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dalethorn's picture
Last seen: 7 hours 30 min ago
Joined: Jan 18 2012 - 3:09pm
Bose OE2i Stereo Headphone Review by Dale

Adding Youtube review, 24 March 2012.

The Bose OE2i is one of the niftiest headphone designs I've ever seen, fitting into the supplied zippered case that's 5.0 x 5.25 x 1.5 inches thick when closed. This case can even fit into an ordinary man's jeans back pocket, although you would not want to sit on it. Bose warns about twisting the earcups past their design limit when rotating them, or applying any other pressures that could break the plastic parts. Unfolded and ready for use, they look like an ordinary on-ear headphone, and I never would have guessed they could fit into such a small carrycase. Besides being ultra-portable in the tiny carrycase, the OE2i can be worn around your neck all day long when not in use, by pulling the earcups all the way down so they don't bump against your chin.

The earpads are oval and flat - some kind of soft spongy material, perforated in the center where the sound comes out, and more or less identical to the earpads of the Bose QC3 or the B&W P5. The headphone weighs next to nothing, but the earpads put a mild pressure on the ears. I have headphones that weigh 10 times as much and exert 10 times the ear pressure, which doesn't bother me, but even the very mild pressure of the OE2i might bother people who aren't used to wearing headphones.

The headband is padded on the top and bottom, but for people who are bothered by even the slightest pressure on top of their head, I recommend pulling the earcups down a slight bit more than the minimum necessary for the fit, so the very light weight of the headphone is borne mostly by the earcups and not the headband. The headband has an internal metal construction, but how far the metal extends either way I can't tell since all I can see of the internal part is 1.5 inches on either side when the earcups are pulled all the way down.

The cable with a diameter of 2 mm is thin, but not quite as thin as the B&W P5's cable. The cable is single-sided and detachable, 4.5 ft.long, and terminated by a 45 degree angled miniplug. Apparently the OE2i differs from the OE2 only by the cable type - the OE2i having the Apple i-device controls. What is odd is the large price difference between the OE2 and OE2i, and that I don't see a replacement cable on the Bose site that has Apple controls. Perhaps there is a difference besides the cables? I don't know - the OE2i cable does detach, and the earcup end of the cable looks like a standard sub-miniplug, but what the point would be of detaching if the only replacement cable is the one without the controls, I don't know.

The OE2i is apparently intended to be a semi-open design, which leaks a small amount of sound when played loudly. This headphone might be OK for cubicle use when played at moderate volumes, but that's going to depend partly on the ambient noise level in the office, and partly on the sensitivity of the person(s) in the adjoining cubicles. The soundstage is about what I would expect of this type of design - not particularly wide or deep, but not especially constricted or closed-in either. The clarity and resolution seem typical to me for a small lightweight headphone - fine for portable use, but not as refined as the better headphones made for home/desktop use.

The default sound of the OE2i played flat with no EQ is rolled off somewhat on the high end compared to the more expensive headphones I have, so I applied "treble boost" EQ with the iPod Touch and iPhone4, and equivalent compensation when using Foobar2000 on the desktop computer. This EQ compensation made the overall response of the OE2i very similar to my better headphones, with just a few minor differences you would expect from a small lightweight headphone. Despite the treble boost, sibilants were less noticeable than with all but one of my more expensive headphones - the Shure SRH-1840 which sells for 4 times as much. I was not able to find specs such as impedance and sensitivity for the OE2i, but the efficiency is high enough to play average volume tracks loudly on iPods and iPhones.

Bass response is a very hot ticket with headphones these days, and many if not most of the headphones in the OE2i's price range are quite bassy. The Bose OE2i is not a bassy headphone in that sense - in fact its bass is lighter in strength compared to most of the better hi-fi headphones that don't have boosted bass. When real bass is present on the music track however, the impacts are very solid and gratifying. In spite of the very critical appraisal I made above, I find the sound quality of the OE2i good not only for portable use, but quite satisfactory for home use if a headphone made specifically for desktop hi-fi systems isn't handy.

A concern I had with the OE2i was the EQ I assumed that Bose applied to this headphone, possibly through passive electronic components in the earcups. Since I also applied treble boost EQ externally, I worried that the combination could introduce audible peaks and dips into the response, so I listened closely for any of those. So far nothing strikes me as significantly unbalanced. In the several headphone reviews I've done to date, I haven't suggested doing any burn-in as the initial listening with those (more expensive) headphones indicated a smooth sound that wouldn't change significantly after perhaps 50 to 100 hours of use. In the case of the Bose OE2i, I would suggest at least 30 to 50 hours of play time at good volume with dynamic music tracks before making a final judgement about the sound quality. Nothing specific - just a hunch.

Now that I've covered the basics of the sound, it's time to describe how the OE2i sounds with a variety of music that's available on CD's or as high-quality downloads from Internet music stores. I've used the following examples in other reviews, so these will serve as good test tracks for this review and the results can also be compared to the results noted in the other reviews.

Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled very well by the OE2i.

Blues Project - Caress Me Baby (1966): Rarely mentioned, but one of the greatest white blues recordings ever. The loud piercing guitar sound at 0:41 into the track is a good test for distortion or other problems. Handled pretty well by the OE2i.

Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled very well by the OE2i.

Buffalo Springfield - Kind Woman (~1968): A Richie Furay song entirely, rarely mentioned, but one of the best sounding rock ballads ever. This will sound good on most headphones, but it's very good with the OE2i.

Cat Stevens - Morning Has Broken (early 70's): A near-perfect test for overall sound - this track will separate the best sounding headphones from the lesser quality types. Nothing specific, except that almost any deviation from perfect reproduction will stand out with this track. Sounds good on the OE2i.

Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the OE2i renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

Def Leppard - Bringin' On The Heartbreak (1981): MTV goth/pop/metal at its best - good ambience and high energy - the better headphones will separate the details and make for a good experience. Lesser quality and the details tend to mush together. Rendered well by the OE2i.

J.S. Bach - E. Power Biggs Plays Bach in the Thomaskirche (~1970): Recorded on a tracker organ in East Germany, the tracks on this recording have the authentic baroque sound that Bach composed for, albeit the bellows are operated by motor today. The OE2i plays the tones seamlessly through the upper limits of the organ, which are near the upper limits of my hearing.

Jamming With Edward - It Hurts Me Too (1969): Intended originally as a test to fill studio down time and set recording levels etc., this was released a few years later for hardcore Rolling Stones fans. Although not as good technically in every aspect as the Chess studio recordings of 1964, and in spite of the non-serious vocals by Mick Jagger, this rates very high on my list of white blues recordings, and sounds very good with the OE2i.

Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has some loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical on some headphones. The OE2i provides good reproduction - obviously superior to most lo-fi or cheap headphones, but not quite as detailed as the more expensive headphones I have. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in, for maximum detail effect.

Ladytron - Destroy Everything You Touch (~2009): Featured in The September Issue, this song has heavy overdub and will sound a bit muddy on some headphones. Sounds very good with the OE2i.

Milt Jackson/Wes Montgomery - Delilah (Take 3) (1962): The vibraphone is heavily dependent on harmonics to sound right, and the OE2i plays it very well.

Pink Floyd/Dark Side of the Moon - Speak To Me (1973): Strong deep bass impacts will be heard and felt here.

Rolling Stones - Stray Cat Blues (1968): Dirty, gritty blues that very few white artists could match. On some headphones the vocals and guitar lack the edge and fall more-or-less flat. If you're a really good person, playing this song will probably make you feel nervous and uneasy.

Tony Bennett - I Left My Heart In San Francisco (1962): Frank Sinatra's favorite singer. Highest recommendation. With some of the best headphones, the sibilants on this recording are very strong, but they're no problem at all with the OE2i.

dalethorn's picture
Last seen: 7 hours 30 min ago
Joined: Jan 18 2012 - 3:09pm
Comparison to new B&W P3

The new B&W P3 is about the same size, price, and earpiece/earpad configuration as the Bose OE2i, and given that they're both sold by Apple for use with the ipod/iphone etc., it seems like a very apt comparison to make. Both have a substantial treble rolloff and benefit from the i-device treble booster EQ setting. When the EQ is applied, both have good deep bass response, and both have a fairly smooth response from the bass on up. Neither has the level of treble of a typical audiophile headphone when treble booster EQ is applied, and neither has any sibilant or other high frequency irritation issues with this EQ setting. The difference that really stands out for me is the P3 has an emphasis around 200-250 hz that gives it a warmer or darker sound (but not bass-warm), and the OE2i has a lighter sound as if there were a minor emphasis more than an octave higher than the P3. I can't say that either of these headphones has a major emphasis in the midrange or elsewhere, but my impression is that neither is as refined or smooth sounding as most of the more expensive audiophile headphones.

AllanMarcus's picture
Last seen: 1 month 1 week ago
Joined: Jun 1 2013 - 3:45pm
How about the Sennheiser PX 100-II

I know it's signifcanlty less than the P3 and the OE2, but the PX 100-II gets rave reviews and I would love to read your thoughts on the PX 100-II compared to the OE2.



dalethorn's picture
Last seen: 7 hours 30 min ago
Joined: Jan 18 2012 - 3:09pm
Bose OE2 and PX100ii
AllanMarcus wrote:

I know it's signifcanlty less than the P3 and the OE2, but the PX 100-II gets rave reviews and I would love to read your thoughts on the PX 100-II compared to the OE2. Thanks, Allan

The OE2 has a very recessed treble - I'll pick a number for comparison here, not an exact number of decibels but a useful approximation. I'd say the OE2 is down about 8 db in the treble compared to "minimum treble"** headphones like the Shure 1840 or v-moda M100, and the PX100ii is down about 4 db in that same comparison. The OE2 bass is nearly perfect I think compared to most headphones, but is not a strong bass. The PX100ii bass is stronger, but tends toward muddiness, and adding amplifiers to fix it seems out of place in using a very small plastic headphone.

**Headphones like the Senn HD800, Shure 940 and 1440, Soundmagic HP200, and a few others I regard as overly bright in the upper treble, usually around 8 to 10 khz, while the Shure 1840 and v-moda M100 treble is just about right I think (ignoring any other issues with these latter 2 headphones).

In portable use outdoors or on public transport, a little extra bass works well for me, and the PX100ii gets closer to that. I don't have the PX100ii handy to test now, but treble details do suffer from outdoor noise, and whether you'd want to boost treble with the PX100ii outdoors depends on how much detail you need. Physically, I love the OE2 and how it folds into the little carrycase they supply - it's as ideal as they get. But to enjoy the OE2 sound outdoors you can't demand a lot of detail in deep bass or high treble. And I would never consider a bass boost with either of these, since it would get muddy pretty quick. BTW, I think the PX100ii is open-back, which is another problem for portable use.

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