When I received an email titled “Solitude noise-canceling headset: better than Bose QuietComfort 2 headphones” I must admit, I was quite skeptical. I’ve loyally carried the distinctive Bose set with me on flights across the country and world for the past year now, and I was quite intrigued at the challenge. Especially from a company I’d never heard of before, and at a price point a full $100 cheaper than Bose.
The Solitude unit arrived, and as I opened the packaging and carrying case I knew the team at ProTravelGear.com had the right idea in mind. The headphones are designed to “collapse” and take up about a third of their own size when properly folded away. This is a bit of a double-edged sword for me, as they are much smaller than the Bose unit from a width and height perspective, but they are almost twice the, well, girth. When I use my messenger-style laptop bag, the Solitudes don’t really fit too well, but when I have my backpack or overnight bag, the shape is ideal.
One other catch with the folding mechanism is the catch. Yes, that really is proper English in this case. The catch that you use to collapse the Solitudes is extremely tight, and I found it hard to actually release at first. Thankfully it gets better after time, but I was turning a little red on my flight trying to get the things closed. After my fifth or sixth open/close, the clasp performs with a ‘normal’ amount of pressure. This is my only complaint ergonomically, and since it’s since worked fine, I’ll chalk it up as only a minor flaw, as they are otherwise very comfortable.
I’ve worn the Solitudes for about four cross-country flights, and they are definitely very wearable. This is one area where I’ll give a special nod to this set, as they might be the best feeling headphones I’ve worn in this class. While all the noise-canceling over-the-ear sets eventually get your head a little sweaty, these seem to do it the least (I’m not sure if I’m the only guy out there who gets that sweaty effect around the ears, so if this never happens to you, you can ignore the comment). Also, the vinyl pads which sit on top of the head are more comfortable than most alternatives I’ve tried. I actually fell asleep on a flight for a couple of hours while wearing the set, a feat I was not able to accomplish with the Bose headphones (and while I am a terrible sleeper, considering the number of times I’ve tried with the Bose units, I definitely give credit to Soltitudes for the design).
That’s a lot of writing so far without addressing the sound quality, but trust me, ergonomics and comfort matter a lot if you are using headphones for hours on end! That said, it’s time to move on to discuss the sound-making and sound-preventing aspects of the Solitude headphones.
In-flight they sound great. For those of you who use the Bose QuietComfort2 headphones (or have tried them before), I must say these are comparable. Furthermore, they performed just as well for canceling the background noise in the airplane. If you fly a lot, and that’s when you need noise-canceling headphones, you can stop reading right now, save yourself $100 over the Bose units, and buy the Solitudes. If you also want them for a few additional purposes, however, you need to read on before making your purchase.
When I performed side-by-side comparisons between the two headphones in a noisy environment, they stand up pretty close to identical. When I tried them both with a fairly quiet background, I must say the Bose did edge out the Solitudes. It’s a fairly intangible element, but the depth of sound in the QuietComfort2 was simply richer. Was it a $100 richer? Probably not, and if you are using them solely with streaming music or medium-quality MP3s (tracks encoded at 192Kbps and below), the difference is much less noticeable.
My single biggest complaint about the Solitudes came when using them at home (again, if you are just using the units in flight, this will not apply to you) with my laptop charging. It took me a little while to notice a bit of a background humming noise, but once I became aware of it, it was intolerable. Apparently it happens when your sound source is plugged into a wall with a three-pronged plug. The company refers to this as a “ground hum” but I found it quite noticeable.
I want to make sure I don’t go out on a low note here, because the Solitude headphones are definitely more than just “good” headphones. The package comes with a removable headphone cable, and the carrying case has an interior pouch to nicely tuck it away. Also included is an adapter to use on older planes which still use the dreaded dual-mono ports, as well as an adapter for use with a 1/8″ headphone output (on a stereo or CD player).
Another really nice touch is a volume control adjuster, located on the left earpiece, which comes in very handy when the pilot comes on to drone on about the temperature in your destination, despite it being 6 hours away. Also, while the Solitudes use 2 batteries (compared to only one for the Bose set), there’s a major plus to their power system: the headphones still work without batteries. The Bose set stops functioning when out of juice, which was a major bummer one Sunday afternoon 35,000 feet above North Dakota.
If you are looking for a set of good quality noise-canceling headphones to use with your laptop or mp3 player, I absolutely recommend the Solitudes, especially if you are planning to use them primarily in flight. The unit is quite stylish, and the nice finishing touches and ergonomics make them a solid choice for any frequent traveler.
Who should avoid the Solitudes:
People whose primary use of headphones is at home to a device plugged into a grounded outlet. I also wouldn’t recommend them while jogging.
Who should buy the Solitudes:
Everyone else, especially travelers who want to hear their music, DVD, or even the in-flight movie (unless it’s Doom, which should be avoided at all costs). For $199, you won’t regret your choice, and it becomes quite hard to justify the extra $100 for the Bose QuietComfort2 set.