Bose QuietComfort 35 review: One of the best noise-cancelling headphones money can buy
Over the years, Bose has carved out quite the niche for itself in the active noise-cancelling headphone market. And it’s been making them for a long time, too – ever since 2000.
Strangely enough, though, for a company so strongly associated with the hi-tech end of personal audio, the QuietComfort 35 is Bose’s first pair of headphones to combine wireless operation with noise cancelling. The company’s SoundLink range cut the cable a while back but doesn’t have noise cancellation, while previous QuietComfort noise-cancelling models were all cabled.
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That’s a big deal, especially when the noise cancellation is as good as Bose’s. If you haven’t tried a pair before, let me explain just how effective they can be.
In the Alphr office, there’s constant background noise from the air-conditioning of around 47dBA. With the QuietComfort 35s on and noise cancellation enabled, that background hum completely disappears.
To be fair, this is the sort of sound active noise-cancellation headphones excel at reducing, so I thought I’d give them a harder task and wandered out the door and down to Tottenham Court Road, one of the busiest streets in central London. Even here, the QuietComforts cut out much of the noise, including most of the high-level stuff that other noise-cancellation headphones don’t usually reach. And they’re superbly good at cutting out the rumble of aeroplane engine noise, cossetting your eardrums in a protective blanket of audio serenity.
Compared with the AKG N60 NC, the difference is night and day, and there are plenty of other noise cancelling headphones I’ve tried that don’t come anywhere close. Where the AKGs let in a lot of high-pitched noises, the Bose keeps everything still, calm and quiet. Indeed, the only headphones I’ve listened to that come close are the Sony MDR1000X. Even then, the Bose’s superior comfort and fit help add that extra bit of noise sealing that helps them edge in front.
That’s great news for your ears. It means you can sit on a train, plane, or in a noisy office environment without having to pump up the volume. And yet you’ll still be able to hear all the details in the music.
Bose QuietComfort 35 review: Perfection in design and function
Bose’s success hasn’t entirely been due to its noise-cancelling technology, however. Long before the current trend for fashion-first, bass-heavy headphones, it was building comfortable products that people wanted to wear and listen to.
As you’d expect of a pair of headphones costing around 300 quid, the QuietComforts are extremely comfortable to wear, with soft, padded cups that fit snugly around your ears. There’s just the right amount of spring in the headband to prevent them flying off your head when you sneeze without applying uncomfortable pressure, and they fold flat, allowing you to neatly stow them away in the included hard carry case when they’re not in use.
The right earcup houses all the controls, and there’s quite a lot to get to grips with. There’s a three-position switch on the outside of the cup for turning on noise cancellation and putting the QuietComforts into pairing mode. Volume controls and a multi-function button sit on the rear edge of the cup, next to a pair of LEDs indicating battery and Bluetooth-connection status. There’s also an NFC chip for quicker pairing with compatible Android smartphones.
In the box, there’s hard case with a slot in the corner to store that all-important airline audio adapter, a USB cable for charging the headphones, and a 3.5mm audio cable for listening when the battery runs out. Alas, the provided cable has no control module or microphone on it, so you can’t take or make phone calls when the battery is dry but, since the battery lasts a claimed 20 hours with both noise-cancelling and Bluetooth enabled, this won’t be a very common occurrence.
My colleague Nathan Spendelow spent cold hard cash on a pair recently and swears by the battery life – he only needs to charge them once a week with moderate use – and when I say moderate, I’m talking a 45-minute commute each way, five days per week and one to two hours listening every day at his desk. That’s pretty impressive stuff.
Bose QuietComfort 35 review: Sound quality
Bose’s latest headphones are tricky to pin down when it comes to audio quality, though. They sound good, but since they employ Bose’s new, dynamic EQ, which boosts some frequencies depending on the volume level you set, it’s tough to say anything categorical about either the overall sound quality or the sound signature in general.
Crank up the volume and play something bass-heavy, and it’s obvious what the EQ is doing: it tempers the low-end as the volume rises, and increases it at quieter levels. To audiophiles who spend all their time in search of a perfectly flat frequency response this will sound like their worst nightmare – like serving Beluga Caviar with Lidl baked beans.
In reality, there are plenty of people who will love the sound signature of the QuietComfort 35. To my ears, they occasionally sound over-bassy, and a bit harsh when you really turn up the wick, but most of the time there’s a fine balance of high-end detail and low-end grunt that will appeal to the general listener, especially at moderate volumes.
On Trentemoeller’s incredibly bass–heavy Les Djinns remix, for example, there’s a bit too much bass presence at upper volume levels for my tastes, but it’s perfectly controlled and never distorts. Play something a bit more acoustic or pop based, meanwhile, and the QuietComforts are entirely in their element. Art Pepper’s soulful tenor saxophone sounds wonderfully full-bodied on Patricia, conveying the track’s emotion with effortless ease. Jess Glynne’s Take Me Home comes across with a wonderful sense of scale, while the lead track on Last Shadow Puppets’ latest album – Aviation – is presented in forthright fashion, with plenty of kick to the drums and bite to the bassline.
There’s always some sense that the sound is being manipulated behind the scenes, but most of the time that doesn’t matter. It’s easy to kick back, enjoy the music and forget about the tech. And that’s what great headphones should be about.
Bose QuietComfort 35 review: Verdict
As I’ve suggested, if you like your music pure and unadulterated, the Bose QuietComfort 35 aren’t the headphones for you. The active EQ and, at times, bombastic presentation see to that.
However, if you like to be able to block out the outside world, don’t want to be physically tethered to your phone, and the discomfort of shoving plugs down your ears isn’t for you, there’s nothing better than the Bose QuietComfort 35.
They’re expensive, but quite simply phenomenal wireless noise-cancelling headphones and they remain so more than a year on from their first launch.