Bose QC35 Noise Cancelling Headphones Review
The weapon of choice for the seasoned traveller gets some useful updates
What is the Bose QC35?The Bose Quiet Comfort QC35 is an over-ear, active noise cancelling headphone that adds Bluetooth connectivity for wireless use. The move into the headphone category was something that Bose undertook before the real boom years of headphone sales and it is fair to say that the decision to do so has been extremely successful. If you board a long haul flight, you will be confronted with a sea of heads wearing Bose branded headphones.
It is easy to say that the reason for this is that Bose has a level of marketing clout that most other brands can only dream of. If you flick through a Sunday newspaper, you aren't likely to encounter many other brands and neither do most rivals have extensive penetration into retail stores backed up by their own dedicated retail premises. Dig a little deeper though and there is a bit more to it than that. The list of people I know who own Bose noise cancelling headphones includes a considerable number of people who know their sound and includes people who are senior figures in other audio companies. Our very own Phil Hinton and Steve Withers are also amongst that number.
In short, Bose is clearly doing something other than hype when it comes to noise cancelling headphones. This means that changing something that has been delivering the goods is not a decision to take lightly. The QC35 is not a clean sheet design but it has been heavily revised and includes some key new features. Are these additions any good and is this still the perfect companion for long distance travel?
SpecificationsThe Bose is an over-ear closed back headphone that fits firmly into the 'hybrid' size category of headphones that have one eye on home use but are also small enough to be a realistic proposition for use on the move. Bose have never published any details on the headphone drivers they use and taking review samples to pieces is generally frowned upon so this data will remain an unknown. Based on the size of the enclosures and the general design trend in the genre, it is likely that the driver is in the 40mm range but its composition and placement is unclear.
The Bose can be used as a conventional home headphone if you wish and it comes with a 1m long 3.5mm to 2.5mm cable for this purpose. I've never been a huge fan of the 2.5mm jack – it always feels a little delicate – but you can now at least buy longer cords if the item you are listening to happens to be more than a metre away. Of course, this rather defeats the object of the additional technology that has been squeezed into the QC35 but if you are on a seriously extended trip out, it won't become a paperweight once the battery has gone flat.
The noise cancelling installation takes the form of a pair of microphones, one per ear amazingly enough – that check the ambient noise levels and apply noise cancellation based on this information. The Bose system is relatively straightforward in that it only has off and on as a setting rather than any form of graduation but it has proved effective up to this point so it seems Bose doesn't feel there is a benefit to changing it.
The real difference for the QC35 over its predecessors is in the fitment of Bluetooth for wireless use. Bose has fitted Bluetooth to headphones before but this is the first time that they have combined it with the noise cancelling functionality. Like those other headphones, the main point of note is that Bose does not fit Apt-X Bluetooth to the QC35 which notionally prevents it from lossless transmission. This being said, if you aren't an Android user, this is a non event and if you aren't using lossless files, there is no requirement for Apt-X at all.
What is fitted is NFC contact pairing which speeds up the business of making first contact with a Bluetooth device (there's no need after this point as the Bose will automatically seek out the device it was last connected to). NFC is a piece of software that has offered much and gone on to not actually deliver on the promise – while my old Nexus 5 is equipped with it, it doesn't always want to know about what you happen to be tapping it against and the only device that has passed through for review with a truly excellent implementation of the system is the Sony NW-ZX2. Despite this, the Bose implementation did manage a contactless pairing with the Nexus so props to Bose.
Where Bose has also been putting in some effort is with regards to noise levels. The QC35 has been the recipient of a considerable amount of effort directed at ensuring that the active stage of the headphone – be it with noise cancelling engaged or simply running over Bluetooth – is kept as low as possible. Given that the QC35 is all about knocking out noise from the outside world, the last thing you need is noise being reintroduced by the headphone itself. The Bluetooth has been partnered with a control app for Android and iOS that allows for some control of the headphones themselves and information on battery life and the like. It isn't especially radical but it is free.
Another area where Bose has been hard at work is the use of a shaped lithium ion battery that is designed to allow for the largest available cell to be fitted into the enclosure. Bose claim up to 40 hours of noise cancelling running when wired and up to 20 hours of Bluetooth running – which is longer than most paired devices are going to manage. The QC35 is charged via a supplied USB cable and charging from flat takes roughly four hours.
DesignThe QC range of headphones has never really been about radical design. Bose has gone to the effort of introducing some design cues that are present in most of their headphones and the QC35 has some of these – oval shaped enclosures, ring type headband and a scalloped indent where the headband meets the enclosures. The Bose branding is prominent but not too in your face and the silver finish of the review samples is pleasant enough in an inoffensive way (and an awful lot nicer than the cream finish that some Bose models have as their 'not black' option).
The overall level of build quality and materials used isn't bad either. The Bose doesn't perhaps feel as solid at the Audio Technica MSR-7 or Oppo PM-3 but it is lighter than both. It is also – as the name suggests – a comfortable piece of kit. In the spate of hot weather that coincided with testing it, it seems that the leather pads can become a little sticky and the overall levels of grip are a little lower than they are with the Audio Technica but this is a very easy and comfortable headphone to wear long term.
The supplied accessories are good too. As well as charging and audio cables, Bose supplies a twin plug airline adapter and has the presence of mind to include a slot in the carry case for it to sit rather than having it rattle around the box all the time. The case itself is large enough to hold the folded QC35s without squashing them and in turn, not so large, you are likely to do without it. As a piece of kit to live with day-to-day, Bose has done their homework.
The real difference for the QC35 over its predecessors is in the fitment of Bluetooth for wireless use
How was the Bose QC35 tested?The Bose was tested in two stages. Performance as a passive headphone has been checked with a Chord Hugo connected to a Lenovo T530 ThinkPad using jRiver and Tidal and additionally with a Pioneer XDP-100R using stored files and Tidal. The Bluetooth capability has been tested with a Motorola Moto X phone running Onkyo Music Player and Tidal and an iPad Air 1 using Tidal and Spotify. Material in FLAC, AIFF, DSD and Ogg Vorbis has been used in the test phase. Some limited testing has also been undertaken with Netflix and iPlayer.
Bose QC35 performance as a passive headphone.With the Bose connected up (and this is oddly harder than it sounds as the 2.5mm jack has a tendency to not quite slot into place the first time you insert it), the performance of the QC35 as a passive headphone is good but not extraordinary. Even connected to a device as transparent as the Chord Hugo, it can sound a little closed off and congested. It is also clear that when run in passive mode, the QC35 is far from the most sensitive device doing the rounds but it works well enough with mobile devices if you aren't looking for ear bleeding volume levels.
There are some positive aspects too. The Bose is tonally even with voices and instruments generally sound like they are supposed to. There is also a level of refinement that is present on everything you play and to understand why, it is necessary to see the likely use of the Bose by the bulk of the people that buy it. If you listen to the stunning lossless FLAC of The Tel Aviv Sessions by the Touré-Raichel Collective, the QC35 can come across as slightly smoothed off and lacking a little top end sparkle. If you activate the noise cancelling though – more of which in a minute – this tonal balance suddenly makes sense.
It also ensures that the Bose is extremely easy to listen to for long periods. Even when you select raucous and angry recordings and push them fairly hard, they stay controlled refined and spacious. Indeed for a closed back pair of headphones, the QC35 does a very good job of sounding open and airy.
Bose QC35 performance with noise cancelling engagedThe noise cancelling of the QC35 might not be the most sophisticated system that we've seen but it is unquestionably effective. Like most systems of this nature, the Bose is better at knocking out consistent frequencies and low to midrange sounds than it is treble but when confronted with jet engines, trains and low level background noise, it does a very good job of knocking it out. The level of cancellation is also thoughtfully applied. A quick and slightly bizarre test of having my wife drive me around briskly in the passenger seat of a car with the noise cancelling engaged didn't provoke any sense of motion sickness either.
As noted, the tonal balance of the Bose has been setup in part to work most effectively in active mode and this means that music used in noise cancelling mode is listenable and largely free of the feeling of processing that can affect designs of this nature. It is extremely easy to listen to music with the noise cancelling engaged and forget that it is there and instead concentrate on the music itself. In noisy environments, it is easy to see why the Bose has the popularity it does with the long distance travelling fraternity.
Bose QC35 Performance with BluetoothAs noted, pairing the Bose is simple and once paired up, the connection is stable over a few metres. Immediately, the effort that Bose has put into the noise levels is apparent. At tickover, the Bose is impressively silent and as with noise cancelling engaged you can focus on the music or media being played and not on the fact it is running on wireless.
What is also apparent is that although it lacks Apt-X, the Bose still manages to show some differentiation between services like Spotify and Tidal. There is a good sense of dynamics and the same stereo separation and impressive civility is retained. Ultimately, for very long trips where you are in the same place, the wired listening with noise cancelling setting makes the most sense but commuting a shorter distance free from wires is a very appealing one. As a final, welcome detail, the QC35's ability to handle calls in Bluetooth mode is also clear, straightforward and perfectly useable.
It is easy to see why the Bose has the popularity it does with the long distance travelling fraternity
- Clever, easy to use design
- Excellent noise cancelling
- Very low noise levels
- A little pricey
- Can't compete with 'normal' headphones for sound quality
- Slightly dull looks
Bose QC35 Noise Cancelling Headphones ReviewSpending some time with the Bose has been a fascinating experience because they are a clear example of a headphone that has been designed to make life on the move better. Used as a passive home headphone, they are outgunned by more conventional models but the moment you start using them on the move, the QC35 is a class act. This is a comfortable, well built and well equipped headphone that offers exceptional noise cancelling under wired and wireless conditions. Bose has been king of the hill in noise cancelling headphones for many years – the QC35 is likely to ensure they stay there.
Ease of Use9
Design and usability9
Value For Money8
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