Bose's noise-canceling headphone now comes in a wireless Bluetooth version and it's the little things -- not just the sound -- that make it top notch.
This is the Bose product a lot of people have been waiting for: the QuietComfort 35, an active noise-canceling headphone that's also wireless.
At $350 (£290, AU$499), it costs more than the wired QuietComfort 25. But at least it's only a $50 price bump, which puts this around what Beats' competing Studio Wireless costs. (That 2014 headphone has been discounted in recent months, however, indicating Beats probably has something new coming.)
While the QC35 is very similar looking to the QC25 and is relatively lightweight, it is heavier than the QC25, weighing in at 8.3 ounces or 236 grams vs. 6.9 ounces or 196 grams. The one significant exterior design change Bose has made is to widen the headband, which makes for a little more stable fit with perhaps some added sturdiness.
With microphones inside and outside the earcups, Bose says the QC35 senses, measures and sends unwanted sounds to two proprietary digital electronic chips -- one for each ear -- that respond with a precise, equal and opposite signal in less than a fraction of a millisecond. According to Bose, the headphone is also equipped with a new digital equalizing system that balances the sound, whether you're listening at lower or higher volumes.
Battery life is rated at 20 hours, which is quite good. However, Bose has moved to an integrated rechargeable battery from the the QC25's AAA removable battery configuration. (Bose's SoundLink Around-Ear Wireless Headphones II also uses an integrated rechargeable battery.) I personally don't have a problem with the change -- and don't like having to buy new batteries -- but some people prefer their powered headphones to use standard batteries so you can swap in a new one should the headphone die, say, mid-flight. Also, rechargeable batteries only have so many charges in them, and while the one in the QC35 should last several years, it's not user-replaceable. (By comparison, the Parrot Zik has a removable, rechargeable battery.)
The good news is the headphone does work as a wired headphone if the battery runs out of juice (a 47.2-inch cord is included -- it's slimmer than the one that comes with the QC25 and has no integrated microphone). You just can't use the noise-canceling or Bluetooth, of course, but at least you can get some sound out of it, and the tight seal of the ear cups does provide a fair amount of noise isolation. As a passive headphone, the QC35 sounds decent -- just not $350 decent. When powered on, the digital processing and equalization features do smooth things out and improve the sound, so it's best used it as a powered headphone.
It's also worth noting that it's important to have the corded option for airplane use. Some airlines will still restrict you from using Bluetooth headphones during portions of the flight, and a cord is necessary to plug into your seat's in-flight entertainment system. Thats' the one drawback of Bose's upcoming QuietControl 30 in-ear Bluetooth headphone with variable noise-canceling: it can only be used as a wireless headphone and has no corded option.
As for other features, there's an integrated remote on the right earcup with buttons for adjusting the volume, controlling playback and answering and ending calls. The QC35 also works with Bose's free Connect app for iOS and Android devices, and I didn't have any trouble pairing the headphone with an iPhone 6S, Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and and MacBook Air (you can pair the headphone with two devices at the same time and jump back and forth between them).
Bose may add features to the Connect app in the future, but currently it's pretty basic: It allows you to manage your pairing list, upgrade the firmware and change the auto power off settings (the headphone powers down if you don't use it for a certain length of time, which is a good battery-saving feature). When you turn on the headphones, a female voice advises you of how much battery life is remaining and with which devices you're paired. That information is also available in the app.
Available in silver or black, the QC35 is designed to be used as an advanced wireless headset, and it muffles ambient sounds like wind and crowd noise so callers can hear you better -- and vice versa. There's also a side-tone feature that allows you to hear your own voice in the headphones as you speak so you don't raise your voice while talking.
It works really well as a headset and is great for conference calls (I'm on one as I write this). It's superior to the QC25 in this regard.
The QC35 may not be the best-sounding Bluetooth headphone out there, but it's certainly among them. I spent most of my time comparing it to the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless and the Beats Studio Wireless, both of which are Bluetooth headphones that feature active noise-canceling (the Parrot Zik 3 and Sony H.ear on Wireless NC do, too).
For Bluetooth sound quality, the Bose doesn't quite measure up to the Sennheiser, which costs around $400 online (it lists for $500, but its price has come down). The Sennheiser's bass is a bit tighter, it's got slightly better clarity and just sounds a little more natural. It's currently our favorite Bluetooth headphone for sound quality.
But the QC35's noise-canceling is more effective and clearly superior if that's what you're looking for. Just note that some people are very sensitive to the sensation of pressure that active noise cancellation puts on your eardrums and can't use this type of headphone.
Bose is the gold standard when it comes to active noise-canceling, and the QC35 does a great job muffling sound, whether it be on the streets of New York, a noisy open office environment or on a plane. As far as I can tell, the noise-cancellation is as effective as the wired QC25's (they're supposed to offer the same level of noise-cancellation).
Like the Sennheiser, the Beats Studio Wireless features a lighter form of active noise-cancellation and has a warmer sound, more forgiving headphone than the QC35, which offers better clarity and better bass definition.
I still like the sound of the Beats Studio Wireless -- it's also an excellent Bluetooth headphone -- but it does sound different from the Bose. With audio, of course, the listening experience is a subjective one.
In case you're wondering, the QC35 does sound a little better as a wired headphone. Despite Bose engineers' best efforts, you do lose a little something when using Bluetooth (and active noise-cancellation). With these types of powered headphones, there's plenty of digital processing going on and the trick is to try to get the headphone to sound as natural and clean as a corded headphone. That's really hard to do.
I sat around with Steve Guttenberg, who writes CNET's Audiophiliac column, and listened to several tracks -- in both wireless and corded modes. We both thought the QC35 was a tad bright (a little hot in the treble) and Steve made the comment that in Bluetooth mode, the headphone isn't entirely consistent, which is usually the case for Bluetooth headphones.
With some tracks it sounds very close to what you'd expect from a very good corded headphone. But with other tracks, it doesn't sound quite right. (The average listener might not be able to notice this, but audiophiles would).
The meaty bass tightens up a bit when you're using it as a corded headphone and the clarity improves slightly. It's not a major difference, but there is a difference, and both Steve and I liked the headphone better as a corded active-noise canceling headphone. That said, Steve, who's an audio purist, is not a fan of active noise canceling or Bluetooth wireless.
We could sit here quibbling about just how good the QC35 sounds for the money (most people will think it sounds very good for a Bluetooth headphone), but it's really the other factors -- the quality of the noise-canceling, the comfort level, and headset features -- that make this a top choice if you're looking for an ANC headphone that's also wireless. And I'd have no hesitation spending the extra dough on this model instead of buying the QC25.
The QuietComfort 35's highlights: