Bose headphones are held up as the gold standard for active noise cancelling and demand a premium for it. But can the US company’s new QC35 model, its first Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones, live up to expectations?
The mirror image of the QC25
The QC35s are basically a pair of QC25s with Bluetooth in them, and from the outside it’s difficult to tell the two apart unless you know what you’re looking for: they’re a slightly different colour – available in plain black or silver rather than two-tone colours – and the right cup has three control buttons, an LED and a microUSB slot.
The left ear cup has a 2.5mm headphones port, which means they can be used as wired headphones with or without noise cancelling on, but you’ll need to use the included cable or buy a 3.5mm to 2.5mm adapter.
The QC35s feel solidly built. The adjustable bands feel durable, as does the top headband, covered in pleather with a soft chamois-like pad against the head. The ear cups are trimmed with soft-pleather pads while the inside is contoured so it sits off the ear.
They are some of the most comfortable and nice-to-wear headphones I’ve had the pleasure to put on. They weigh 310g, but don’t feel too heavy, stay on your head with ease and don’t move around when you walk, while not putting undue pressure on any one spot on your head. The completely encapsulate your ears without touching them, but are relatively compact and subtle for large over-the-ear headphones.
They also fold up for transport, with the cups folding flat inline with the headband to fit into their relatively compact case. They’re not tiny when folded, but small enough to not make them burdensome in a commuter’s bag.
Controls and connectivity
The right ear cup is where all the action happens. It has a pair of volume buttons flanking a pause/play button. There are no dedicated track skip buttons, which is a little disappointing, but double or triple pressing the play button reliably skips forward or backward.
The right ear cup also has the power switch, which you flick to a third position to put the headphones into pairing mode, if you need it, which you do for an iPhone. Most Android users will simply have to tap their smartphones on the NFC spot – again on the right ear cup to pair them via Bluetooth.
The Bluetooth connection to both a smartphone and a PC was rock solid in all conditions, allowing me to wonder around the room without losing connection and out on the street with the phone in my pocket without issue.
Like most Bluetooth headphones the QC35s will connect to two devices simultaneously, will act as a headset for a phone and can activate Google Now or Siri on a smartphone. Call quality through the headset was pretty good too.
Noise cancelling and isolation
The best thing by far about the QC35s is that putting them on feels like a veil of silence has wafted over you, removing the background hubbub, whether on the street, on the train or in the office.
Bose’s noise cancelling technology, which monitors incoming sounds using microphones and sends the inverse sound wave using the speakers to cancel out the sound before it hits your ear drum, is said to be the best in the business. It is very effective, although arguably not leagues ahead of the best of the rest. What is miles better than any other noise-cancelling headphones I have tried is the passive blocking of noise.
Bose packs the ear cups with sound absorbing materials, which, combined with the active noise cancelling technology, works incredibly effectively, blocking the sudden, sharp sounds that noise cancelling struggles with.
There are no better headphones available at the moment for sheer power of isolating you from the outside world, wireless or otherwise, apart from the QC25s.
The beauty of that excellent isolation is that the music can really sing at any volume. I found myself consistently listening to my music at much lower volumes, which is a good thing for the longevity of my hearing.
The headphones sound great. Some people do not like the way Bose products sound – there is definitely a “Bose sound” – but they have great balance, good bass when required and great separation between sounds and instruments. They do not sound as good as a set of audiophile-grade £300 wired headphones, but most people will love them.
They certainly aren’t a pair of Beats, but can produce really quite deep bass if pushed. The most impressive thing is that the active noise cancelling doesn’t affect the audio quality,unlike on many other similar headphones.
The QC35s lived up to expectations dropping around 5% per hour of listening over Bluetooth lasting approximately 20 hours between charges when listening over Bluetooth, and longer if restricted to wired connections. There aren’t many rechargeable wireless noise-cancelling headphones that last as long as the Bose between charges.
There’s also an auto-standby that helps prolong battery life and can be triggered after as little as five minutes or as long as three hours inactivity, or turned off completely. To wake from standby you just have to push one of the buttons.
The headphones can continue to be used when the power runs out using the included cable, but they don’t sound quite as good. They take just over two hours to fully charge via microUSB.
- The 2.5mm headphones socket is irritating – means you can’t just plug any old headphones cable in
- A dedicated power switch is so much better than having to hold the power button for 5 seconds to switch it on or off
- The headphones speak to you announcing battery percentage and the devices connected on start up and when devices connect or disconnect using text to voice
- The female English voice prompts sound a little flirtatious, with a slight uptick at the end of numbers or letters, which almost sounds like its said with a wink and a smile
- The voice makes some curious choices – attaching the OnePlus 3 smartphone was announced as a O-N-E plus three
- There’s an Android/iOS app that allows you to manage paired devices, switch off voice prompts, change the name of your headphones and manage the auto-standby timer
The Bose QC35 cost £290, which makes them £40 more than the wired QC25, £160 more than the Philips SHB9850NCs, £100 more than the Plantronics BackBeat Pro, £70 more than the Sony h.ear on Wireless NC headphones, but £9 cheaper than the Parrot Zik 2.0 headphones and £90 cheaper than the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless.
The Bose QC35s aren’t perfect. The lack of dedicated track skip buttons and the use of a 2.5mm socket instead of the industry standard 3.5mm are irritating.
But those small niggles are far outweighed but the fantastic noise cancelling and isolation, comfort and excellent sound. They’re expensive for non-fashion headphones, and they might not make you look like Dr Dre, but they’re worth every penny if you commute by public transport, struggle to concentrate in an open plan office, fly anywhere or just want a bit of peace and quiet in your life.
The Bose QC35s are the best noise cancelling headphones money can buy right now, and arguably the best Bluetooth headphones too. They’re brilliant. Why we had to wait so long for them, I have no idea.
Pros: best-in-class noise cancelling and isolation, great battery life, great sound, comfortable, fold for transport, Bluetooth, NFC, decent management app
Cons: 2.5mm headphones port, no dedicated track skip controls