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.
I would be using the headphones at work to listen to MP3 CD’s on a Bose Wave Music Machine. It is a noisy environment with other people on the phone all day. You are the first reviewer to mention the hissing sound when the source is plugged into a three-prong outlet. That is how my source would be plugged in. Is it a major problem? I currently have Maxell NC-II headphones but wanted to upgrade to something with the noise-cancelling source in the earpads, not on the cord.
I have had solitudes since Christmas, and they are the best! One complaint I have, is about the headphone cable. The cable has a jack on both ends, so it can be removed totally from the headphones. This all fine and dandy but, that’s until they break-which they easily do. I am still trying to find a replacement wire, it seems this wire is very hard to find. If anyone finds out where I can buy a headphone wire with jacks on BOTH ends, then please post it on this site and/or e-mail me @ email@example.com .
Comments on Solitude vs. Bose QCII Headphones
I have owned a pair of Solitudes for about a year, and have been reasonably happy with them. About 2 months ago, I decided to try a pair of Bose QC2’s, which I have since decide to keep. To find out why, read on.
I travel quite a lot on business, and commute 45 miles per day. I have used both headphones on airplanes, in my car, and also in hotel rooms. I listen to books on tape & CD and classical/ folk music on my Ipod 20GB.I have also used my Solitudes out Kayaking in Puget Sound where I live. (They are compact enough to be stashed away in a dry bag if the weather gets bad). Out on the water, the Solitudes were quite effective at silencing the low frequency noises from barges and ferries, and greatly improved my kayaking experience.
The Solitudes have an attenuator (not a volume control) which allows one to turn up the volume on the Ipod or CD/Cassette deck, and then adjust it by means of the “volume” control on the left earpiece. The Bose do not have any such control – they are either on or off. (They do have an on/off attenuator inside the plug, for use where the sound source may be too loud, such as airplane speaker jacks). The Solitude’s “volume” control is useful in cases such as kayaking where I keep my Ipod or cassette in a watertight bag which is not readily accessible. I can then adjust volume on the headset. A disadvantage of this is that one uses more battery power since the sound device may be turned up to a higher volume than needed. The lack of a volume control is not an issue in a car or an airplane, when one has ready access to the sound device. The Solitudes have another advantage. Since they do not appear to amplify the sound (the “volume” control is an attenuator), they can be used without noise cancellation i.e. with the cancellation switch off, of with its 2 AAA batteries removed. The Bose do amplify the sound and must therefore be turned on in order for one to hear anything. Therefore, the noise cancellation is always present when listening to the Bose, but is optional with the Solitudes.
Sound Quality and Noise Canceling Effectiveness
Both headphones are best at canceling low frequencies – like road noise in a car, or the dull background roar in a airplane. They do little to cancel high frequencies, such as ambulance sirens or a small airplane flying overhead while one is out walking. However, earplugs cancel high frequencies better than low, so one can combine these and get a very quiet environment, which is what I often do on an airplane trip. One can then listen to a sound device such as a book on tape and turn up its volume to overcome the dB reduction on the earplugs. Listening to my Ipod with earplugs is not as good – the higher notes are attenuated rather much-but it still is passable.
I have compared the Solitudes and the Bose in my car, on an airplane, and in a quiet environment. The only way to be objective is to use a dBA sound meter, which I do not have. However, for me the Bose are significantly better at attenuating low frequency noise. This is fairly easy to test, by switching back and forth between the headphones, although have someone else drive! The Bose have another clear advantage. They do not create a high-frequency hissing sound when their noise cancellation is active. The Solitudes produce a pronounced hiss. I read about this in the various reports on the internet before I purchased the Solitudes, so I was prepared for it. Over time, I got more or less used to it, since it is less annoying to have hissing than the low frequencies common in cars and airplanes. In a very noisy environment such as a car on a rough road at 60-70 mph (e.g. my Camry on I5 around Seattle – which is a very rough road), one is not too much aware of the hissing. But on a quieter road, such as 50 mph on I24 north of Auburn Hills MI , or on side streets, or in stop and go traffic, the hissing can be annoying. When I tried the Bose, I was surprised (and delighted) to hear almost no hissing at all. Whether one is bothered by the hissing depends on the type of music one listens to. I like quieter music, such as Norah Jones or Beethoven’s Violin Concerto (not the 9th !), and the hissing is a real bother in such cases. Of course, in a very quiet place like a living room, one can simply turn off the Solitude’s noise cancellation and the headphones are then a passive headphone with no hissing. However, even in quiet environments, I like the noise cancellation, since there is usually some low frequency noise present. In these cases, there in simply no comparison – with the Bose, listening to music anywhere other than in a very noisy environment is a lot more pleasurable. For me, the Bose have another advantage- they amplify the sound. This means that less volume is needed from my Ipod, so its batteries last longer between charges. Interestingly, the Bose use one AAA battery vs. two for the Solitudes, but they both seems to last similar times – 30+ hours at a rough estimate.
Here the Bose is a clear winner. For me, they are significantly more comfortable. One reason is they do not press as hard on the side of one’s head. Another is the insides of the earpieces are tapered, to allow more room for the back of one’s ear. (The Solitudes are flat on the insides). A third is that the Bose have softer cushions. I have worn both headphones for hours at a time, and I much prefer the Bose. Incidentally, the high pressure of the Solitudes bothered me so much at first that I tried to contact the suppliers (TravelEssentials) at their website – under their “Contact me” link. I must have sent them 3 emails on the subject, asking if there was any way to reduce the pressure on the sides of my head by adjusting the frame. I did not receive a response. They were always sending me promotional literature, however….
After a year, the Solitudes don’t bother me as much, although I still can’t wear them for very long without taking them off or moving them to a different position on my head. I might add that I do have a fairly wide head and medium size ears– this comfort issue may not bother you as much if you have a narrow head and small ears.
The Bose come with a fairly rigid flat case. The earpieces swivel to allow the phones to be laid flat inside. There is a nice little zippered pocket for spare AAA batteries. Also, there is room for my Ipod – a nice touch. At first I thought this case rather bulky but now I prefer it, since it is “all in one” and protects the phones and my Ipod from being squished in my carry-one luggage. The Solitudes fold up into a compact square shape, which provides a fair measure of protection due to its shape. However, their soft plastic carry case is not worth much. I have not used mine. Overall, the Bose case is better quality and will offer better protection over time.
I shall continue using both headphones. However, wherever possible I shall use the Bose – they are simply more comfortable, provide better noise cancellation, and have no hissing. I think their sound quality is better too, but this is highly subjective and I defer to the experts on this. I shall use the Solitudes on my kayaking and in other places where I don’t want to risk the Bose.
The Bose QC2 cost $300. Using this as a benchmark, I would say the Solitudes are a $100 set. Better than the $25 pair I bought several years ago at Wal-Mart, but not in the same class as the Bose QC2, and overpriced at $200. Perhaps the new Solitude II’s will fix some of its weaknesses. My recommendation it to buy both and return the ones you don’t like.
By the way, I have no connection with either Manufacturer. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org, if anyone has feedback or questions. I am an electrical engineer.
A co worker, across the aisle from me, uses speaker phone daily. In addition, she participates in many personal calls and I am not comfortable hearing about her cares and woes. Is there a specific headset I can use to eliminate or soften the noise pollution she puts forth? I don’t want to necessarily plug into music, but do want to plug into silence.
I actually prefer in-ear noise isolating earphones, rather than big over ear noise cancelling headphones. Take a look at the following top 10 review of noise reducing headphones for some ideas http://www.hifiheadphones.co.uk/best-travel-headphones.html