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Bose QuietComfort 35 review: The best overall active noise-canceling wireless headphone to date

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 its carrying case.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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:

  • Available in black or silver.
  • Price: $350, £290, AU $499
  • 20 hours of battery life
  • Proprietary Bluetooth wireless connection and active noise reduction
  • NFC pairing for devices that support it.
  • Works as an advanced Bluetooth headset.
  • Carrying case included
  • Can be used as a wired headphone (cord included).
  • The headphone works as a wired headphone if the battery dies.

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