The sound of silence
Chris Frankland listens to the first range of wireless, noise-cancelling headphones from Bose and talks to its global headphones chief about the company and its rapid growth.
I am enjoying a Bonnie Raitt song on the new Bose Quiet Comfort 35 headphones and as I am prompted on the nearby screen to remove them, I get the full effect of the Boston subway train noise blasting down from the speaker above me.
I put them back on and as quickly as the noise appeared, it is gone again. An impressive demonstration of one of a range of new noise-cancelling headphones from Bose at its recent central London launch event.
Bose has a long history of noise-cancelling technology. Founder Dr Amar Bose conceived the idea during a transatlantic flight when listening to music playing on his headphones, which was marred by aircraft noise. It was not until 1989 that the first commercial product appeared, although its first application was in military and aviation headsets – a market it is still active in today.
But this is the first time that Bose has incorporated noise-cancelling technology into wireless headphones.
Each model incorporates microphones that measure outside noise and send the data to two proprietary digital chips – one for each ear. These produce a noise-cancelling signal in less than a fraction of a millisecond.
In addition to the around-ear Quiet Comfort 35, the range also includes the in-ear Quiet Control 30 in-ear. With these, the user can control just how much noise-cancelling they want using a simple slider on their smartphone app or a button on the in-line controller.
When I tried it, I was struck by how, as I increased the degree of noise-cancelling, nuances in the music emerged that were previously swamped.
As Bose points out, it is particularly appropriate to offer this feature in the in-ear model as this is most likely to be used by those walking, jogging, cycling or doing whatever outdoor activity they choose.Users can turn down the noise-cancelling to stay more aware of their surroundings.
Completing the range are the SoundSport and SoundSport Pulse models. Aimed more at the sportier user who enjoys music while they are working out, the SoundSport features eartips that are said to stay put. This model also offers a wireless range of 10 metres, if you don’t want your smartphone with you while you’re training. Battery life is six hours for the SoundSport and five for the Pulse model.
The final model launched by Bose is the SoundSport Pulse, which is the same as the SoundSport except for the fact that it includes a heart-rate monitor in the earpiece. It is also said to be compatible with fitness apps such as Runkeeper and Endomondo.
All models also feature new EQ circuitry that adjusts the low and high frequency balance, so that when you turn the sound down, you don’t lose all the bass.
Retail prices will be £289.95 for the QC35, £229.95 for the QC30, £139.93 for the SoundSport and £169.95 for the SoundSport Pulse.
The QC35 and the SoundSport were available for pre-order from June 5, while the QC30 and SoundSport Pulse will roll out in September.
‘Innovation is the heart of our business…’
In an exclusive interview, Bernice Cramer, head of Bose’s global headphones business, talks about the company, how it has grown and what drives it
Q: What has driven Bose to grow from a US-centric niche speaker manufacturer to a major global player in multiple sectors?
Bernice Cramer: A lot of what has driven Bose’s expansion has been consumers. At first, we were very US-centric and in Europe we mostly went through distributors. Gradually, as more and more consumers were asking for our products, our business grew. Not so long ago, a lot of our business in Europe was home theatre and now headphones and Bluetooth speakers are the biggest categories for us in Europe.
Q: How are sales split around the world?
BC: Asia Pacific has recently become a big market for us. The US is still our biggest market. Over the past five years, Europe has grown really fast for us and continues to grow fast, even when the economy hasn’t been all that great.
Q: Did the move to advertise and sell the Wave Radio direct help to boost Bose’s brand awareness?
BC: Over the years, we’ve had one of two categories that we sold direct or mostly direct. The Wave Radio was one and the noise-cancelling headphones were originally only sold direct. It certainly is true that on products we have sold direct, you can measure the advertising more easily and it has allowed us to invest in marketing. I think that did help us to increase our brand awareness. Now, all our products are sold in all channels.
Q: In the UK, the independent retail channel is very much behind the brand…
BC: They are very important customers for us. Each channel has its role in the overall mosaic, but in the independents, the shop-in-shops, you can get the most in-depth demonstrations, especially for some of our home-theatre products – you can’t get that any place else.
Q: Bose has always been a transducer specialist, do you still have all manufacturing and R&D?
BC: All R&D is in house. Our biggest R&D centre is in Framingham, Massachusetts, where we are headquartered, but we also have other centres in Malaysia, Mexico and China. Most of those in Malaysia and Mexico are attached to manufacturing plants. It makes sense to do the R&D for a product in the place where it is going to be manufactured. All design is in-house, but manufacturing is divided – some is done internally in Bose’s own factories, some with outside partners.
Q: Is innovation still the key driver for the company?
BC: It is 100 per cent the key driver. Everything we do is rooted in innovations. We have 10,500 employees globally and we have a large number in R&D – it is the heart of our business. Dr Bose famously asked the person leading the noise-reduction technology group how much we’d spent before it became a commercial product. The answer was more than $50m. Dr Bose replied that if this was a public company, he’d have been fired many times over. He always said that if you see someone doing something that you think is impossible, don’t disturb him – let him finish. He always said about the noise-reduction technology that if it’s really, really hard to do, that’s wonderful, because no one is going to copy it.