At 36,000 feet, the cabin of the Boeing 767-300 was as quiet as a library.
The Quiet Comfort 3 headphones from Bose Corp., priced around $350, banished the bad noise.
But at that cost more than some Apple Computer IPods, and much more than your average portable CD player it might be worth asking why one would pay the price.
I learned why on a flight to Munich. Sitting in the rear of the plane, I was joined by the usual assemblage of boisterous children, jovial types and other sounds.
Slipping on the headphones and flicking a switch on the right side, I could concentrate on reading, or resting, with great ease. It was a tremendous blessing.
Attach the included sound cable and hook the headphone up to either an airplane's audio system or your own computer or music device and the silence is replaced with concert-hall quality sound.
Listening to the in-flight version of XM Radio's "Top Tracks," I heard details and nuances in the songs that I'd not heard before, just as I do when listening to an Apple MacBook's audio and ITunes.
Now, granted, the silent mode isn't absolute; I could hear the "ping" of aircraft announcements, and I am aware of what's going on around me. But if I crank up the volume, the rest of the world slips away. Maybe a little too much: They worked so well at blocking other sound that I missed an announcement, albeit not a critical one.
As to how it works, let's start with the small battery in the right headphone that needs to be charged before use. That battery powers tiny microphones in the headset that let the device figure out what noise you want to hear and the noise you don't. The headphones then generates a "correction signal" that teams with the passive noise reduction of the headset to make the listening experience as good as possible.
The major difference between these headphones and the earlier QuietComfort 2 model is in how they fit your ears. The QC2 headphones fit over one's ears, while the new models rest on the ears. The QC3s are smaller and lighter as a result. Bose says it is still selling the QC2s, at $299.
On this flight from Munich to Washington Dulles International Airport, I had the QC3 headphones on for about four hours, maybe five, and they worked perfectly reducing noise so I could sleep, or letting me listen to the audio for "The Family Stone" movie, or to ITunes songs. It's an amazing experience.
The headphones come with a very nice travel case; a plug-in recharger for the headphone battery, and a special adapter plug for some in-flight audio systems. I needed the adapter on this flight, but not the outbound run.
You'll also need an electrical outlet adapter for countries outside North America, which can generally be found in travel stores.
If you travel, or need to do things with audio that require concentration and crisp detail, it would seem that these headphones are worth having.
Yes, the price tag is impressive, but if you haven't used these headphones before, you'll be amazed at the quality. There's a reason, I suspect, that Apple Computer uses Bose headphones in their retail stores to demo IPods, and having used these, I believe I know it: Bose headphones rock. Or can do classical, jazz, hip hop, etc. They're very good, and very cool.