wasn’t overtly impressed when I started using it – I don’t know if its my imagination or the actual placement in the ear – but they sound better everytime I use them since – maybe they did need to be burned in. Overall, the sound signature is very warm, detailed and creates a sense of space – which my Etymotics dont. Bose tends to enhance bass – and this is no exception. Compared to my Etymotics, the bass is definitely enhanced. Conversely, the higher end treble is not as detailed and rich as the Etymotics deliver. But here’s where I differ from (perhaps) my more knowledgeable reviewers. Sonic signature is only useful when taken over the entire spectrum for the average listener. And for an average listener, the sound from these cans is rich, deep and detailed – that actually makes listening to music very very pleasurable. Yes, the highs are not as well defined – but it doesn’t matter. Because the overall detail is very warm and rich. Very Bose.

Even though the Bose IE headphones aren’t advertised as In-Canal earphones, they dont block any noise on the outside. I don’t think I’ll use them on a flight anytme soon. Conversely, they are a lot more comfortable than my Etymotics ( much like the Sony MDR EX81 LP) and that matters to anyone who has experienced the in-canal “ear-pressure” on using the in canals for a long time.

One problem with the Bose IE cans is that they require significant power from your MP3 player to drive the audio – in other words, you will have to set the volume levels higher to get the same level of output compared to other in canal earphones.

I have heard all kinds of music using my Bose – and I find them unusually pleasurable. And I suspect this is why most listeners would give the new re-designed Bose IE (the redesign takes care of the falling buds – both from the ear and the headphone base) – high marks. And I suspect that is because when we listen to music – we tend to focus on the overall sound filling and detail of a headphone than how separate notes sound – and on that count Bose delivers very high marks.

Yes, there are headphones at the same price that would offer much more sonic detail – but that comes at a price. For those who are interested in more noise isolating headphones – check out the Etymotics (referenced above) or the Shure 2c – excellent headphones both.

Sound, ultimately, is very subjective. While I cannot say the Bose In-Ear headphones will satisfy everyone – it certainly more than works for my listening needs.

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