There’s a lot of bad press from the “high-end” audio community towards Bose and although I would agree that Bose isn’t my choice for home music listening, they make brilliant home theatre systems that are near impossible to beat from a “bang-for-buck” and simplicity perspective.
That got me thinking, are their earphones and headphones really that bad? I’ve read a lot of hot debate on Head-Fi about Bose ear/headphones and didn’t know what to trust. A friend of mine who works for Bose was kind enough to share his IE2 earphones with me to test out.
Despite my friend working at Bose, I can assure you that this is an unbiased review. There are no strings attached and my single purpose on this blog is to share my impressions of different products and how enjoyable (or otherwise) they make our music.
The model I’m testing is the IE2, but the MIE2 is almost identical (as far as I can tell), but adds a microphone and controls so you can use it with a mobile phone. The IE2s sell for AUD $129 according to the Bose website on 16th September 2012.
The IE2s are an interesting hybrid between in-ear-monitors (IEMs) and ear buds that sit in the little “cup” on the outside of your ear. They do this by sitting in the “cup” but having a silicon flange which mostly seals the ear canal without actually sticking all the way in and filling it up.
They come with a bunch of different tips to suit your ear size, a soft leather pouch that’s also big enough to fit a compact MP3 player (e.g. iPod Nano), and a shirt clip that you can choose to use or not.
The funky little crescent shaped tips you can see in the picture here are really curious. They fit into the large fold in your ear and, although very soft, seem to keep the bud more securely in place.
I have to admit being extremely surprised by the comfort of these earphones – they are just brilliantly comfortable!!
Unfortunately, Bose don’t publish specifications for their IE2s so I can’t tell you the impedance, frequency range, etc. I did find this graph though on the PC Mag website.
As you can see by looking at the green line, the IE2s emphasise bass, but have very similar high frequency response to the Etys which are generally known for their accuracy and analytical style sound.
This graph made me instantly curious. Were the IE2s going to provide a nice full bass experience while still being detailed? Let’s find out…
Attack: The IE2s have plenty of bass as you’d already know from the graph above. Their attack is only moderate. in an overall sense, but impressive from an IEM/bud hybrid. They don’t punch out your eardrums, but there is definite air movement when there should be – like with a kick drum.
Unfortunately, the attack is a little bloated. Where I feel like there should be a real kick or punch, what I experience is more of a push. It goes on for a bit longer than it should and ends up feeling slightly uncontrolled.
Score: 4.5 / 10
Mass: There is no lack of mass from the IE2s. They are flat-out impressive! Coincidentally, as I write this paragraph, Santana’s “Maria, Maria” started playing. The bass literally rumbled my head and almost made me dizzy!!
There is no doubt that Bose have defied the laws of physics to create this much rumble from such a small driver. The bass is full and rich. It feels like it could reproduce anything you throw at it – really amazing!
Score: 7 / 10
Vocals / Mids
The IE2s do a fairly good job of reproducing male vocals, but I find them slightly dark for female vocals. I can only put this down to their frequency response that I showed above. Because the male vocals fall largely in the zone where the frequencies are heavily boosted, they are able to cut through the bass. The female vocals seem just ever so slightly muffled. It’s really subtle and not even noticeable on some recordings (e.g. Mariah Carey), but on others (e.g. Norah Jones) it can be quite noticeable.
My favourite mid-range test track is “Tin Pan Alley” by Stevie Ray Vaughan because his guitar work, the drums and the bass guitar are all blended so beautifully and smoothly. A good set of earphones make this track sound like liquid velvet. The IE2s do quite a good job, but fell like the velvet’s just a tad wet. Where the mid-range should sound liquid and smooth, the IE2s sound just a bit slow and lacking in texture. They’re not quite liquid – they’re a bit too thick. This is a side effect of the epic bass presence they offer. The bass bleeds into the other frequencies and just muddies the waters a little more that is ideal.
All-in-all, the mids are very acceptable, but not exceptional.
Score: 5.5 / 10
The IE2s are surprisingly detailed for such a bassy earphone. There is plenty of clarity in the top end, but they are never harsh. Even awful recordings sound quite OK because the IE2s just don’t do harsh.
That may sound glowing, but there is a trade-off.
You won’t be hearing new sounds in your music – new details you’ve never heard before. While clean and detailed, the IE2s aren’t revealing. They’re a smooth, easy listen without being smothered and muffled. They walk a comfortable line between non-fatiguing listening and detail retrieval. There are definitely other earphones that provide better detail without being harsh (the HiFi Man Re272s spring to mind), but if you’re looking for gobs of bass without completely sacrificing high frequency clarity, the IE2s are quite a good option.
Score: 5.5 / 10
When I first listened to the IE2s, there was something missing for me. I liked the bass, didn’t mind the mids and clarity, but something just held them back from truly “wow-ing” me in any way. Having spent more time with them it’s a combination of the staging and details, but specifically it’s that they lack the air and sparkle required to create a truly engaging experience.
While there is separation between the left and right sides of the sound stage, there is little distance between them and no real depth to speak of (front to back). All the musicians sound like they’re lined up side-by-side in a space no wider than your eyes. This congestion prevents the experience from being anything more than an in-head experience and that’s where the magic comes from in truly great earphones – the ability to make you forget you’re listening to earphones and engage you like you’re listening to live music.
Even the “Sileypud” track from the Ultrasone demo disc has a hard time creating a sense of space and image. It IS there, but it’s congested.
Score: 3.5 / 10
If we look at the IE2s for what they are, they’re a good earphone. The TriPort system definitely creates big bass and also allows some outside sound into your ear so you can tell what’s going on around you. While you can hear the world, the world can’t hear you – they don’t seem to leak at normal listening volumes so these are great in an office environment where you need to hear people around you, but want to enjoy your own music. They’d also be a safer option during riding, running, etc.
They are comfortable, work equally well with any source, and are forgiving on poor recordings. In short, they are exactly what Bose wanted to create – a comfortable, easy-to-listen-to earphone for the general consumer.
If you’re a budding audiophile pursuing perfection, these aren’t the earphones for you, but if you’re someone looking for an upgrade from stock earbuds (i.e. the ones that came with any MP3 player or phone) and you want comfort, bass, and fairly good detail you should probably consider these – especially if hearing the outside world is beneficial for you.
With earphones as coloured as these (i.e. the sound they produce is distinctly modified from the original recording – in this case with boosted bass), I would always recommend a try before you buy if at all possible. I gave my fiancée a listen to the IE2s and she hated them. She found them (her words) “clouded, all noise, no clarity). That’s the lack of sound stage and the side effect of the bass boost causing the top end to sound dull and flat. Be aware of this if you’re looking at the IE2. What they do, they do quite well, but they’re not going to be for everyone.
Overall score: 4 / 10