Bose is one of the most popular names in the world of audio equipment. Known for its premium range of products including home theater systems, desktop speaker systems, sound docks and headphones, the brand is known for its brutally simple and ingenious product designs and high brand image associated with equally high price tag. And although some audiophiles might disagree, most people would also say that Bose products do sound pretty good.
Today we are taking a look at one of their headphones, more specifically the AE2w Bluetooth Headphones. Let’s see how well they perform.
Considering the premium pricing of these headphones, one would expect the packaging to be a bit special. Sadly, that is not the case. The headphones come in a simple paper box with clear plastic case inside holding the headphones and accessories. Along with the headphones you get the wireless module that plugs into it, a cable that you can use instead by unplugging the wireless module, a microUSB cable to charge the module and a carry case. Then there’s the usual paperwork, including the user guide and the warranty card.
Design and Build Quality
To describe the AE2w simply would be to call it the AE2 with a Bluetooth module plugged into it. The headphones are exactly identical to the wired version otherwise. In fact, when you remove the wireless module and plug in the provided cable, the AE2w becomes indistinguishable to the AE2 (the AE2 also comes with removable cable).
Bose has done very little work to morph the AE2 into AE2w. You are basically paying extra for the little module that comes with it. The module is what does all the magic, and has a battery, amplifier, microphone and all the controls placed on it. It’s pretty small, too; roughly the size of an eraser. If you happen to lose this, then you’re back to using a cable, like some sort of a Neanderthal.
For those not familiar with the original AE2, they are a pair of around the ear (that’s where the AE in the name comes from) or circumaural headphones. The headphones have fairly large ear cups that comfortably sit around your ears. The speakers have plush leathery cushions that are not just super soft but also do a surprisingly good job of isolating sound.
The rest of the headphones are made almost entirely of plastic. The speakers are connected to the headbands via a gimbal mount that allows them to be turned around and lie flat, making it easy to carry. The AE2w don’t fold, however, unlike some other headphones. The headband has some of the same soft material as a cushion. The speakers extend easily on notched arms and should fit a wide variety of head sizes.
The build quality and fit and finish is acceptable. The extensive use of plastic makes the AE2w extremely light and really, after a while you forget you are wearing them. But the plastics don’t feel particularly premium and you kind of expect better from Bose. The design is very minimal like most Bose products and the headphones have a very compact size so they don’t look too dorky even if you wear them outdoors.
Moving on to the Bluetooth module, the tiny thing has one large button up top that lets you pick up/cancel calls, play/pause music and skip tracks. There are two volume controls on the side and if you press and hold the top button and volume up then the module goes into pairing mode, ready to be detected by other Bluetooth devices. There are a couple of LEDs below indicating the headphone status and battery status. Lastly, there is a sliding power switch.
On the front of the module is a grille where the microphone resides. On the bottom is a microUSB port for connecting the charger cable. On the back is the 2.5mm jack it uses to plug into the headphones. Plugging in and removing the module is pretty easy.
Since there are only three buttons, using the module even though it is out of your sight is dead simple. The buttons are all large enough and make operating effortless.
If you must use the AE2w with a cable, then just unplug the wireless module and plug in the cable and no one would know these are wireless headphones. The cable is about four feet long, which is adequate for most purposes. It’s a bit thin but doesn’t feel flimsy as such.
Before diving into the performance of the Bluetooth module, let me talk about the sound of the headphones themselves. As mentioned before, without the module, the AE2w are just AE2, which is actually a very good thing. The original AE2 are one of the most balanced headphones I’ve heard. I know Bose headphones get a lot of flak usually and in most cases I agree with it. Bose headphones have a habit of heavily coloring the sound, typically emphasizing the bass a lot. This has been a problem with almost all their headphones in the past. The average user might be fine with it but audiophiles usually prefer an uncolored, authentic sound.
The Bose AE2, on the other hand, seems like it was made to address this very criticism, having a very life-like, flat and very un-Bose-like sound. The bass has been toned down considerably and although it still retains some of the tight punch and warmth there is no woolliness to it. This also allows the mid-range to shine and give a commendable performance with authoritative vocals without being too upfront. The top-end has a nice clarity to it with just the right amount of sparkle without being too sibilant. This is one of the most balanced and enjoyable sound signatures I’ve heard and although it may not be as accurate or detailed as some of the more expensive headphones it’s still very good and something even audiophiles would appreciate.
Now that we know how the headphones sound, time to plug in the wireless module. I was fully expecting a drop in performance compared to using the cable considering the lossy nature of the Bluetooth audio transfer. Fortunately, I didn’t get any, at least none that is worth mentioning. The AE2w supports aptX audio codec, which uses a much higher bit rate than some of the other codecs such as SBC. On devices that support aptX, the audio quality was as good as using the cable. The module has active equalization that helps mask any inadequacies of the wireless transfer.
Bose particularly advertises compatibility with the iPad. When paired with an iPad Air, the tablet displayed a tiny battery meter for the headphones next to its own on the screen. The audio quality was top notch, clear and crisp, with tight punchy bass and clean mids and highs. This is easily one of the best wireless sound I’ve heard.
I also tested the AE2w with the MacBook Air and the Nexus 5. The former supports aptX and the sound was identical to the iPad. The Nexus 5 lacks aptX support and instead relies on the old SBC codec. The sound was noticeably softer with the Nexus 5 but good nonetheless.
The microphone on the AE2w also worked well. It worked fine for voice calls and also for voice commands with Siri and Google Now.
Bose claims a battery life of 7 hours with continuous use. Surprisingly, I managed to get close to 10 hours, even after pushing the volume fairly high. This was with continuous use so on an average you should be able to get 2-3 days of regular usage on a full charge. The tiny battery inside the module takes about an hour and a half to charge.
The Bose AE2w are priced at $249.99. Compared to the AE2 that cost just $99, you pay quite a bit for the wireless module alone, more than the headphones themselves, as a matter of fact.
But when looked on its own, $250 for a wireless headphones is not a bad price, especially for the audio quality on offer. This is easily one of the best sound I’ve heard from a wireless Bluetooth headset and you could also use them as standard headphones when the battery runs out or you have a source that does not support Bluetooth audio, such as an old MP3 player or a desktop computer. The AE2w are also very comfortable, easy to use and have decent battery life.
Overall, if you are looking for a high quality Bluetooth headset for your smartphone or tablet and can afford to spend extra for it, the Bose AE2w are highly recommended.