The context 

How do you silence your mother-in-law? Or mother, for that matter? Actually, this question could apply to any Indian home where an assorted—and rather ridiculous—number of people lob questions and instructions at you at will. The cook wants to know if she can substitute curry leaves with coriander leaves. The dhobi wants to know if you can buy “Ala-blue" for clothes. The courier company has been ringing the doorbell since dawn. The iron man wants to know when he should deliver the next batch of clothes. 

For any Madame who runs said home, the only options are to snarl-at-sight or play ostrich, which is where active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones come in. For any harassed Indian surrounded by this continuous din, headphones are not a luxury, they are the last resort and refuge. 

Noise-cancelling headphones aren’t new. There are several options for the silence-seeker: Sennheiser Momentum Wireless, Beats Studio Wireless, the Parrot Zik 3, and Sony H.ear are all choices. Bose Quiet Comfort is the gold standard. 

Recently, I came across some new ones by a Swedish firm called Vain Sthlm and decided to test them against the Bose. A face-off between the icon and the upstart: the Bose Quiet Comfort 35 versus the Vain Sthlm Commuter headphones. 

Once you get past how to pronounce the brand—it is Vain Stockholm— the question is whether these commute headphones from a new Swedish brand can stand up to the boss of ANC that is Bose. 

First, the similarities. Both of these are over-ear wireless bluetooth headphones. This means that they cover your ears instead of snuggling awkwardly into them. Both offer noise cancellation to varying degrees. Put them on and you can retreat into a fantasy world where Benjamin Clementine is crooning into your ear instead of nagging spouses, haranguing in-laws, cawing crows, screeching squirrels, plopping milk packets, mooing cows and complaining relatives. 

Like any good dominatrix, neither of these brands offer too many choices. 

The Bose comes in two colours: black and silver. The Vain Sthlm’s names are more poetic. There are two shades of gray: misty gray and rail gray. And if you don’t know what rail gray is, you aren’t Scandinavian enough. For those who cannot differentiate between grays, there is slate blue instead. 

Both of these double as telephone headphones. You can speak and answer calls, record voice messages, dictate into software and command Siri or Cortana if you so desire. Both have a range of 10 metres, but both click and clack if you live in a crowded house with multiple objects, almost as if the sound is bouncing around. 

Both have wires that connect to audio devices without using bluetooth. Both are rechargeable—it takes about two hours to recharge. The charge lasts 12 hours for the Van Sthlm and 20 hours for the Bose. The standby charge, however, which is when you use the headphones intermittantly seems much longer in the Van Sthlm—about a month between charges. 

Both pair easily and quickly with multiple devices. The Bose does one nifty thing though. It can be simultaneously paired with two devices. In other words, if you are streaming audio from your iPad and your iPhone rings, the headphones will automatically pause the music, answer the call, and then turn the music back on after the call is finished. 

Now, to the differences. 

The Quiet Comfort 35 

Bose headphones are popular in India. The Quiet Comfort 35 is heavier, broader and sturdier than the earlier QC25. The technology is complicated. Two microphones inside each earcup capture unwanted sound into two proprietary digital chips that then subdue extraneous noises via a digital equalizer. Every sound is subjected to an equal and opposite subduer. All this happens in a fraction of a millisecond so that all that is audible is the sound of music. And the sound is phenomenal: clear, distilled out and shorn of noise. If you want high quality immersive sound, you cannot go wrong with the QC35s. 

The QC35 runs for 20 hours on one charge and much longer if you use intermittantly and turn it off after use. 

The quibble that most people point to is that the QC35 does not support aptX: a codec—device or programme that enables high-quality data compression, which, in normal English, means that it gives a CD-like sound over Bluetooth. Other headphones, including the Van Sthlm Commute, support this. 

As devices go, the Bose QC35 offers better sound quality than the Commute. For sheer listening pleasure and comfort, you cannot beat this device. 

Available at Bose, Amazon and other retail outlets for $349.95. 

Van Sthlm Commute 

Brothers Mathias and Michael Klingvall grew up around the suburbs of Stockholm. One is a sound engineer and the other, a design maven. They created these headphones along with Lisa Minogue, a package designer. They are “vain about sound", they say, ergo the name. 

The packaging is nifty. The box has tiny magnets on the edges that cause the covers to close with a satisfying tap. This is one good-looking product. The headphones have little copper coloured dials and accents that stand out. 

Essentially, over-the-ear headphones are judged by three qualities: how comfortable they are, how good they look, and how well they sound. If they are Bluetooth headphones, the battery power also is important. 

In this last regard, the Commute headphones really score. I have used them for weeks—literally three weeks now—to answer my phone and listen to music without recharging. Admittedly, I am not a high intensity user. But I frequently leave them “running" without turning them off. The neat thing is that they turn themselves off once the device is out of range. 

The Commute headphones are available for €127.20 from http://vainsthlm.com. 

 The verdict 

The Vain Sthlm Commute headphones may well be the most gorgeous headphones you own. They have Swedish style and functionality. The only problem is if you wear them continuously for too long; on a 10-hour flight from New York to Dubai, for example. When worn for long durations, they compress tight, causing your head to hurt. Take a respite from wearing these headphones continuously. 

The Bose offers exactly what its name says. It is quiet, comfortable and offers better sound. It is not as good-looking though. Plus, you are paying over double for what is essentially a slightly better product. 

If you are on a budget and like design and style, pick the Van Sthlm Commute. 

If you want a recognized name and brand leader and are willing to shell out a higher price for it, you cannot go wrong with the Bose Quiet Comfort 35.

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