Bose QuietComfort 35 (QC35) Wireless Headphones Review
Comfort, noise cancellation, and superb performace without the fuss of wires
Chances are, if I were to ask you about noise-cancelling headphones, Bose's QuietComfort series would be the first to come to mind. The ubiquitousness of the Bose QC15s and the Bose QC25s on planes, trains, and subway cars paved the way for Bose QuietComfort 35 (QC35) wireless headphones (MSRP $349.99), which marks the first time Bose is combining its noise-cancelling technology with wireless capabilities.
$350 is a substantial amount of money to sink into some over-ear cans, but the QC35s succeed where most of their competitors stumble. While the vast majority of wireless headphones excel in either Bluetooth reliability or sound quality, the Bose QuietComfort 35 knock both criteria out of the park, and they do so while maintaining comfort and portability.
Of course, there are a number of cheaper options that perform well enough to justify their price point, but for my money, there aren't many options that nail noise cancellation, sound quality, and Bluetooth seamlessness. The QC35s might be expensive, but boy, are they a treat.
If you put the word "comfort" in the name of your headphones, they better live up to that designation. Fortunately, the wireless QC35s are every bit as comfortable as their wired counterparts from years past, if not more so.
Other than accents of suede and leather (which make up the headband and cups respectively), the bulk of the QC35s are comprised of glass-filled nylon—a lightweight, plastic-like material which lets the QC35s sit on your head without any strain whatsoever. In fact, after countless hours of testing, I only felt like I needed to take them off to give my ears a breather a handful of times. This level of comfort should be a given with all premium headphones, but you'd be surprised at how few of them actually manage to pull it off.
The leather cups covered my ears snugly, but not so tight as to cause friction. That said, if you're anything like me, you'll experience some sweat build-up, particularly in hot weather. I guess that's the price you pay for the soft embrace of leather.
The suede-lined headband is easily adjustable and the cups feature a wide range of movement and fold up inside the included (and sturdy) carrying case. You might fumble through the process the first few times you try to stash them away, however. Included is a cable for wired use and Bose's airplane adapter.
I can't say that big, bulky headphones are my favorite, but Bose should be applauded for successfully marrying comfort and minimalism. The QC35s aren't exactly slim, but the design is sleek enough so as not to call attention to itself, and the lightweight build tries its best to make you forget you're wearing anything at all.
There are playback controls on the right ear cup, and for the most part they were responsive (if a little slow), but I couldn't for the life of me get the track-skipping to work consistently. It seems as though double-tapping or triple-tapping the play button (to skip ahead or skip back) only works if you nail the appropriate rhythm. Your mileage, however, may vary.
The QC35s's non-removable battery provides up to 20 hours of use, but there's a catch: The noise cancellation on/off switch and the Bluetooth switch are one in the same, meaning in order to use the QC35s wirelessly, noise cancellation must also be engaged. You can use the QC35s without Bluetooth/noise cancellation, but doing so requires the headphones to be plugged into your device with the included audio cable.
Sound & Performance
I can't imagine a sadder scenario than dropping over three hundred bucks on a pair of premium cans only to find that they're all sizzle and no steak. Thankfully, with very few of caveats, the QC35s are the aural equivalent of a filet cooked to medium-rare perfection; some of the menu options might be better suited to your tastes, but you can always rely on a well-cooked filet.
With noise cancellation engaged, our lab tests revealed a fantastic soundscape with a slight emphasis on the lower-end and very little distortion. As is the case with most commercial headphones, the emphasis on bass might turn off audiophiles, but the QC35s don't overdo it.
As always, Bose's noise cancellation is the real MVP here. The QC35s are so good at blocking out the world around you that you might want to look both ways more than once before crossing the street. There's also a tight seal between the cups and the ears, keeping the sound isolated and free from noise pollution even without noise cancelling enabled. The seal rests on the area around the ear rather than the ears themselves, creating a comfortable-but-secure seal that hugs rather than clamps.
Low-end sounds—the hum of a plane or the deep rumble of a subway car, for example—are especially ineffective against the noise cancellation. Higher-pitched sounds like sirens or car horns squeak by at times, but you'll still appreciate the hit in volume they take before arriving at your ear canals.
My favorite use for the QC35s, however, is a good ol' fashioned podcast. I often find that podcasts suffer the most from the noisy sounds of a commute, since people's conversational voices tend to rise and fall regardless of how well the audio is mixed and how close they might be to the mic.
With Bose's noise cancellation, I don't find myself skipping backwards to replay missed punchlines nearly as often. Listening to my favorite podcast, Blank Check with Griffin & David, was a lot like being in the same room as Griffin, David, and the poet laureate, Ben Hosley. Luckily, none of the episodes I chose featured the sounds of Griffin eating dry Cheerios right in my ear.
A strong but non-removable battery
The QuietComfort Noise cancellation relies on a Bluetooth connection and vice versa, so in order to use both, you have to have a connected device and a charge in their lithium-ion battery. Thankfully, users can expect up to 20 hours of use from a full charge.
That said, some people might find it a bit frightening to spend a premium cost for headphones that ostensibly won't be functional sometime down the road. After all, the last incarnation of the Bose QuietComfort headphones relied on a single AAA battery.
If you're worried about a dead battery harshing your mellow, you could always invest in a portable battery charger to juice-up your QC35s in a pinch. You won't be able to actually use the QC35s while they're charging up, but a portable charging pack would go a long way in making up for the QC35s's lack of a replaceable battery.
Walking with the QC35s presents problems, especially in the city.
The QC35s are at their best when you're stationary, like at a desk or on a train. Taking them out-and-about, unfortunately, presents two problems: a tendency for the Bluetooth signal to briefly and periodically drop out, and a tendency for your footsteps to reverberate in the cups over the music.
The connection issue only seems to happen when I'm connected to my phone and I've taken the QC35s on foot. It doesn't happen often (I'd estimate it rears its head twice an hour), but ideally, it wouldn't happen at all.
Worse is the muffled thump-thump-thumping of my footsteps, which are featured prominently in every song and podcast I play. To my ears, it sounds as if the noise cancelling software is attempting to silence the vibrations from my footsteps, but whatever the reason, it's a difficult phenomenon to ignore.
Before you buy the Bose QuietComfort 35, take a look at these other headphones.
Should You Buy It?
The QC35s are absolutely worthy of consideration, but only if you don't mind your credit card taking a pretty hefty hit; they're the real deal, but at $350, they're not for everyone.
If you're after the comfort and noise-cancelling of the QC35s but can't quite get yourself to commit to its steep price tag, you may want to look into the Bose QuietComfort 25, which still aren't exactly cheap, but still substantially less than the QC35s. While they feature superb noise cancelling and the signature Bose feel, they don't feature wireless functionality, which is a pretty big caveat.
Here's the thing: Yes, the QuietComfort 35s are an expensive set of headphones. But it's hard enough to find wireless headphones that either sound good or perform well, and most only manage to do one of these things well. The QC35s not only sound good, but other than an occasional hiccup here and there, they perform reliably, especially compared to the competition.
If money's no object, I wholeheartedly support your decision to invest in the Bose QuietComfort 35. The reality, though, is that not many people have the means to invest in premium headphones, which makes the QC35s more business class than economy. But if you're looking for top-of-the-line sound and wireless functionality, you can't do much better than this.
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