Brief: Passively isolating circumaural portable from Bose
Current Price: $160 from amazon.com
Build Quality (6.5/10): The Triport is mostly plastic and actually looks quite cheap up close. The headband seems to be the only metal bit and even that’s noticeably thinner than the one on the cheaper Maxell DHP-II. The plastic forks don’t inspire a whole lot of confidence, either. Pulling the pads aside slightly leaves unpainted plastic and the internal wiring in plain sight. Luckily, the strain reliefs are long and flexible so the thin and plasticky cabling is not too likely to go wrong. The unusually long cable is terminated with a 45-degree 3.5mm plug.
Comfort (9.5/10): The clamping force of the Bose is low and the cups are highly adjustable. The pads are extremely soft and the cloth headband is sufficiently supple. They can heat up a bit over time but are still very easy to wear for long stretches.
Isolation (7/10): The Triports seem to perform like closed headphones despite the small vents on the outside of the cups. Unfortunately, they don’t isolate as much as the harder-clamping memory foam pads of the JVC HA-S700 and Equation EP3070 but are still usable outside. Overall sound leakage is low.
Sound (7/10): Bose is much-maligned around head-fi as a brand but the original Triport AE, I feel, could have been a fairly popular headphone under another brand name. The cheapest circumaural Bose model certainly isn’t without flaws but it puts up an enjoyable – though not necessarily photorealistic – performance in most areas. I was expecting a Monster Beats by Dre – like level of bass dominance and poor clarity but the AE is quite well-balanced and surprisingly clear. There is a bit of bass boost but the low end is hardly overblown. While it rolls off quickly past about 35Hz, the bass is punchy and fairly well-controlled next to bottom-heavy sets like the Maxell DHP-II, which is noticeably deeper and more powerful but also sounds boomy and overly full next to the Bose.
The midrange transition is smooth and bass bleed is minimal. The mids are surprisingly clear and detailed – certainly a step above those of the Maxell DHP-II. In contrast to so many other consumer-oriented sets I’ve come across, the Bose errs on the thin side when it comes to note thickness and has a brighter overall tone. Even next to the HD25-1, the Triport sounds a bit trebly, which accentuates the already-decent clarity of the drivers. There is a bit of unevenness at the top end but the treble is relatively controlled and none of the peaks are particularly sharp. The treble extends surprisingly well but does lack a bit of texture overall, which gives the Triports a glassy, shimmery sound. The Maxell DHP-II, which is significantly darker in tone, is both smoother and more textured than the Triport. While its sound is not as energetic and lively as that of the Bose, it is also a bit less fatiguing for prolonged listening sessions. Neither headphone is a model of neutrality but for different flavors of highly colored sound, they work well enough.
My biggest issue with the Bose aside from the sonic coloration is undoubtedly the presentation. The drivers of the headphones are angled to make the earcups more compact and the resulting imaging just doesn’t work for me. Certain things are positioned way too far towards the rear of the sonic image, causing the Bose to lack sufficient forward projection. Instrumental separation and layering are decent but not particularly realistic – the Triport seems to exaggerate positioning cues and doesn’t image consistently over its medium-sized stage. A lot of the time it is quite forward, which works fairly well with the energetic sound, but then the positioning of some cues is exaggerated to create a false sense of dimensionality, which can be unsettling with familiar recordings. Interestingly, they sound a bit more realistic if I unseal the earcups and angle the drivers closer to the standard orientation in relation to my ears.
Value (7.5/10): With the release of the new AE2, the price of the original Triport has finally dropped into a bracket more in line with its capabilities. The headphone does offer superb comfort and decent isolation from external noise but is let down by the mediocre build quality and sound that doesn’t quite cut the grade for the steep MSRP. For such an oft-maligned model, however, the AE1 has surprisingly good clarity and better overall balance than the Beats by Dre, the dreadfully bassy Klipsch Image One, and a multitude of other consumer-oriented cans. In fact, I prefer the balance of the Bose to that of the Marshall Major and Soundmagic P30, as well as host of other sets more or less well-liked around Head-Fi. The downsides are the sonic coloration, which results mostly from the bright treble and mediocre texture, and strange positioning tendencies, which likely result from the angled drivers. All in all, the Triport is not exactly hi-fi and even at the current, reduced prices it is possible to do better for the money when prioritizing sound quality. Taking into account the lightweight, comfortable, circumaural form factor, however, the Bose AE1 is not the worst way to spend $100.
Frequency Response: N/A
Impedance: 32 Ω
Sensitivity: 97 dB SPL/1mW
Cord: 4.92ft (1.5m); Angled Plug
Space-Saving Mechanism: N/A