Bose Cold Comfort

About six years ago, I purchased a $300 pair of Bose Quiet Comfort 2 noise-cancelling headphones. I can never sleep on long flights and thought they would help (I’m not keen on noise in general). I’ve been pleased with them; they are not the best headphones ever but they perform as advertised (they allow one to listen to the often lame in-flight movie without cranking the volume up so far that deafness ensues).
Last week, I picked them up (literally, just lifted them off the table) and a small plastic piece that holds the headband split in half. These have been all over the world, but I take good care of things and they’re not abused. The broken piece is put together with screws and looked like it should be a fairly simple repair; so I contacted Bose customer service:

I have a QC2 headset; the plastic piece above the left ear-cup (the piece with the patent information) has just suddenly split in two. Is there a way I can order this as a part or would the whole thing need to be sent in for repair? It looks like it could be user-replaced (however, I suppose the cabling would have to be disconnected somehow in the process).

They replied:

We are sorry to hear about the issue you are experiencing with your Bose® QuietComfort® 2 headphones.

The headphones carry a one-year Limited Warranty when purchased from Bose or an authorized Bose reseller and are not factory or user-serviceable. We would like to assist in providing a solution for you…

I was confused by their response and assumed this was a typo:

...How do you mean that they are neither factory or user serviceable?

So they clarified:

...Thank you for responding with the requested information. As previously mentioned, the headphones carry a one-year Limited Warranty when purchased from Bose or an authorized Bose reseller and are not factory or user-serviceable.

You may trade your QC™2 headphones for a brand new set of QuietComfort 2 headphones for $100 (US dollars) or a brand new set of QuietComfort 3 headphones for $150 (US dollars); state and local taxes may apply. Replacement headphones come with a new one-year warranty.

Yes, according to Bose, there is no way to repair these headphones even though they work as they did when purchased. The only problem is that they won’t stay on my head with the small plastic piece broken. The only option I would have is to bin these and purchase a new pair:

So, thanks for the offer, but I can’t see the sense in tossing out a perfectly functional set of headphones because a small plastic piece failed on them (something seems quite amiss when a product can be repaired but is instead just sent to the rubbish). I will just try to superglue it back together instead. I have a pair of pro Sony headphones with fully replaceable components; why can you not say the same for a pair of headphones that cost three times as much?

I see now, from a quick internet search that this is a common problem with the QC2 (I had assumed this was just a freak failure) and that you have intermittently replaced the faulty product with a new one. I have been very pleased with these headphones and have disputed with several people the stereotype that Bose makes ‘overpriced boutique crap’ as my experience, to this moment, was positive.

They assumed that I was asking for a new pair of headphones to replace my broken pair:

...Now, I understand that $100 is a lot of money for a product that should not have broke. I do feel bad about the situation and want to see if we can keep you as a Bose customer. You have owned them for about 5-6 years according to one of your earlier responses. Is this correct? If so, I would like to pose a question to you. What do you feel would be a fair price to receive a brand new pair of headphones that broke after 5-6 years? Please keep in mind that I can’t give away brand new product for free and we certainly don’t want to devalue the product in any way. After all, we presume that the headphones have given you many years of enjoyment aside from the issue with them at this time. Please let me know what you fee would be a fair price to receive a brand new pair of headphones that broke after 5-6 years if you do not feel that $100 is an acceptable cost to pay for headphones which cost $299.99 and have functioned properly for most of the time you have owned them.

To which I replied:

My point is not that I would expect to receive a new pair of headphones; it is that, having spent $300 on a pair of headphones, I would think it reasonable that minor damage to them would be reparable. You tout your products as premium Hi-Fi gear and should back them as such. The clientele that your marketing targets are a step above the ‘disposable consumer goods’ demographic and expect a bit more return here. We have mechanical cameras that can stay in service beyond our lifetimes and 30 year old stereo gear in good repair. We aren’t expecting a pair of headphones to last forever; but, barring some catastrophic damage, they should last more than five. It’s not a matter of the money per se, it’s just a waste and the whole concept that things are apparently designed without the option of repair (you are, in effect, saying these are $300 dollar disposable headphones; I would challenge you to note this in the marketing that, after the warranty expires, should anything happen to the product, it must be replaced…as a consumer, what would be your response to this?)

So I glued and gaffer taped them back together; we shall see how that holds. We must get beyond this ‘disposable everything’ culture; we can’t afford it (at any level) anymore. This is a shame as I really don’t think that Bose makes ‘overpriced boutique crap’; but, as I said in the e-mail, they have to take this one step further and actually back their products with service.

As a postscript on this, I purchased a pair of Etymotic Research in-ear monitors last year and find they provide better isolation from noise than the Bose (plus they wrap up into the palm, have no batteries, and can be worn on the street).