Bose was the company that took active noise cancelling and made it mainstream, but eventually, the market caught up. For the last year or two, the Sony WH-1000XM3 have been the ANC headphones to beat. Not only do they have better features, but they had better noise cancelling and better sound when compared to the QC35 II. Well, it seems like Bose was listening, because the new Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 is a complete redesign of their iconic product. The Bose 700 have a new design, improved sound quality, a touch-sensitive gesture pad for playback controls, and even USB-C charging, but should you get them?
Editor’s note: This post was updated on November 19, 2019 to include instructions for how to potentially fix your headphones if you believe a firmware update changed their functionality.
Who are the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 for?
- Travelers. If you like to block out the sounds of planes and trains, these have fantastic active noise cancelling.
- Students. While they’re expensive, the ANC is top-notch. If you’re tired of the noisy people in your library, these are the way to go.
- Anyone who wants the best. You can’t go wrong with either the Sony WH-1000XM3 or these. However, you choose to spend your money you’re getting a great pair of ANC headphones.
What are the Bose 700 headphones like to use?
In short: these headphones are a delight to use. There are a few issues that I found with these that I’ll get into, but overall my experience with the Bose 700 headphones have been great. They’re lightweight, easy to use, well-built, and I’d say are objectively gorgeous. The QC35 II and the Sony WH-1000XM3s are both relatively new, and I didn’t think they had a dated design until I held these. Whether or not you think they’re worth the $400, at least they’re a pretty pair of cans.
The minimal design is reflected all over the Bose 700, and I’m here for it. There are a total of three buttons on the headphones and two of them don’t have any icons or labels of any kind, which I don’t mind since you can’t see labels when you’re wearing them anyway. Only the power/Bluetooth pairing button on the right earcup has a small Bluetooth logo so you can tell it apart from the other two when turning them on. You won’t find any playback buttons here as they’ve been replaced with a touch-sensitive gesture pad on the right earcup similar to that of the Sony WH-1000XM3.
The earcups still rotate a full 90 degrees so you can rest these around your neck when not in use, but the clicky adjustment mechanism has also been swapped out for one that lets you slide the earcups into place instead. These also don’t have hinges for folding, so expect to make use of the included hardshell referring case of you want to keep these safe. The headphones are also no longer made entirely from plastic. Now the headband has a metal construction that will make it much harder to accidentally break. But this is where the praise for the redesign ends because while the 700 headphones aren’t uncomfortable by any means, they’re definitely a step backward from the QC35 II.
The main reason for this step backward is the change in materials used for the padding. While the earcups are still using a comfortable padding, they’re stiffer than the previous cushions found on the QC35 II. This is great when it comes to isolating outside noise, but wearing them at my local cafe for a few hours while typing this up (yeah, I’m that guy) resulted in my ears getting pretty hot. It got to the point where I noticed that I was sweating when I took them off. It’s not like the cafe didn’t have the AC on either, but in any kind of warm conditions, these are going to get warm which isn’t something I noticed with the QC35 II. On top of that, the padding on the top of the headband has been changed as well. I was a huge fan of the padding on the QC35 II as it was wrapped in a soft microfiber cloth that just felt great to wear. The pressure at the crown of the head was almost non-existent.
The Bose 700, however, are now rocking a soft rubberized plastic similar to the one found on the Beats Studio3 headphones. Thankfully, the padding here is way more comfortable than those, but I had the same problem where the plastic occasionally pulled my hair. Again, it’s still comfortable and this is a huge nitpick but considering the high pricetag, I should barely notice that I’m wearing these. That level of comfort was always present with the Bose QC35 II and even the QC25 before them, and I just feel like it’s missing here.
How’s the connection?
To get the most out of the Bose 700 headphones, you should download the Bose Music app. It’ll walk you through the setup process and is surprisingly simple to use which is rare with headphone apps. If you’re on Android you’ll get a little drop-down card to quickly pair with and hook up the Google Assistant all in a few screens. Once connected, you can do everything from adjusting the level of active noise cancellation (1-10) to rename the headphones if you want.
One thing I really like is the ability to switch between devices in the app. As long as you can create an account with Bose, you can then switch between saved devices if the headphones are having trouble figuring out which one you want to listen to. If you’re listening to music on your phone and want to instead start watching a video on your iPad, you can select the iPad in the app. It’s been seamless in my experience and beats having to go through the settings of your devices every time. In the app, you can also choose which Assistant you want to activate when you click the custom button. You can choose between the Google Assistant, Alexa, or Siri if you’re on iOS.
Playback has also been moved into a touch-sensitive pad on the side of the right earcup. Swiping forward or backward skips between tracks, while swiping up or down adjusts the volume. Bose also made it so that pausing the music takes two taps on the touchpad, which is great. One of my biggest annoyances with touchpads is when the headphones accidentally register a touch and pause the music when you don’t want it to. By making the pause/play button a double-tap it ensures that the music won’t pause unless you want it to.
Connection strength has also been positive. These have Bluetooth 5.0, so I’m not surprised that they hold a solid connection to my source device. But unfortunately: they don’t have support for aptX. We have an entire explainer on codecs, but in short, a codec allows two Bluetooth devices to share data with each other more efficiently. Besides the standard SBC codec that all Bluetooth devices default down to, the Bose 700 headphones only have AAC. The AAC codec isn’t bad, but our testing found it doesn’t play as well with Android devices as it does on iOS ones. Though to be fair, I experienced no issues here and you most likely won’t notice any either unless you have been training your ears to be superhuman. These also have the option to be hardwired thanks to the input on the bottom of the left earcup, but it’s a weird 2.5mm input instead of the standard 3.5mm so try not to lose the included cable.
How good is the battery life?
When it comes to battery life, Bose remains on the conservative end of great. While products like the Sony WH-XB900N can push upwards of 35 hours of constant playback in our battery tests, Bose claims only 20 hours. I found this to be fairly accurate and managed to squeeze 21 hours and 25 minutes of constant playback. We test this by setting the volume of the headphones to a constant output of 75dB and then letting them run themselves dry. This was with active noise cancellation on the maximum setting too, so you might be able to squeeze some more if you lower the ANC. In the app, you can also set a timer to have the headphones automatically turn off after a pre-designated amount of time. So if you take advantage of that too, you should be able to go a long time before you need to throw these back on the charger which is, thankfully, USB-C this time around.
Speaking of ANC, are the Bose 700 better than the Sony WH-1000XM3?
Before we dig into the sound quality of these headphones, we should address the main reason you’re probably interested in these. How is the active noise cancelling of the Bose 700 Headphones compared to the Sony WH-1000XM3? The team at Bose was clearly feeling the heat because they redesign the microphones in the headphones in order to better cancel outside noise. The effect is top-notch as you can hear from the clip below where I recorded the headphones on our test head with my air conditioner on and some music playing in the background.
Sony also does a great job with noise cancelling and for reference here’s a second clip of the exact same situation, but with the Sony headphones instead.
While the Bose 700 headphones are fantastic noise cancelers and give you a finer amount of control when it comes to how much ambient sound you hear, the Sony WH-1000XM3 still do a slightly better job all around. If you compare to the two isolation graphs above you can see that while the Bose 700 headphones are no joke, the Sony WH-1000XM3 still has the edge in the low end where there is more blue and green (which equates to noise canceled) from 100Hz – 1,000Hz which is where most ambient noise is located as well. The microphones here have clearly been given plenty of TLC by the engineers at Bose and they pick up voices nicely as well.
What do the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 sound like?
Now we can talk sound quality because even though the Bose 700 Headphones don’t have any high-quality streaming codecs—they still sound really good. I even found them to be a little more pleasant than the Bose QC35 II before them because even though they still have a slight emphasis on lower notes (as you can see from the pink in the frequency response graph below), the emphasis is more evenly spread out over the notes that fall in the 110Hz range and below. Compare that to the QC35 II headphones which make any note less than 50Hz drastically louder when compared to the rest of the lows.
You can hear this nicely in the bassline throughout the song Sedona by Houndmouth which rumbles softly behind the vocals instead of overtaking them. Because of this, vocals in the mids sound great and are never eclipsed by what’s going on in the low end. The slight dip around the 1kHz mark isn’t as big as an issue as it seems, and in fact, I find that vocals tend to sound a little smoother thanks them not being overly emphasized.
The vocals in Mightnight Blues by UMI sounds great, and the highs are also handled nicely which you can hear from the bells playing behind her which never get harsh.
A firmware update made my Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 worse, how do I fix it?
Just like the QC35 II before them, there have been some complaints about a firmware update giving the newer Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 some issues. While there haven’t been enough complaints to get a guaranteed fix, we figured it’d be a good idea to put the instructions that worked for most people last time in the hopes that it will similarly resolve this issue for most people as well. If none of these work, then at least you can tell Bose customer support that you’ve already done the “basic” fixes.
- Turn off the headphones
- Plug the QC35 II into your wall charger for at least 5 seconds, then remove the cable
- Connect the headphones to your computer via USB, and go here in a browser
- Download and run the Bose Updater app on your computer
- Update the headphones using your computer to the latest firmware manually
So should you get the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700?
If you only care about owning the headphones that have the best active noise cancellation, then you should just get the Sony WH-1000XM3 because technically, they are better. They also have better codec support for high-quality streaming and are slightly more portable considering they have hinges and can fold. That said, at least to me, the Bose 700 are clearly the more desirable product.
The new design is stunning and makes everything else seem ancient in comparison. Though I liked the comfort and the ANC of the Bose QC35s II, I was never really a huge fan and would mainly recommend Sony noise cancelers anytime someone asked me for a recommendation. That changes now thanks to the Bose 700s. These are an upgrade in almost every way thanks to the finely controlled noise cancelling, the ability to seamlessly switch between devices, USB-C charging, and the touch-sensitive control pad. They even sound better. It’s the spec and design upgrade that Bose needed, and moving forward the 700s aren’t leaving my head.
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