Bose has been at the top of the active noise cancelling for years, and it was in no small part due to the QuietComfort series of headphones. Now the company has the new Noise Cancelling 700 Headphones (terrible name, I know), but before that came out the noise cancelling cans to beat was the Bose QuietComfort 35 II. So how do they hold up now that some time has passed? Are they worth your money over the newer models or even the competition?
Editor’s note: this Bose QuietComfort 35 II review was updated on October 18, 2021, to include information about the newer Bose QuietComfort 45.
What made the Bose QuietComfort 35 II special when it came out?
Compared to the regular QC 35 headphones, it’s not much different from the newer series II. Everything about this is almost identical, save for a few key features. For one, the newer series II has an action button that can be used as a dedicated Google Assistant button. Since the release, the headset is also compatible with Amazon Alexa, so if that’s your personal assistant of choice then you’re in luck.
The same button that can be used as a dedicated Google Assistant button can alternatively be used as a dedicated active noise cancelling toggle, letting you switch between three preset strengths of ANC. It’s pretty nifty.
How do you connect to the Bose QC 35 II?
When you open the Bose Connect+ app it’ll first try to find the headset, and then ask you to swipe it down to finish pairing. It’s pretty cool, especially since the process is helped along by a small voice egging you along in your ear. After you select your language and pick a nickname you’ll get to the action button setup, which lets you choose between Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and an active noise cancellation toggle.
If you choose the Google Assistant, you can toggle having your notifications read aloud into your ear and there is even a dedicated Google help page for the product. You can ask your Google Assistant questions through your headphones just like you would if you activated the assistant on your phone, except it’s much quicker. As soon as you press the button you’ll hear a quick little tone and then you can ask your question or give your command. Normally with headphones, you’d have to wait a second or two for it to register and pull up Google on your phone, but with the Bose QuietComfort 35 II it starts listening as soon as you press the button so you’re not left wondering if it worked or not. I’m assuming this is one of the benefits you get from working directly with Google and being one of the Made for Google products.
If you select the active noise cancellation toggle for the action button in the Bose Connect+ app, it allows you to toggle the active noise cancelling between three levels: high, low, or off. If your smartphone has a native Google Assistant, you’ll still be able to access it by holding down the multifunction button on the right ear cup for a second. So you get the best of both worlds.
And if you’re rocking an iOS device you too can have the best of both worlds, kind of. In order to program the action button to Google Assistant, you’ll have to download the Google Assistant app on your iPhone. Additionally, if you select the ANC toggle for your action button, you can access your smartphone’s Siri by holding down the multifunction button.
As far as connection goes the Bose QuietComfort 35 II is just as strong and consistent as the original version. I had no problem with connection strength whether my phone was in my pocket or across the room. Extreme range testing aside, I only had three skips in regular usage over the course of about a week, so not bad at all. This solid connection strength applied to phone calls as well and I had no dropped calls or issues here. If call quality is important to you these won’t let you down. On top of all that, when you turn them on they seamlessly connect almost AirPods-like. Super quick.
How’s the build quality of the Bose QuietComfort 35 II?
This is a smart-looking pair of headphones. The headphones maintain the slim profile of the original and also the comfort level as well. The Bose QuietComfort 35 II is considered one of the most comfortable pairs of headphones on the market, and for good reason. You can wear this for hours without ever feeling like you have to take it off to let your ears breathe. It’s also super durable and can be bent and twisted in a bunch of ways without breaking.
But you should still probably just use the included carrying case. Besides the action button and multifunction buttons, you’ll get the volume up and volume down buttons as well as a power switch on the right ear cup. You’ll also see that these charge via microUSB on the bottom of one ear cup and even have a 3.5mm input on the other so you can hardwire them to your phone, if your phone still has a headphone jack.
How’s the battery life of the Bose QuietComfort 35 II?
Battery life also hasn’t changed from the first model, with an estimated 20 hours. That’s enough to do a coast-to-coast flight across the United States three or four times—not bad. Other headphones have since surpassed this figure, but it’s still quite good. In our testing, we got exactly 15 hours and 46 minutes on about 80% volume. So unless you play your music at max volume constantly you shouldn’t have an issue with these.
What Bluetooth codecs does the Bose QC 35 II support?
Even though as of Android Oreo, Android has LDAC, aptX, and aptX HD support for higher-quality streaming via Bluetooth, you won’t find any of those in the QC 35 II. You need two to tango with these codecs so when one side of a connection doesn’t support a codec, they default down to the standard SBC. The Bose QuietComfort 35 II does support AAC thankfully, so iOS users will benefit, and you won’t be stuck out in the rain when it comes to latency at least. Lack of high-quality codecs doesn’t mean these headphones are bad, the average person will probably find them more than great.
How does the Bose QuietComfort 35 II sound?
So first things first, nothing with the sound quality has changed here when compared to the first version. The Bose QuietComfort 35 II actually has a fairly neutral response all things considered, and it’s cool to see a consumer product lean towards a sound like this. Of course, you can always equalize your headphones to change things around to your tastes, but this kind of performance allows you to do that out of the box—like I said, really cool.
Lows, mids, and highs
Lows are given preference over everything else, but it’s only a minor boost here. Each bass kick in the song We Just Haven’t Met Yet by Russ shook my eyes just a little bit, but that’s probably more the result of the mixing than anything else. Mids are just as clean as they’ve always been with vocals coming through loud and clear.
Though the Bose QuietComfort 35 II is by no means a pair of studio headphones, it has a good, customizable sound suited for the average consumer.
There’s a good amount of treble emphasis with this headset, but it isn’t so boosted as to sound harsh. You won’t get some of the same airiness and space that you’ll notice when listening to open-back headphones of a similar price. The hi-hats and cymbals in Billy Joel’s Zanzibar sound a little flat and don’t really have that exhilarating effect that I know them to have.
How’s the Bose QuietComfort 35 II microphone?
Like most Bluetooth headphones, the microphone on the Bose QuietComfort 35 II tends to pick up a lot of background noise and it isn’t all that great at full-band recording. That being said, it handles the voice band acceptably well and will work for phone and conference calls just as well as could be expected.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II microphone demo:
How’s the active noise cancelling on the Bose QuietComfort 35 II?
Oh yeah, and about that active noise cancellation. Bose has always had top-of-the-line ANC, but it’s starting to get a little behind the times. To this day, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II still offers top-notch active noise cancellation. For commuters, this is super important, as noise reduction is the most important performance metric for active noise canceling headphones.
Even compared to its newer competition, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II fares well as far as noise cancellation goes. However, we always point out that good ANC is no substitute for good isolation, so it’s a bonus that these headphones work so well with that too.
A firmware update made the Bose QuietComfort 35 II sound worse, how do you fix it?
There were a few complaints going around a while back that firmware updates were causing some Bose QC 35 II headphones to behave in strange ways. Some people claimed they began to sound worse, others claimed that the active noise cancelling wasn’t as effective. So if you believe this has happened to you, there are some quick and easy steps you can take to confirm that the issue isn’t the firmware.
- Have you tried turning them off and on again? I know, this seems basic, but you’d be surprised how many technological bugs can be fixed with a simple reboot. If this doesn’t work, continue on to the next steps.
- Plug the QC 35 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.
This was enough to solve the problem for some users, but not all. If you’re still having issues, then it might be time to admit defeat and contact Bose customer support — or you can plumb the support topics page in Bose’s YouTube channel.
It should be mentioned, however, that Bose investigated this issue with impressive attention, and could not replicate the results that some were reporting. In many cases, Bose found that the difference was made by the ear pads not being fastened all the way. While that may sound like a cop-out answer, it tracks with what we know as routine headphone testers: how headphones fit matters a whole lot. Please refer to the video above for an official rundown on potential troubleshooting issues.
What about the Sony WH-1000XM4?
The Sony WH-1000XM3 was once the main competitor for the QC 35 II when it first came out, and to some extent, it still is— especially now that you can get Sony’s headset on sale. However, the Sony WH-1000XM4 is considerably better than the Bose QC 35 II in noise cancelling, battery life, software features, and sound quality. Sony’s headset is arguably the best around and offers many things that Bose’s doesn’t such as LDAC. That said, both headsets offer Bluetooth multipoint, and the LDAC codec doesn’t matter if you’re on iOS as Apple doesn’t support anything better than AAC.
Battery life is slightly better on the WH-1000XM4 as well, clocking in 19 hours, 59 minutes of constant playback in our testing. It also offers a slightly better microphone, a transparency mode feature similar to the AirPods Pro or WF-1000XM4 if you want to hear what’s going on around you, and most importantly, better active noise cancelling. We have an entire article comparing the two, but the long and short of it is that while the QC 35 II is a great pair of headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM3 is just slightly better.
Should you get the Bose QuietComfort 35 II or the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700?
Since the release of the QC 35 II, Bose has come out with a new and improved pair of active noise cancelling headphones. Cleverly named the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, this has a brand new design and a slightly higher price tag. So which is better? The new design and sleek aesthetic is the most obvious difference, but besides that, there isn’t too much technically different between the two.
Battery life is still around 20 hours and now the NCH 700 charges via USB-C which is definitely a plus. The ear cups are no longer made of the microfiber cloth on the newer model and is less comfortable than the QC 35 II. Still, it really isn’t a big deal and that’s just me being nit-picky; the new model is still very comfortable, just not as comfortable. Besides that, you now have more control over the active noise cancelling levels. The Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 features 11 different levels of ANC. It’s also slightly better at cancelling outside noise than the QC 35 II, so if that’s what’s driving your purchase decision then there’s your answer.
Another difference is that the new model now has touch-sensitive ear cups for playback controls, directly competing against the Sony WH-1000XM3 which has similar controls. So if you’re into touches and swipes instead of clicky buttons, these are for you.
Is the Bose QuietComfort 45 worth the extra money?
Currently, we recommend getting the Bose QC 35 II over the Bose QuietComfort 45 because the ANC performance is only a bit better than the older headphones, and the sound is worse. We fully expect firmware updates to change this in the future, but as it is currently: just get the older headphones to save some money.
Sure, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II may be long in the tooth, and yes: it uses an outdated connector. However, it’s much more of a finished product than the newer set of cans. First off, the sound.
It could be a symptom of not enough time in the lab, or maybe we just got unlucky. Either way, the newer headphones have this frustrating habit of overemphasizing highs to a degree that makes music with lots of cymbals a bit difficult to listen to. If you have a system-level equalizer or an in-app EQ with your streaming service of choice, it should be fine—just know that there’s no equalizer for the Bose QuietComfort 45 in the Bose Music app like there is for the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700.
Should you buy the Bose QuietComfort 35 II?
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II is still one of the best options you can get, even if there are technically better options out there. And yes, we’re counting the new Bose QuietComfort 45, too. The newer headphones have quite a few kinks to work out, and at about $80 USD less than the newer model, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II is currently the better buy.
Among the best active noise cancelling headphones, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II is top-tier. However, its little foibles and dated hardware make the Sony WH-1000XM4 a compelling option in comparison. But you’ll have to decide for yourself if it’s better for you.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II is the same headset as before, except now they’re just a little better with the addition of the Assistant and active noise cancelling profiles. The ANC is still one of the best you can get at any price point, and because nothing else about these has changed they’re still just as amazingly comfortable as they were before. Because these are some of the most popular headphones out there, you have a lot of different ways to find them. However, each store—online or physical—has its strengths and weaknesses. Be sure to do your homework before buying!
Of course, we’re always going to wish that sound quality was better, but these aren’t the worst Bose headphones I’ve ever heard. The music sounds fine, but what you’re really paying for is all of the cool new features. The high price tag will definitely deter most people, but let’s be real these are going to fly off the shelves anyway. If you were already going to buy the original Bose QuietComfort 35, there’s really no reason not to get these. Of course, there are now better options available like the Sony WH-1000XM3 and even the new Bose model of headphones, but both have their negatives as well. So if these just do it for you, then the Bose QuietComfort 35 II is still a great pick-up today especially if you can find it on sale.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II Gaming Headset is a great option if you want a better microphone
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II Gaming Headset is basically the same as the regular Bose QC 35 II, it just has a detachable boom microphone. Unfortunately, you can’t buy the microphone separately, so if you already have a pair of the Bose QC 35 II, it’s probably not worth it to pay over $300 for the exact same pair of headphones with a mic attachment. But, if you are thinking about buying the QC 35 II, you may want to consider the gaming headset version because the headphones can be used via Bluetooth and with ANC just like the original headphones when the boom mic isn’t plugged in.
What other active noise cancelling headphones are there?
Bose was one of the companies that took active noise cancelling to the mainstream, and while they had a stranglehold on the category for years they’re no longer the only players in the game. Now there are plenty of other options to choose from as well including a few from Sony. I already mentioned the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones but if you don’t feel like spending that much money you can also go with the Sony WH-CH710N headphones which offer ANC as well as a great battery life. If you want a more bass-heavy sound signature there’s also the Sony WH-XB900N. The Shure AONIC 50 has the strongest active noise cancelling we’ve tested, save for the Apple AirPods Max.
If you’re an Apple device owner looking to go all-out on a pair of ANC headphones, check out the AirPods Max. It features impressive noise cancellation, good sound quality, and the H1 chip for seamless connectivity with iOS devices. It’s worth noting that these headphones are definitely not for everyone, especially when you factor in its $549 USD price tag. However, if you’ve got cash to burn and live and breathe by Apple’s ecosystem, the AirPods Max is definitely worth considering.
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