Bose’s headphones have become famous for their active noise cancellation technology. The company recently launched the QuietComfort 35, its first wireless headphones with noise cancellation. We gave them a try, and emerged with a clear consensus
Bose is an established brand name when it comes to noise cancellation technology, especially headphones. Several weeks ago, Bose unveiled the QuietComfort 35 – QC35 for short – wireless headphones featuring the company’s well-known noise cancellation technology. So what are they like, and are they worth their astronomical price? We took them for a spin to find out.
What’s in the box
Immediately upon opening the box, we were impressed by the high-quality case the headphones come in. The padded hard-rubber construction allows you to take the headphones, their cables, and adaptors anywhere with ease, without worrying that they will be crushed inside the case.
Bose has included a standard charging cable that can be connected to the headphones with a MicroUSB connector, and to the power source with a USB connector; an audio cable that enables you to hear the sound with an ordinary wire connector (more on that later); and a useful adaptor for the two-pronged connector on most commercial airliners, which will enable you to hook up to the airplane’s own sound system.
Design and convenience
If there are any critiques to be said here, you at least can’t accuse the designers of being too creative. Except for very slight changes in the finishing and design, the QC35 is very similar to the older QC25. And that’s fine, because if the design isn’t broken, don’t fix it! The headphones themselves are very lightweight, weighing only 0.2 kg. Their connecting arc is made out of a high-quality flexible plastic with imitation leather padding that really feels comfortable on your head when you are using them. The headphones are also easy to wear, with a spongy material that is soft to the touch and rests well while enclosing your ears, further helping to block outside noises. The headphones also rotate on their axis, so that the comfort level is consistent even over two consecutive hours of listening, making them ideal for flights or long journeys.
The on-off button for noise cancellation is in the right ear-cup. In addition, there are no fewer than three microphones that serve the noise cancellation system by recording ambient noises. The indicator light for the headphones’ mode – a necessary addition when you are using the wireless – is on the bottom, together with the control buttons, and there are of course controls for play/pause and volume. Next to them is the MicroUSB charging outlet for the headphones, which we feel would have been better served if Bose had not left it uncovered, as it is exposed to dust and moisture.
The left ear-cup has fewer features. It does contain the audio outlet, which will enable you to connect an audio cable to it and listen to music when the battery runs out.
How does noise cancellation technology work? We explain below. (Audiophiles and soundmen are invited to skip to the next section.)
Sound reaches us in the form of waves, and each sound has its own unique wave, for example a sine wave in a positive (phase) or a negative (anti-phase) cycle. If we simultaneously broadcast an opposite wave against the sound reaching us – the anti-phase – the waves will, in effect, cancel each other out. This is the noise cancellation effect. In other words, you can think of it as adding a negative number to a positive number and getting 0 as the sum. Headphones with a good noise cancellation systems can reduce noise by up to 80 decibels – blocking out, for example, airplane engines from being heard in the passenger compartment.
Bose’s headphones work according to these same principles: the microphones integrated to the headphones take in the external sounds, a miniature processor analyzes their waves, and emits opposite waves with only a short delay. This almost complete cancels out incoming background noise, and lets you to listen to music without external disturbances.
In our test, we found that the QC35 works wonderfully at blocking out unwanted sounds. As soon as we pressed the noise cancellation switch, there was almost absolute silence – it reminded us of a sound studio. It is important to stress that this is not complete isolation from the outside world: we could still hear people talking in the room, albeit with one quarter of the usual volume. At the same time, one push on the button made all the static noises familiar to us disappear, such as noise from movement, air conditioners, and computers. We were able to fully enjoy our music.
What especially interested us was listening to quiet music. When you listen to loud music, you don’t hear external noises in any case. The QC35, on the other hand, makes it possible to also listen to quiet music without external noise. From this standpoint, it is an excellent solution for users in open spaces and while studying.
Just put on the music you like, and forget about the rest of the world.
In order to check the sound quality, we listened to a medley of audio clips from movies and music in various styles, from simple a cappellas to acoustic, dubstep, house, and special segments for testing sound systems, such as subwoofers. The conclusion we reached was that the headphones’ sound quality is very good.
Yes, it is not perfect, and audiophiles may take note of all sorts of nuances, but we enjoyed quite striking low notes, with a rocking bass that feels as if we were seated next to a subwoofer. We also enjoyed clear, sharp sound with notes in the higher ranges. For movies, the effects were very much the same, and the dialogue sounded sharp and clear. The sound quality very much reminded us of the excellent ATH-M50X headphones by Audio-Technica. Even in the comparative test we conducted against the wire-connected QC25 headphones, we discovered that the sound was identical, and we did not notice any loss whatsoever caused by the use of Bluetooth. The Bluetooth connection to a smartphone also enables you to also make calls.
Furthermore, we noticed no differences between listening to music on Bluetooth and listening with an audio cable, although we occasionally encountered the delay sometimes seen with Bluetooth headphones. The sound was sharp and clear throughout the room, and even when we moved to nearby rooms. But when we moved further away, into a room with more separating walls and to a distance of more than 15 meters, disturbances began to appear, making it impossible to listen to the music.
Installation, Bluetooth, and all the rest
Because our smartphone for the test has an NFC chip, the installation was quite simple. We just put the device next to the headphones, approved the connection request, and we could hear music almost immediately. Even in an ordinary connection through the Bluetooth definitions, there is little effort involved, and you can start using the headphones within seconds. During the installation, and every time you turn the headphones on, they will give you a Siri-style voice notification, including, among other things, feedback about the status of the Bluetooth connection and the remaining battery life. At the same time, we should mention that at a certain point, we started to find this a little irritating, and it might be preferable if the headphones provided this information only when prompted, rather than every time we turned them on. Incidentally, on a laptop running Windows 10, the headphones did not initially appear on the list of connected devices. We solved the problem after connecting the headphones to the computer with the USB connector and updating their firmware.
Our world of simulations is rather narrow, and our battery time test was whether or not the headphones could last through a trans-Atlantic flight. In this sense, the QC35 delivers, enabling you to enjoy 20 hours of continuous wireless music listening, or 35-40 hours with the wire connector.
The waiting time for the battery is not bad – 10% of the battery for every 7 hours. At the same time, we were disappointed to discover that the headphones had no automatic off feature. If you should happen to forget to turn them off, you may be unpleasantly surprised when you open the case.
The Bose QC35 headphones are excellent, and the company’s noise cancellation technology provides definite results. It does not face too much competition in this regard, though we have yet to examine the intriguing MDR-1000X announced by Sony at the latest IFA exhibition. When you add to this the wireless features, the high level of finishing, the design, and the battery lifespan, we get quite impressive headphones, with one major disadvantage: the price tag. The headphones are sold in Israel at a recommended price of NIS 2,400, compared with $350 in the US, not including tax and delivery.
This is unquestionably a high price, and for a similar price, you can buy premium headphones with better sound. On the other hand, if you are looking for Bluetooth headphones with superb noise cancellation and good sound, the Bose QuietComfort 35 is an excellent choice.
What we liked: solid construction, sound quality, battery life, noise cancellation, the case
What we disliked: the price