Bose QuietComfort 15 vs. JH Audio 13

Michał ‘mina86’ Nazarewicz | 25 maja 2014

A few years back I bought Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones. It was around the time I discovered just how noisy things can get at the altitude of around 10 km. QC15s turned out to be a life saver making an unbearable flights slightly more bearable.

A few months ago I decided to risk substantial amount of money and got custom-made JH Audio in-ear monitors (or IEMs), model JH13 Pro — the risk was especially big since, for obvious reasons, they couldn’t be resold. Was it worth it?

Noise and comfort

My biggest worries were noise reduction and comfort.

QCs use active noise cancellation to deliver isolation of up to 40 dB. Even though JH13s don’t have such a feature, JH Audio still promises 26 dB noise reduction. I’ve tested both on board of a metal can flying in the sky. It wasn’t rigorous, but it has shown IEMs were better at blocking sound of the engines than Bose headphones. This should not be a surprise once one realises that according to InnerFidelity measurements QC15s are a bit selective at which frequencies are isolated at the level of at least 25 dB.

Regarding comfort, since all earphones I’ve ever used were low-end and relied on pressure imposed on the ear to stay inside of it, I was worried JHs would be uncomfortable to wear for long stretches of times. Fortunately, because they are custom-made, they sit neatly inside the ear without incurring significant discomfort. Since I got them, I use them for several hours every day with no complains.

This isn’t to say that Bose headphones aren’t comfortable — quite the opposite — but the IEMs have one advantage over QCs: they are much smaller. This means they allow their wearer more freedom in positioning their head, occupy less space when transporting, and can neatly hang from underneath the shirt rather then uncomfortably wrapping the neck.

Sound quality

As far as sound quality goes, I didn’t notice significant differences. This isn’t to say that there are none. Obviously, objectively speaking the monitors are better, but for someone without a good ear, the difference should be negligible.

Another way to look at it is that audiophiles won’t settle for anything less than Roxanne anyway. And even though I may be exaggerating, the fact of the matter is that any number of reviews will say that if sound quality is a concerned, Bose is not the best option.

Miscellaneous

A minor advantage of JHs is that flight attendants often let me wear them during take-off and landing, while getting grumpy about full size headphones. As a side note, it is interesting to notice people often assume I can hear them over my IEMs, which is rarely the case. The confusion is of course quickly resolved once I notice their lips moving.

And of course one cannot forget that QC15s require a battery to function. This is a minor annoyance, and it is enough to carry a handful of rechargeable batteries in the case the headphones come with, but I felt compelled to mention it.

On the other hand, because they have higher impedance than JH IEMs, more low volumes are achievable on the former then the latter (if things like phones are used as the source). This wouldn’t be worth noting if it wasn’t for the fact that the former deals with noise on the line better. On one of my flights there was a constant high-frequency sound when I plugged my IEMs into the entertainment system, but with QCs I could get rid of it by increasing the volume and thus increasing signal-to-noise ratio.

Bottom line

Ultimately it comes down to price. I like my new JH13 IEMs better than my old QC15s and can safely recommend them to anyone with enough money, albeit 1 100 USD is a lot of cash.

Some alternatives include 400 USD JH5 Pro IEMs or a 280 USD QuietComfort 20 in-ear headphones, which are actually cheaper than 300 USD QC 15, smaller and thus easier to carry, and apparently better at cancelling noise.