Hands-on with the new Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
Bose's next-generation headphones ship June 30. We go ears-on for some early impressions.
David CarnoyExecutive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
ExpertiseMobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakersCredentials
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unveiled the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the long-awaited successor to its popular Bose QuietComfort 35 II noise-cancelling headphones. They aren't available until June 30, but I got some early hands-on time with the headphones at a Bose media event in New York, where I played around with a final production unit that was running beta software.
Watch this: Bose's new Noise Cancelling 700 Headphones live up to the hype, price
The first thing you'll notice about the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 is that they have a totally new design -- and it really is a new headphone, both on the outside and the inside, with new drivers and a total of 8 microphones to help enable Bose's "evolved noise-canceling functionality."
The design and technology upgrades come at a price: The Noise Cancelling Headphones cost $400 or £350 (Australian pricing isn't yet available but the UK price converts to about AU$640). That list price is $50 higher than that of the QuietComfort 35 II and the Sony WH-1000XM3, CNET's current top-rated noise-cancelling headphone. Both those models are on sale right now for $300.
One of the biggest external changes is to the headband. The QuietComfort 35 II has a high-tech resin (read: plastic) headband, while the Headphones 700's headband incorporates a single, seamless piece of stainless steel that would seemingly make it a little sturdier. However, as a result of the new design, there's no hinge, so they don't fold up, just flat, and you simply lay them into their protective carrying case, which is larger than the QuietComfort 35 II's case.
Some will like that you don't have to bother folding the headphones while others will prefer the smaller case. I did like that there's a little compartment in the case -- its door closes magnetically -- for storing the USB-C charging cable and the cable for wired listening. It's worth noting that the port on the headphone is the smaller 2.5mm variety so, bizarrely, it's a 2.5mm to 3.5mm cable.
In the past, Bose has tried to shave weight off its headphones, but this model is actually about half an ounce heavier than the QuietComfort 35, which will remain in the line for now. You can feel the weight difference, but I didn't find the headphone any less or more comfortable than the QuietComfort 35 II; it just feels a little different on your head.
Built to communicate
Bose is really touting the voice communication features of the headphone. While the overall sound quality is a relatively small step up from the QuietComfort 35 II -- more on that in a minute -- the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 should perform significantly better as a headset for making calls. The new microphones are designed to pick up your voice better (some of them are beam-forming mics) and reduce noise around you so people can hear you better in noisier environments. That goes for voice assistants as well -- the headphone supports Siri, Google Assistant and Amazon's
, all of which should better understand what you're saying in noisier environments.
There's also an adjustable sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice in the headphones. The QuietComfort 35 II has some light sidetone that not everybody notices, but you can really sense it in this new model.
In Bose's Music companion app for iOS and Android, you designate which assistant you want to use and then access that assistant with a button push like you do on the QuietComfort 35 II. However, if you choose Alexa, Bose says you'll be able to activate Amazon's voice assistant by simply saying the wake word "Alexa."
I didn't get to try that feature -- Bose is still tweaking the software for the headphones -- but if it indeed works, this will be one of the few headphones to offer always-on Alexa. The Jabra Elite 85t, another headphone equipped with lots of microphones that's great for making calls, was supposed to have this feature but Jabra ended up leaving it off after it discovered that it had too great an impact on battery life.
I asked a Bose rep about the possible adverse impact on battery life when using always-on Alexa because the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700's 20 hours of battery life is shorter than that of a lot of its competitors (a quick-charge feature does allow you to get 3.5 hours of battery life from a 15-minute charge). The rep said that it did not have an impact on battery life and that the battery life was the same whether you had Bluetooth on or off, say, if you were in wired mode on a plane. He did add that you can use the headphone in wired mode if the battery dies. Presumably it won't sound as good, but at least it will work.
New for Bose
This is the first Bose headphone equipped with touch controls. The touch area is on the right side of the right ear cup. I found that they worked well and that same Bose rep told me that Bose's engineers were aware of the problems that some Sony WH-1000XM3 users were having with that headphone's touch controls in cold weather and that the Noise Cancelling 700 Headphones had been tested in the cold. Supposedly, the touch controls work but we'll have to wait until winter to test it out ourselves (maybe someone in the southern hemisphere where it will soon be winter can test it for us).
Typically, Bose hasn't offered users much in the way of customizable settings but it is here. You can adjust the level of noise-cancelling in the app and there's a dedicated button on the headphone that allows you to toggle between low, high and a zero noise-cancelling mode that Bose refers to as a true "transparency" mode.
Impressively, when you're in that transparency mode you essentially hear the outside world as your ears normally would. In the demo, it was hard to tell the difference between having the headphones on your off. Holding the noise-cancelling button puts you right into transparency mode so you can talk to someone while you're wearing the headphones -- to a flight attendant on a plane, for example.
They're also enabled with Bose AR, the the company's audio-augmented reality platform, and in the future, Bose says it will add new features -- the headphones are firmware upgradable -- including an equalizer for tweaking the sound to your liking, a Dynamic Transparency mode that allows you to hear the outside world but muffles loud noises like sirens as they crop up and a Noise Masking feature that creates white noise to help you block out the outside world and help you concentrate without listening to music. Bose lists those features as "coming soon."
So how do they sound? Well, I brought along the QuietComfort 35 II and Sony WH-1000XM3 to the event to make some quick comparisons. I'll need a little more time with them to make a final judgement on sound quality, but my initial impression is that they do sound a little better than the QuietComfort 35 II, with slightly more overall clarity and bass definition. I listened to a few of our test tracks, including Alt-J's 3WW, Ran 'n Bone Man's Human and Spoon's You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb and came away thinking that the
's bass had more energy and a little more oomph it but the Bose's bass sounded a little tighter. I'll be interested to hear what CNET's home audio editor Ty Pendlebury and Steve Guttenberg, who writes CNET's The Audiophiliac column, think of the new Bose's sound compared to the Sony's when I get a review sample later this month.
I'll post a full rated review around the time the headphone ships on June 30, but for now I'll say that despite the Noise Cancelling 700's high price, it will tempt a lot of people who might be looking to upgrade their noise-cancelling headphones, particularly those who value some of the new voice -- and voice calling -- features Bose is touting.
Here's a quick look at the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 key specs, according to Bose.
New acoustic and electronics package with new digital signal processing
New 8-microphone system
11 levels of noise cancellation
Adaptive voice system
Built-In voice assistants (one-touch access)
Low-power wake word (for Amazon Alexa voice assistant)
Active EQ Sound Management (coming soon)
Bluetooth range: Up to 33 ft. (10m)
Battery charging time: Up to 2.5 hours
Quick charge time: 15 min for 3.5 hours
Battery life: Up to 20 hours
Supported codecs: SBC and AAC
Two color options: Black and silver
Shipping date: June 30
This story originally published June 5.
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