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Bose vs Bauhn/Aldi Noise Canceling Headphones

Me wearing Bauhn HeadphonesInside the case of Bauhn Noise Canceling Headphones showing the cable and connectorsOutside of the cases of Bauhn and Bose Headphones

Overview

The German supermarket chain Aldi has been running in Australia for 8 years now [1]. Their standard practice for a long time has been to offer regular special deals on a few items of consumer electronics every week, my chocolate fridge is one thing I bought from Aldi [2].

Today Aldi have started selling Noise Canceling Headphones [3]. These headphones are badged by Bauhn – but that name is apparently applied to random products from cheap manufacturers, it may be an Aldi name that is applied to stuff that they sell. The headphones cost $69AU which is really cheap. But the deal will probably end in less than a week when stock runs out.

Noise canceling headphones can be used in server rooms and other noisy environments. Every company that has a server room should buy a few sets. One of the features of noise-canceling is that it works best on low frequencies and on regular sounds – it specifically doesn’t block human voice well. In some noisy environments it will be easier to hear people talk if you wear such headphones!

Noise canceling headphones are also very useful to people who are on the autism spectrum and other people who get more annoyed by noise pollution than average people. I have been wearing my Bose headphones on public transport and when walking around in the city, this not only stops traffic noise but it also helps to avoid people thinking that I want to talk to them.

Features

The first picture shows me wearing the Bauhn NC headphones, it’s from the right to show the controls for the built-in MP3 player. I have not yet tested the MP3 functionality. It appears that as the controls are one power button, buttons for next/previous track, and for controlling the volume. This is fairly poor for MP3 functionality, ideally you would want to have a display to see a list of tracks, maybe have directories to store files, etc. I guess this could be a convenient feature on occasion, but you wouldn’t buy the headphones for the MP3 functionality.
The next two pictures show a comparison of the Bauhn headset with the Bose QC-15 headset that I bought last year [4].

The cases of the Bauhn and Bose devices are almost exactly the same size and of a very similar shape, the Bose case is tapered and indented and also has a finer weave on the cloth covering – it looks much nicer. Both devices come with an adapter for an airline socket and with a detachable cable. They also both have pouches attached to the inside of the case with velcro. But the Bauhn headphones come with an adapter for the 6.5mm TRS connector which could be convenient if you want to plug them in to a larger amplifier, the basic connector is 3.5mm in both cases. The Bauhn device uses a standard TRS connector at the headphone end while the Bose QC-15 use a special connector that matches the shape of the headset and which has a TRRS plug (to cater for the high/low volume switch), so it seems that a damaged Bauhn cable could be replaced cheaply while a replacement Bose cable would have to be purchased from Bose (presumably at great expense and delay). The Bauhn case also has a velcro attached pocket for storing business cards (or maybe a name tag or something).

The supplied cable for the Bauhn is described as being 5 feet long – which isn’t quite long enough to reach a tower PC that is sitting on the floor. The Bose has a cable that is about a foot longer (maybe 6 feet total), but due to the non-standard connector you can’t replace it. I presume that I could easily buy a 4 meter cable for the Bauhn headphones, but I could of course buy an extension cable to use with the Bose.

Bose advertise the QC-15 headphones as having 35 hours of battery life from a single AAA battery. Aldi advertise the Bauhn headset as having 5 hours of battery life when NC is turned on – and they use two AAA batteries. It’s widely regarded that rechargeable batteries don’t last as long as the batteries used for estimating the battery life (which presumably are the most expensive long-life batteries available). I’ve found a single rechargeable AAA battery to last well over 5 hours in my Bose headphones, so it seems that battery life is considerably worse for the Bauhn device.

One feature of the Bauhn device is that it can be used without any batteries for playing external music. The Bose headphones can’t be used at all without a battery. So while the Bauhn will use the batteries faster it will at least be usable when the batteries run out. But if you are buying headphones for the purpose of avoiding noise then the Bose headphones are simply better.

Comfort

The Bose headphones have significantly deeper ear wells than the Bauhn – about 23mm vs 18mm. If your ears stick out more than 18mm (as mine apparently do) then this is a good reason for choosing Bose.

The Bose headphones are a tighter fit, the spring that pushes the ear-pieces together is stronger. But they have better padding so this doesn’t cause me any discomfort. Also the Bose headphones have better passive noise reduction due to having a more snug fit around the ears. I’ve worn my Bose headphones on a flight from the US to Australia with hardly a break and they were quite comfortable – I would never want to do that with the Bauhn headphones.

Noise Reduction

I tested the Bose and Bauhn products against three noise scenarios, external music, an air-conditioner, and a car engine.

The Bose headphones made good reductions of the noise from the external music (Numb by Linkin Park) and the air-conditioner. The Bauhn headphones did little to stop Linkin Park and was not very effective against the air-conditioner noise. I think that this is largely due to the lack of passive noise reduction, the air-conditioner in question makes little vibration noise and the sound of rushing air is generally immune to active noise cancellation. Both headphones were very effective when in a car with the engine idling. The engine noise of vehicles seems to fall in an ideal frequency range for active cancellation.

Music Quality

When listening to Youtube music played on my Thinkpad I could not notice any quality difference between the two sets of headphones. I did notice that the Bose headphones seemed to have a greater response in the higher frequency range, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that one set is better than the other. Maybe if I was listening to FLAC0 encoded music that I had personally ripped from a CD then I would notice a difference. But for most people the Bauhn music quality should be good enough.

Design Quality

The Bose product is solidly designed, while the Bauhn product appears cheap in every way. Opening the battery compartment on the Bauhn headphones is difficult and if you do it wrong you could easily break the lid off, I expect that every set of Bauhn headphones that is used by children will be broken in a small amount of time – but it should still be fully functional with a broken lid. The matt finish of the Bose headphones should hide minor scratches much better than the shiny Bauhn headphones. The Bauhn headphones also have lower quality plastic parts, it appears that the molds used were designed cheaply and without adequate care to prevent marking the final product.

The design flaws that affect usage of the Bauhn product are the shallow ear wells, the poor fit of the cushions around the ears (which is probably mostly due to a weak spring pressing the ear cups to the wearer’s head), and the battery compartment lid which is difficult to open and appears prone to breakage. The other flaws are all cosmetic.

I wonder whether the Bauhn product was made by one of the big name manufacturers who deliberately reduced the quality to avoid competing with their more expensive products. It seems that the major flaws could have been corrected at design time with almost no increase in manufacturing costs.

Recommendations

If you can afford the Bose® QuietComfort® 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling® Headphones then they are really worth the extra expense, I have no regrets at all about spending about $320US (including tax) on my Bose QC-15. The Bauhn product is good for when you want something cheap, for example a set to be used in a server room, or for the use of children. I bought a Bauhn headset for a friend who is a pilot, he spent $1,100 on a noise-canceling headset for his plane but had never got around to buying one for recreational use – I expect that he will allow his children to use his new Bauhn headphones, if they get broken it’s only a $69 expense.

The second cheapest NC headphones I’ve seen on offer in Australia is Harvey Norman selling Phillips HN-110 Noise Canceling Headphones for $100AU [5].

Amazon sells Philips HN 110 Folding Noise-Canceling Headphones for $50US but doesn’t seem to ship them outside the US (at least not to Australia).

JB Hifi also has some NC headphones on sale in Australia [6], but they are more expensive at $219 for AKG and $319 for Sennheiser. Also the models they sell are on-ear which means that they will inherently have very little passive noise reduction – and will also annoy anyone who doesn’t like having their ears squashed.

If I was buying NC headphones for my own use and didn’t want to spend $300US then I would either buy the Philips HN 110 Folding Noise-Canceling Headphones from Amazon and get a friend in the US to post them to me or I would buy them from Harvey Norman.

But the Bauhn product is good if you want cheap headphones to stop engine noise and give reasonable quality when playing music.

28 comments to Bose vs Bauhn/Aldi Noise Canceling Headphones

  • fiona

    Hello,

    Sorry to intrude.

    I don’t know if you’re there but I wondered if you had yet loaded MP3 files and managed to play them? I have been trying for over two hours and am leaving the country tomorrow. I’m desperately trying to get them to work tonight. Any tips would be gratefully appreciated
    cheers
    Fiona

  • etbe

    Sorry, playing MP3 files hasn’t really interested me so I haven’t tried that. Good luck though!

  • Robert

    “but it also helps to avoid people thinking that I want to talk to them.”

    Definitely on the autism spectrum.

  • etbe

    http://etbe.coker.com.au/2009/11/08/im-an-aspie/

    Robert: That’s what a psychologist told me after an assessment that lasted most of a day – see the above URL.

    For other readers, it’s not that I don’t want to talk to anyone, I just don’t want to talk to the typical people who want to talk to me on public transport. If a conversation starts with someone looking at my shirt and saying “I use Linux too” then I’m happy to talk.

  • Robert

    “For other readers, it’s not that I don’t want to talk to anyone, I just don’t want to talk to the typical people who want to talk to me on public transport.”

    Dude. You’re missing out on meeting some great people.

  • etbe

    Robert: There are some great people on public transport – such as me. ;)

    But the majority of people who are on public transport don’t have anything particularly interesting to say, and unless you support the local football team they probably don’t have anything in common with you. You would have to put up with many boring conversations before meeting a great person that way.

    Now if you were to visit a museum or art gallery that you like and say hello to some random people then your hit rate would be a lot higher!

  • Terry

    Like fiona I have uploaded several mp3 files but cannot get the mp3 player to play them – even tried a second SD disk with no success. Even went back to Aldi and exchange my headphones for another set but still no luck. Has anybody had any success with the mp3 player?

  • scott

    I have had no problems playing mp3 files.

    1) The mp3 files have been placed in the root directory (ie not sub folders)
    2) Batteries installed :)
    3) Press center button for 3 seconds, then release, and mp3 files play after a small delay.

    Yes, It would be nice to have more control over the playing of the files.
    1) fast forward/rewind (not just skip +-)
    2) Random play
    3) Directory play for grouping files

    *Wishlist*
    Better noise reduction (yes I’m probably being very unrealistic)
    less white noise when nr turned on
    longer battery life
    USB connection for charging
    USB for digital audio instead of analogue

    *Recommendation*
    OK for the money, if $69 is not a lot of money for you.
    Passive noise cancellation is good. (they fit my ears ok)
    Active noise cancellationis ?, introduces white noise, and I can not really tell the difference in general day to day use!

  • Steven Pace

    Internal memory would be better for a few reasons:
    Plugging in the card is a bother.
    There is a chance of data corruption when you write with one device, and read with another.
    Ideally, it is best if you can charge the device with he same connection used to load the data.
    I don’t have SD drive slots, and I have to plug in USB card drive.
    And this is especially true if the mp3 player has no navigation capability. You would only want to put the file on it that you wanted to listen to, then replace them. That would be a lot of pluging and unpluging.

    [Updated to remove corporate URL]

  • Dave

    I just bought the Bauhn headphones from Aldi, have them for half price during their clearance sale. So far I find them great and fit better over my ears that another set of noise cancelling headphones I own. The noise blocking ability is not great but they are ok and the mp3 sound is heavy on the base but ok. My wife finds them too big though. It definitely needs a fast forward and rewind button however for $35 I’m not complaining.

  • jeffrey

    so anyway i’ve bought a set and uploaded the mp3s onto the Sd card which plays fine. the only problem i have now is how to actually remove the SD card from the slot? it seems really stiff.

  • Mal

    I cannot get these to work, I have tried an 8GB SD card, a 4GB SD card, the card is supposed to be inserted face down, well that is really hard to do, and getting the card back out requires a screwdriver and a pair of pliers! The music files are not in folders, they are just loose on the card. The player switches on after pressing the centre button for three seconds, then after a a few seconds it switches itself off. The cable function works when it’s connected to an mp3 player, but I bought them to use the mp3 function. So, I go back to Aldi, card, batteries, screwdriver and pliers in hand and proceed to test every one of the headphones they had left in stock, not one of them worked, yet people have said they have got them to work, lucky I guess.

  • Dave

    The card slot is spring loaded like you get with camera sd card slots. The card goes in with the contacts of the sd card facing outwards. My one easily pushes in and out via the spring release.
    The songs are played back one at a time . I didn’t put them in a folder, just straight on the sd card.

  • Mal

    Dave, t6hanks for that. The instruction booklet clearly states that the card is inserted face down, and there is a diagram as well that shows that fact. So, back to the drawing board, I will try inserting it face up as you say and see what happens. I’ll be back…..who said that? :-)

  • Mal

    Did that, inserted a 4GB SD card face up as suggested. Left it on for a couple of hours, at least it didn’t turn itself off like it did before, but nothing happened anyway. The only thing I hear is some sort of hissing noise if the noise cancelling switch is turned on. Otherwise it’s the sweet sound of silence.
    All the mp3 files are loose on the card, straight into the root directory. SD_Music_Card/mp3files.mp3 etc.
    At least the damn thing works with my own cmx mp3 player. To turn it off I have to remove the batteries, and the little rubber cap that covers the SD slot fell off after about five minutes. I guess you get what you pay for. It’s about time somebody made a decent one of these, with a display on it so you could scroll through directories, and a 4gb flash memory would be good too.

  • etbe

    Mal: I think that there is a fundamental issue with engineering trade-offs here. MP3 players are still an evolving market, last time I checked most players didn’t support a good sub-set of OGG, FLAC, and the latest proprietary audio encodings (even finding OGG support is hard). The storage size is also an issue of change, 4G is cheap now but even last year it would have been a substantial portion of the $70 list price for the Bauhn headsets.

    The rate of change for the technical features (such as encoding methods) makes it a bad business idea for Bose to integrate it right now, my Bose headset will impress people in 4 years time but no MP3 player on the market will impress anyone by then. The rate of change of features for making things cheap with high capacity (which are as much issues of economies of scale as technical issues of design and manufacturing) is fairly steep. It seems that an integration between headphones (which barring accident should have a long lifetime) and an MP3 player (which will inherently be outdated periodically) is bound to disappoint users in some way.

  • Dave

    Sorry to hear of your issues Mal. It is possible that you have damaged the slot where the sd card goes in. Did you find the card slot spring to be working for insert and removal of the sd card ? Is you SD card formatted in FAT format ? I’m using a 2Gb sd card and it works just fine. The quality is not brilliant from Bauhn but it’s not terrible either. I would suggest you take them back to Aldi and take your mp3 card and batteries and try out a replacement set.

  • Dave

    I just tried putting some songs on the card in a folder. It’s playing them fine as well. It played the song outside the folder first then I clicked the forward button and it was paused on the folder, then after clicking the forward button again it played the songs in the folder (in alphabetical order).

  • Jason

    hi everyone, just bought a set from Aldi today. Not bad for the price. MP3 did not work on first attempt with 1gb card so i tried with 128mb card and hey presto!!!. when i went to start with 1gb card light flashed 3 times then nothing, with 128mb card no flashing occured. Sound quality is not to bad for MP3 and when using IPOD you can adjust with eq setting. Treble lacking on std setting but overcome this with treble boost setting on Ipod touch. rate them 7/10 Cheers

  • etbe

    Jason: Interesting point about the card size. It’s pretty common among many types of storage media for devices to have some limit as to the maximum size that they support. Some formats (such as CF) are well known to have particular size limits (I’ve seen devices that support no more than 4G and devices that support no more than 1G). So I guess that the Bauhn headsets have some sort of limit.

    It is pretty poor that they don’t even support 1G, 8G has been out for quite a while.

  • Mal

    That has to be it, I’ve tried with 1GB, 4GB and 8GB and so far it’s been an epic fail. Can’t get too many songs on a 128MB card. I’ll stick to using the cable and my own mp3 player. Thanks everyone for all the comments. :-)

  • Dave

    After reading some of you were having issues with your SD cards I thought I would test them out on other cards I have for my camera. I reformatted them and tried to play back some songs and, like others have said, they did not work. Both the 4GB and 8GB cards did not work.They are the HC (High Capacity) type and it looks like that is not supported. However my very cheap 2GB Kingston Sd card works just fine. I think I paid $8 for it some time ago at MSY so it a very cheap option for those who are having issues.

  • Mal

    I just tried with a standard 1GB SD card as all of the other cards I have are SDHC. Nada, I’ll have to get a 128MB card I guess.

  • marc

    hi i just bought a 4gb dicksmith sd card and it dosnt work dose the mp3 files have to be in a sertain format ???? quick reply would be great :)

  • Phil

    Just got mine today and as usual minus the instruction manual,can anyone tell me if there is a manual on line please.

  • Pat

    I struggled get the mp3 player to work. The only advice I got from Customer Service was that 2 gig was the max supported card size.
    I tried many things, including formatting the card (with 32k sectors), but nothing worked. Then I formatted the card with Default sector size, and it worked! I suspect the default was 32k, but for some reason it worked.

    Then I discovered how bad the user interface was. Every time you switch on you go to the first song, and the only way to get to, say, the 300th song, is to listen for 15 hours or to click Next 300 times, or click Previous for X – 300 times, where X is the number of songs on your card.
    For easy navigation you need to have several cards, each with no more than about 100 songs.

  • Phil

    Definitely an issue with the format of the SD card.
    It HAS to be FAT (Default) on mine to work. Not FAT 32 or NTFS…they completely stuff up on the BAUHN.

    Once you format the SD card to FAT, it starts working fine.

  • Dave

    I have recently returned back from a trip to USA and found the headphones worked very well. They are comfortable to wear them for many hours at a time and they definitely block out a decent amount of aircraft noise.