Over the past couple of years, I’ve reviewed quite the assortment of headphones. From in-ear to over-ear, from wired to Bluetooth, I’ve had all sorts of headphones on my head and in my ears. Some of them wowed me, while others left me less than impressed. Needless to say, my standards are pretty high when I’m sent new headphones to test and review, but I was pretty darn pleased with the Bose SoundLink II Over-Ear Wireless Headphones.
I’m a big believer in the “less is more” design philosophy in almost all aspects of my life. I mean, why do you need 18 throw pillows on a couch, or endless knick-knacks on a shelf, or extraneous buttons on electronics? Thankfully, true to Bose’s understated design standards, the SoundLink II Headphones were right up my alley. Featuring a matte black surface with a subtle blue accent and very few flourishes outside of the Bose logo on the outside of each ear cup, the SoundLink II’s are all about function. They also come in a white version with tan accents.
The headphones themselves are ridiculously comfortable, featuring an adjustable headband with a soft padded underside and two plush leather memory-foam equipped ear pads. Adding even more comfort to the mix is the fact that the ear cups themselves are oval, which is much more in line with the natural shape of most ears, so you don’t get any of the pinching that sometimes comes with circular ear cups.
Bose has also made it easy to determine which ear cup is which. Rather than noting the different sides with hard to find notations or microscopic letters that are virtually invisible to the aging eye, they’ve sewn a giant L and R on the cloth grilles on the inside of each respective ear cup. Thank you Bose!
All the controls for the SoundLink II headphones are located on the exterior of the right ear cup. The three-button headphone control allows you to play/pause a song, fast-forward and rewind, increase or decrease the volume, and answer and end phone calls. You can also use your mobile device’s buttons to change songs, adjust the volume and answer calls as well. Also on the right headphone is a micro USB input and a battery and Bluetooth indicator light.
The left ear cup features an input for a standard audio cable to connect a non-Bluetooth device, or if the headphone battery is depleted.
As far as power is concerned, it is controlled by a switch on the outside of the right ear cup, which to be honest, I’m not a fan of. I’m not entirely sure why Bose chose to make it so prominent when the switch could have easily been included alongside the rest of the headphone controls. Not a big deal, but I feel like it takes away from the sleek look of the headphones overall.
To “set up” the Bose SoundLink II Headphones, I simply followed the instructions and connected the headphones to my laptop via the micro USB cable supplied in the box and waited about two hours for the green indicator light to shine brightly. Then it was time to pair them with my smartphone, which was exceptionally quick. I simply flipped the “Power/Bluetooth” switch on the outside of the right ear cup to “up,” turned Bluetooth on on my phone and waited for “Bose AE2 SoundLink to appear in my list of devices. A quick tap, and I was good to go.
The only part of the set up process that I wasn’t a fan of was how short the supplied USB cable is. Granted, if you aren’t working on your computer/laptop while charging the SoundLink II headphones, it isn’t an issue, but when you ARE working, the headphones are kind of in the way.
Sound & Usage
I’m not embarrassed to admit it, but I am loving Justin Beiber’s new music. Don’t judge me–you know you like it too. So I thought why not break these headphones in with a little What Do You Mean. I was immediately impressed with the sound quality. The pint size pop-star’s voice was crystal clear and the bass was intense enough that I could almost feel it in my chest.
I then had some work to do, so switched over to Songza and to my favourite instrumental guitar channel, which is my go-to for when I need to concentrate. The SoundLink II did not disappoint. I felt like the guitarists were serenading me in my living room while I worked my magic in PowerPoint. The sound emanating from the ear cups was rich and clear and, for lack of a better word, inspiring.
Over the course of a few days I wore the SoundLink II’s doing everything from commuting to and from work on the bus, to grocery shopping, to watching TV on my iPad, to working at a coffee shop (aka my local pub). Outside of the sound quality being fantastic, here’s what I found:
- Depending on how loud I had my music playing, people around me could hear it. As a user of public transit, I know how annoying it can be to hear other people’s music when you are on your way to work, so I was very conscious of keeping the volume down to respectable levels when I was out in public.
- On more than one night I put the SoundLink II’s on at bedtime to listen to some calming tunes to lull me to sleep. Each night I managed to fall asleep and either wake up with the headphones still on, or take them off without remembering doing so. That tells me that their comfort level is pretty epic.
- The headphone controls are finicky and take some getting used to. To play or pause a song, you press the middle button once, to fast forward, you press twice and to rewind, you press three times. I still don’t have the knack of it, but I’m sure that would come over time.
Another thing to note is that the headphones go into “hibernation” mode after 20 minutes of inactivity. While I wasn’t able to find any documentation to support what happened to me, it makes sense that after, say 8 hours of inactivity, you need to re-pair the SoundLink II headphones with your Bluetooth device. I was on my way home from work on the bus, put the headphones on and pressed play on one of my playlists, but I couldn’t understand why the volume button wasn’t working. No matter how many times I pressed “up” volume on the headset or directly on my phone, I could barely hear the music. As it turns out, I wasn’t connected to Bluetooth, so everyone on the bus got about 25 seconds of Ellie Goulding’s new single before I figured out what was wrong. Today’s lesson: with any Bluetooth device, make sure you’re connected before you annoy those around you.
I only received one call while I had the SoundLink II headphones on, and it lasted about four seconds, so to accurately test this functionality, I called my dad. He immediately asked me why I wasn’t watching the news (I called him at 6pm), so after I told him I had every intention of watching the late night news, he then conceded that he could hear me perfectly fine on his end. On my end however, he was a little muffled, almost as if I was calling him overseas. I then asked him to call me, and answering the call was a breeze! I was notified by the robotic voice that I had a call coming in from “MUHM AND DAD,” pressed the Pause/Play/Answer button, and we chatted easily for several minutes while I wandered around my apartment asking “can you hear me now?” The Bose SoundLink II has dual microphones–one on each ear cup–that I think explains the relative clarity that came with these phone calls.
One thing I expected the SoundLink II Headphones to be equipped with was some level of noise isolation or cancellation, but that isn’t the case, which was somewhat disappointing. To be fair, the only real time I noticed the lack of this feature was when I was in my coffee shop (ahem, pub) and even at a decent volume level, I could still hear all the going-ons around me. I was actually more productive when I removed the headphones and just let the background noise of the restaurant lull me into a state of concentration.
Overall, the Bose SoundLink II Around-Ear Wireless Headphones are fantastic. They are very likely the most comfortable around-ear headphones I’ve ever worn, and the sound quality is phenomenal. These are also the first Bluetooth headphones I’ve reviewed that didn’t “stutter” or “skip” while streaming music to them, which actually made me forget they were Bluetooth!
Add to that the fact that a full charge gives you about 15 hours of playback, taking and making calls is a breeze, and that there are no wires to contend with, and these headphones are ideal to tote with you wherever you go.
In my opinion, the only “cons” of the SoundLink II headphones were that they weren’t noise isolating or cancelling, that the headphone controls are a little finicky and hard to get used to–sometimes I thought I was fast forwarding, then a new song would come on–, and the micro USB cable could be several inches longer. And let’s be honest, outside of the noise cancelling, the other two “cons” are by no means deal breakers.
All in all, I’d give these headphones a solid 4.5 out of 5.