Solitude Noise Cancelling Headset
Plane Quiet's new
top of the line active
noise cancelling headphones
Plane Quiet's new Solitude headset looks very different
to all their present and past models, and give a clearly
heard improvement in noise cancelling.
Part 10 of a series on noise
reducing headphones -
click for Parts One
Bose must now be wishing they
didn't force Plane Quiet to take their earlier Mk 5 headphones
off the market (due to a claimed patent infringement).
Plane Quiet's response has
been three fold. They immediately countered with a
differently designed headset (the NC6) which is priced less and
performs better than their earlier product.
They then followed this up
with a second product, priced even lower still, although this
second product (the Latitude) does not perform as well as either
the Mk 5 or NC6.
And now, Plane Quiet delivers
the coup de grace to Bose, with their new top of the line
The release of the Solitude
represents such a major development that we've devoted a great
deal of space in discussing everything to do with this marvelous
new product, and so this has become the longest review yet in
our noise reducing headphones series.
Some of you might want to
skip much of the review and cut to the bottom line question -
are the headphones any good or not, and should you buy them?
Yes, the Solitude
headphones, priced at $200, are very good indeed. In terms
of noise cancelling and sound quality, they are almost
indistinguishable from the $300 Bose Quiet Comfort 2 headphones,
and clearly better than the next best headphones (the $55 Plane
Quiet NC6 and $70 Noisebuster NBFX).
The $55 NC6 is a great
priced good performing product, and if your budget is set around
this number, you'll be happy with the NC6. But if you're
prepared to spend more to get an improvement in noise cancelling
that you'll clearly hear, then choose the Solitude over the
Bose. There seems little or no tangible associated
benefit for the extra $100 cost of the Bose unit.
For more detail, please keep
Plane Quiet's Evolution
Plane Quiet first released a
set of noise reducing headphones in May of 2003. It was a
revolutionary unit back then, offering performance only slightly
less than the Bose Quiet Comfort 1 product, and at little more
than a quarter the Bose price.
This product went through a
series of small evolutionary improvements, getting steadily
better, and becoming more broadly known and appreciated in the
marketplace. At the same time, Bose upgraded their
headphones to the much improved Quiet Comfort 2, and new
competitors started to enter the market, offering a steadily
increasing range of headset choices.
And then, disaster seemed to strike. Bose
claimed that the Plane Quiet headset violated some of their
patents and in a negotiated settlement, PQ agreed to take their
product off the market.
However, PQ did not simply
turn away from developing headphones. Instead, they came out with a
replacement product, using a different physical design to avoid
the Bose patent, and
called the NC-6, released in August of 2004.
This was initially a
controversial product. At first glance, it looks very
similar to several other brands of noise reducing headphones,
many of which were priced below the NC-6. Some people quickly assumed
that because the headphones looked similar from the outside,
they must therefore be the same on the inside, and perform
exactly the same.
Our testing has clearly showed this is
not the case, and indeed Plane Quiet themselves also
demonstrated this fact when they introduced a lower priced,
similar appearing product in November 04, the Latitude.
Moral of the story : Don't judge a book by its cover.
Although the NC-6 was (and
is) an excellent performing set of headphones, and generally
better in most respects to the earlier Mk 5, it lacked a certain
aura of panache and quality, probably due to the many similar
seeming competitors in the market. Many people
were still choosing to spend $300 on a pair of Bose Quiet Comfort 2
headphones rather than $55 on an almost as good set of NC-6
And now, we see the Plane
Quiet response to the absolute top end of the market, appearing
in the form of their Solitude noise cancelling headphones.
With the release of this
headset, Plane Quiet now offer three different products covering
every part of the active noise cancelling market :
High end product. Around the ear design, highest quality and performance
(review follows below)
NC-6 ($54.99) Mid
market product. On the
ear design, very good quality and performance (reviewed
Entry level product. Similar design to NC-6,
something for the kids to play with (not separately reviewed
but mentioned in passing in the NC-6 review)
The Solitude Active Noise
Cancelling Headset - what you get
The Solitude noise
cancelling headphones are shipped in a good strong outer
shipping box. Inside is an attractive black and silver box
with embossed printing. The box has some basic product
information and pictures on it.
Inside the product box is
a woven nylon semi-rigid zip up carry case, and inside the carry case are
the headphones themselves.
Carry Case Issues
First appearances are
important, particularly with a $200 product, and I have to say
that being confronted with the nylon carry case completely
failed to impress. It is unnecessarily big - when you
open it up, you discover that a large part of its bulk is taken
up with foam filling. If you're like me, space is at a
premium in your carry-on bag, and it seems strange to design a
set of headphones that do a brilliant job of compactly folding
up, and then squander their compact design by placing them in a
much larger carry bag. Bizarrely, Plane Quiet claim their
unnecessarily massive carry case has 'space saving attributes'.
Not in this universe.
The cut out foam insert is
in two pieces. One is a simple spacer/filler at the bottom
of the pouch which wouldn't be necessary if the pouch was not so
deep, and the other piece has a cut out bit in the middle into
which you're expected to place the headphones. To be
polite, the headphones fit 'snugly'. To be less polite,
the fit is too tight to allow for the headphones to easily be
placed in and out of the pouch.
The foam inserts are
loose, not glued in place. The good news is this means you
can easily throw them away; the bad news is that their looseness
makes it even harder to move the headphones in and out of the
Inside the lid of the carry
is a pouch in which the connecting cord, adapters, and
batteries can be found. The pouch doesn't have a zip
across its opening, and I'd worry that things could easily fall
out and get lost - particularly on a night flight, in the dark.
Suffice it to say that the
design of the carry case is very disappointing. However, if
you're like me, you didn't spend $200 to buy a carry case - you
spent it to buy the best possible set of noise reducing
headphones you could find. So let's continue our
The connecting cord is a
generous 5'1" long. It has gold plated standard 1/8"
connectors at each end - one plugs into a socket on the left ear
cup, and the other plugs into whatever sound source you are
listening to. If you're just using the headphones for
noise cancelling, you don't need to connect the cord at all.
This cord shows a
clear benefit of the Solitude compared to the Bose Quiet Comfort
2. A problem with the QC2 is that its connecting cord uses
a unique-to-Bose connector at the headphone end.
If you lose the cord, or if it becomes faulty, you can only get
a replacement from Bose. This is very inconvenient,
especially if you're traveling, and there seems no reason for
this, other than giving Bose more of your money. The
Solitude headset uses standard connectors at both ends, so
if you should ever lose or break the connecting cord, a
replacement can easily be purchased at any stereo or electronic
store. Well done, Solitude.
The unit comes with two
different adapters - one is the common adapter to convert from a
single jack to the double pronged jack used by some airlines,
and the other converts from the connector's standard 1/8"
diameter plug to the larger 1/4" plug used on professional
audio gear and home stereo systems.
Yes, the unit does come
complete with batteries - two alkaline AAA cells.
Also in the box is a user's
manual and warranty card.
The 20 page user manual does
an excellent job of explaining everything to do with the
headphones and their operation, although on the page
that quotes the headphones' specifications, no mention is made of
its noise cancelling capability (the box claims 18dB of noise
The warranty card contains
some interesting language and some onerous requirements.
The previous apparently unlimited lifetime warranty offered by
Plane Quiet on their other products has been replaced by what
they describe as a 'Limited Lifetime Warranty'. So what
are they limiting?
Well, a simple reading shows
their undertaking to
repair/replace defective parts 'within a reasonable period of
time' free of charge.
So how long is a 'reasonable
period of time'? Our interpretation was that this means
that the warranty is only good for a certain time period, but we
have been advised by email from James Dabbs, writing on behalf
of their EVP, David Dillinger, this actually means they will repair/replace the faulty unit within a reasonable
time of receiving it back. It does not mean (per Dabbs)
that the coverage period is restricted; they are simply
reserving the right to take more than a day or two to return
your headphones to you after receiving them back. That is
good to know.
Now for the onerous
requirements : To get warranty service, you need to
provide proof of purchase from an authorized Plane Quiet dealer.
If you're like me, you lose sales slips within a day of buying
something. And if you give a set of headphones as a gift
to someone, you probably don't include the sales slip with the
There do not appear to be
any serial numbers on the headphones, which makes this
requirement somewhat pointless, because a proof of purchase
can't be matched to a specific set of headphones.
Things get worse. If
you are returning the headphones to Plane Quiet, they require
you ship them in their original carton for shipping. Now,
what does that mean? Does it mean the flimsy black
printed box? Or the generic corrugated cardboard shipping
outer box? If it means the latter, what about people who
bought headphones direct from a retailer?
Well, PQ have thought about
that. They'll, ummm, sell you an official shipping box.
Now for an underlying
ugliness. Dabbs asserts that their warranty is limited to
only cover the original owner of the headphones, which is why
they seek proof of (original) purchase. Nowhere on the
warranty form does it say this, and we're asking Dabbs for
further information on how this assertion is supported.
An unusual - but valuable
- bonus feature of the Solitude is a membership in the
This gives you a distinctive numbered label
to place on the headphones (probably on top of the headband). If
you should lose your headphones, anyone finding them will notice
the label, which contains a tracking serial number, a toll free
number to call, and the promise of a reward to the finder.
You get a free one year
registration, and are required to fill out a fairly intrusive
form on Boomerang's site to get the product registered.
Surely Plane Quiet could link this data to their
warranty database so as to save their customers the hassles
mentioned in the previous section.
The Boomerang service helps increase the
likelihood that, should you leave your headphones behind - for
example on a plane at the end of a long flight - they might be
eventually returned back to you.
The Solitude active noise
cancelling headphones are designed to fold into a very
compact shape, as you can see on the left.
The headband splits in the
middle and rotates around, and the earcups have triple hinges,
making it possible to collapse the headphones into a very small
bundle. This is a definite plus compared to the Bose Quiet
Comfort 2, which does not have the hinged headband. The
headband hinge is quite strong and has a locking tab opposite
the hinge enabling it to firmly lock in its open position.
The headband has
faux-leather padding on either side of the central hinge.
This padding also means the hinge itself is kept away from your
The headphones have black
plastic and padding, with the ear cups being made
out of an attractive matt titanium colored plastic, with black center pieces
and the distinctive 'flash' emblem of the Plane Quiet family in
the center of each black center piece. The official
Solitude photo above implies the headphones are brown and black;
this is not the case, they are an attractive
titanium/gunmetal type color.
The headphones have a 7.9
ounce 'on the head' weight, and a total weight of 12.1 oz in
their carry case.
The two AAA batteries are
located in the left earcup and have a claimed life of 35 hours.
Opening the battery cover required quite a lot of force -
there's no danger of this accidentally opening in your bag.
A strong plus compared
to the Quiet Comfort 2 is the Solitude headphones will still play music if the batteries die. The volume level drops a
bit, and you only get passive not active noise cancellation, but
they are perfectly usable if your batteries die on you. In
my case, I've sometimes found that I've either forgotten to turn
off the power to a set of headphones, or perhaps the switch has
been bumped, turning it accidentally on, and so I find myself on
a plane with dead batteries. This is not such a problem
with the Solitude, and of course, a prudent person will keep a
spare set of batteries in their carry bag for 'just in case'.
At the bottom of the left
earcup is the socket into which you plug the connecting cord
when you want to use the headphones to listen to an audio source
rather than just using them for their noise quietening
Also on the side of the left earcup is a volume control, an on-off switch, and a green LED to
show the headphones are on.
The volume control is for
adjusting the volume level, and has no impact on the noise quietening. Normally it makes sense to
leave this at
maximum and to adjust the volume on your music source.
Using the volume control on the ear cup is not very convenient
and makes a lot of noise. But if you're listening to
something together with another person on a second set of
headphones, you can then balance the volume levels for both of
you by using these volume controls.
The On-Off switch is
reasonably well recessed so is less likely to be accidentally
turned on. The green LED shines quite brightly, and when
it reduces to a dim glow this signifies your batteries are
almost dead (the manufacturer says they have about 30 minutes
remaining) and should be replaced. This is not as helpful
as with the QC2, which causes its power LED to flash when there
are about 5 hours remaining - a better indicator and a more
generous advance warning.
Noise Cancelling Functionality
The Solitude noise reducing
headphones claim 18 dB of noise cancellation, which they say is
the highest of any set of headphones on the market.
In contrast, arch-rival Bose
is silent on how much noise cancellation their headphones offer.
How to measure noise
There is a great
deal more to measuring the extent of noise cancellation than is
suggested by quoting a
single figure. This is because all noise reduction methods
work with varying degrees of efficiency at varying frequencies
and volumes. Active noise cancelling works best with
moderate rather than very loud volumes, and with medium/low
frequencies rather than very low, or medium and high
So, when a manufacturer says
'18 dB of noise cancellation', they really need to back that
claim up with a published chart showing the noise cancellation
as a function of sound frequency (and perhaps sound volume,
too). Without that information, we can only guess at what
the manufacturer means, and this lack of precision (and great
difficulty in precisely evaluating) means that manufacturers
sometimes feel free to quote whatever number they feel like.
Accordingly, the actual
perceived level of noise cancelling will depend very much on
what type of noises you are surrounded by and trying to cancel
out. By happy coincidence, a large part of the noise on a
plane falls within that part of the sound spectrum that active
noise cancellation works well in. However, some other
noises (for example, human voices) tend to be outside the
range of effective noise cancelling, and are much less affected.
I've sometimes had readers
write to me, or post in the forum, saying that they tried a set
of noise reducing headphones which were useless. But
after questioning, it appears that they did not try the
headphones in an airplane. If you're buying noise reducing
headphones to improve your in-flight experience, it is
inappropriate to test them anywhere else, because their
functionality in other places may be totally different to their
functionality on a plane.
So; what does this all mean?
It means you're best advised to largely disregard any
manufacturer's claims for noise reducing, unless you see
comparative independent testing between their headphones and
other brands that you're also considering buying. Instead,
you need to compare them in the environment that you'll
predominantly be using them, which is why I do all my review
testing actually on planes (yes, I'm the crazy guy shuffling
half a dozen different sets of headphones on and off my head all
With all this as long winded
introduction, how do the Solitude headphones measure up?
Solitude's noise cancelling
I did a side by side
comparison between the Solitude and the Noisebuster NBFX/Plane
Quiet NC6 on a recent flight from Las Vegas to Seattle.
There was a clear
improvement in noise cancellation in the lower and mid ranges
with the Solitude. An engine droning noise in particular
must have lost at least 4dB and perhaps closer to 6dB (my guess,
I didn't have any measuring instrumentation with me).
Higher up the frequency band, as the noise cancelling effect
started to taper off, the differences weren't so marked,
although the Solitude seemed to also have better passive noise
cancellation outside of its active noise cancelling range.
This is an amazing
improvement over the already very good NC6/NBFX products.
So, to answer the question we all wonder - 'Will I hear the
difference between the $55 dollar headphones and the $200
headphones' the answer is a definite yes. If you can
afford and justify spending almost four times as much money to
get a better noise quieting experience, then go ahead and do so,
knowing that you definitely will be getting a better result for
your extra cash.
In simulated plane sound
environments on the ground, the Solitude seemed to very closely
track the Bose Quiet Comfort 2. Possibly - just barely
possibly - the Solitude might have been very slightly better
with some sound mixes. But even if one simply says the two
units are close to identical, this is a massive achievement and
something that I've been unable to say about any previous unit
when compared against the QC2's 'gold standard'.
So, to answer the other
question we all wonder - 'Will I hear the difference between the
$200 and the $300 headphones' the answer is 'No, you won't'.
In this case, there is almost no reason at all to consider the
Bose over the Solitude, and remembering Solitude's extra
features (still passes through music if the batteries are dead,
and an industry standard connecting cable), the Solitude would
seem to be the clear winner.
Comfort and Convenience
One of the distinctive
things about noise cancelling headphones is that you're more
likely to wear them for a longer time period than with regular
headphones, and so comfort issues become even more important
than with conventional headphones.
Many people think that 'on the ear' type headphones are inherently less comfortable
than 'around the ear' type headphones, due to the on the ear
design meaning the headphones are pressing against your
sensitive ear, rather than pressing against your less sensitive
skull. On the other hand, ear cups that completely enclose
the ear can make you feel hot and sweaty after a long time
whereas on the ear headphones might not seem so hot.
I've happily worn both types
of headphones for long international flights, and don't see a
huge difference between them, and suspect personal preference is
probably as much a factor as any absolute comfort issues.
The most distinctive comfort
component of these headphones is that they squeeze quite tightly
onto the sides of your head, appreciably more so than either the
QC2 or the earlier PQ Mk5. This was a deliberate design
decision, so as to make a very positive seal against your head, passively blocking
out as much background noise as possible.
This is not as uncomfortable
as one would expect, simply because there isn't much
sensation in your skull to feel this type of pressure.
The headphones sit securely
on your head (aided by their firm pressure) and while you're
aware of their presence, they are not awkward and you can
move your head the same as you always would without fear of
dislodging the headphones.
The longest I've worn a set
for, so far, is 'only' four hours. They were acceptably
comfortable for that length of time; I'll update this when I
have a chance to wear them for a longer time period.
In terms of convenience, the
headphones can fold very compactly, and are acceptably light
weight, making them easy to fit into your carry-on bag (but do
throw away the awful carry case they come with).
Other Observations and Issues
Excellent sound quality
Plane Quiet claim a
frequency response range from 20Hz - 20,000 Hz, but their claim
is meaningless because they omit the crucial detail of how many
dB plus or minus is used to measure the frequency response.
Happily, the quality of
sound from the Solitude headphones is excellent. Clean,
clear, and full bodied, with solid bass and clear treble, and
neither inappropriately dominating.
The first thing I noticed
was their excellent mid-range presence and distortion-free
clarity, meaning that I heard some background sounds on a piano
recital recording that I'd never noticed before. The sound
is warm and inviting rather than harsh or muffled.
One could hear the
percussive attack as individual hammers struck their notes in
the piano, and one could hear the timbre of the piano itself,
rather than having it masked by the coloration that is often
present in a cheap pair of headphones.
Sound levels were generous,
unlike some of the earlier Plane Quiet headsets. The sound
level drops when you turn off the noise cancelling, but still
remains adequately high.
Audiophiles will be pleased.
Sometimes intrusive hiss
Now for the not quite so
good news. Although the Solitude appears to be the equal
of the Bose in terms of sound quality, the background hiss
created by their noise cancelling circuitry is more apparent
than with the QC2, and is more akin to the more intrusive level
of the earlier Bose QC1.
The hiss has a different
coloration to it than the NC6/NBFX. It seems to cover a
broader spectrum, whereas the other headphones (which sound
identical to each other so I tend to use them interchangeably)
had a more pronounced higher frequency component.
In all cases, the hiss is
apparent in quieter environments, and detracts from the quality
of the music. But you can simply turn off the noise
cancelling in such cases and get the pure sound feed with no
added hiss at all (but not with the Bose which needs to have the
electronics on at all times to pass through any sound at all).
And, again in all cases, in
a noisy environment like a plane, the electronic hiss is
inconsequential compared to all the other noises surrounding you
and so it seems to disappear.
The obvious comeback on this
point is 'why would you use noise cancelling headphones in a
quiet environment?' - there is a degree of fairness in this
rhetorical question, but it is also fair to say that, no matter
what the environment, less added hiss is always better than
Where to Buy
The headphones can be
purchased direct from the manufacturer, Plane Quiet, at their
The headphones list for
$199.99. If you use the 'travelinsider' discount code,
you'll get a 5% discount off the list price.
Summary and Recommendation
After a couple of years of
giving Bose an increasingly intense amount of competition, it
seems that with this quantum leap ahead, Plane Quiet have, at
the least, drawn level with Bose in the performance stakes, and
may even have edged very slightly ahead.
When you factor in the $100
premium that Bose charges, and the slightly better ergonomic
features of the Solitude, it becomes a no-brainer to choose the
Solitude over the Bose every time.
If your comparison is not
with the $300 Bose but instead with the $55 Plane Quiet NC6,
your strategy becomes less clear. On the one hand, the
improved noise cancelling should be obvious to everyone.
But on the other hand, there is a huge jump in price between the
two products. If spending an extra almost $150 is
something you can conveniently do, then you'll probably choose
to do exactly this, and you'll be pleased with your decision.
But if you reason that you
could buy NC6 headsets for the entire family at the same cost as
a single pair of the Solitudes, and if you choose to do this
instead, you'll be pleased with the NC6 headsets, too.
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11 Feb 2005, last update
21 Jul 2020
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