There are a few audio companies that rise out from audio forums and become a part of our culture. For a long time when people referred to active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones, they really meant Bose headphones. For many consumers, that same thought process rings true even today. While its flagship noise cancelling headphones can’t outdo Sony’s top contender, Bose has a healthy line of headphones. Let’s focus on a few of the best Bose headphones around, starting with the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700.
Editor’s note: this list of the best Bose headphones was updated on July 2, 2021, to expand upon technical information.
If you want the best Bose headphones, get the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
If you or someone you know wants “those noise cancelling Bose headphones,” then the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 is your best bet. This has a slick new design that’s been upgraded in almost every way from the Bose QuietComfort 35 II before it.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700Full Review
Gone is the plastic build in favor of a metal headband that seems way less likely to snap. Unfortunately, these no longer fold but you can still rotate the ear cups 90°, so you can wear the headset around your neck comfortably. The playback controls have also been updated and are now found in a touch-sensitive gesture pad on the right ear cup.
The noise cancelling is still fair, which is exactly what you’d expect from the company. Of course, they didn’t knock either the Apple AirPods Max or Sony WH-1000XM4 out of their top spots, but it’s still good. This is easily one of the best pairs of active noise cancelling headphones around and you can even choose between 10 levels of ANC depending on your situation.
You get around 20 hours of constant playback and can recharge via USB-C, which is good news for anyone that wants these to last a while since USB-C is slowly taking over. Just like the previous QC35 II, this is also compatible with Google Assistant, Alexa, and even Siri if you’re connected to an iOS device.
What about the Bose QuietComfort 35 II?
While the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 is better when compared to the QC35 II in terms of sound quality, there are two reasons why you might still want to go with the older model instead.
The first is obvious, and that’s the price. Now that there is a newer version out, you might be able to find the QC35 II for quite a bit cheaper, so if you’re hoping to save some cash these are the way to go. The second reason you might want these is that the Bose QuietComfort 35 II does a better job of cancelling noise than the Bose Headphones 700. Not to mention that each headphone folds, making them more portable than the sleek, new model.
How do the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 hold up against the Shure AONIC 50?
While the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 is a great option, we’d be remiss to not mention that the crown of noise cancelling headphones still goes to the Shure AONIC 50. The 700 puts up a worthy fight when we put the two head to head, but when it comes down to it the better noise cancelling and Bluetooth codecs of the Shure AONIC 50 means that you should at least give the AONIC 50 a look before you make any rash decisions.
How about the Sony WH-1000XM4?
The Sony WH-1000XM4 is another great pair of noise cancelling headphones with a consumer-friendly frequency response that you can EQ from the Sony Headphones Connect app (iOS and Android). If you want to save even a bit more, the Sony WH-1000XM3 offers almost everything the XM4 does, minus Bluetooth multipoint and speak-to-chat functionality.
Want to stay aware when exercising outdoors? Get the Bose Sport Open Earbuds
If you spend a lot of time biking or running outside, you know the importance of hearing your surroundings for safety. The Bose Sport Open Earbuds lets you hear what’s happening around you, while still letting you enjoy your music, access Smart Assistant, and take phone calls.
Bose Sport Open EarbudsFull Review
The Sport Open Earbuds offers a secure fit and last a respectable 7 hours, 21 minutes according to our testing. The carrying case does not charge the buds, but when you get home you can use fast charging (via a proprietary charging cradle). And due to the shape of the Bose Sport Open Earbuds, a charging case would most likely be quite bulky. The microphone is not our favorite, but it will definitely work for short calls.
Due to the design prioritizing your environmental awareness, the Bose Sport Open Earbuds intentionally does not have much bass in their audio reproduction. Effective bass reproduction tends to require a tight seal, and a tight seal means more passive sound isolation. This would run counter to the purpose of the Bose Sport Open Earbuds, as a safety-oriented product.
Need portable ANC? Get the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds is the company’s first set of noise cancelling true wireless earphones. Predictable low and midrange frequency noises are significantly quieted, though incidental noise (e.g., the clang of dishware), still comes through. Bose’s StayHear Max ear tips keep the buds in place, despite their relatively large housings.
Bose QuietComfort EarbudsFull Review
These earbuds feature an IPX4 rating, so you can exercise in them. Then again, if you want a dedicated exercise headset, consider the Sport Earbuds instead: it’s smaller, just as durable, and more affordable. The Bose QC Earbuds has a great mic for phone calls that produces sidetone audio when in a call, so you can hear your own voice too. Most people like this because it makes you less inclined to unwittingly raise your voice.
Bose’s earphones use Bluetooth 5.1 and support just two Bluetooth codecs: AAC and SBC. This plays to iPhone owners’ benefits, but high-quality streaming over AAC varies greatly on Android. You need to download the Bose Music app if you want to remap the controls, access firmware updates, or switch between devices.
The Bose QC Earbuds have great noise cancelling but are a bit bulky.
The USB-C case supports Qi wireless charging, and can fast charge the earbuds. All you have to do is place the buds in the case for 15 minutes, and you’re allotted two hours of playback. The earbuds last 5 hours, 29 minutes on a single charge with ANC enabled, which outperforms the Apple AirPods Pro but doesn’t come close to the Sony WF-1000XM4.
Want a better version of the AirPods? Check out the Bose Sport Earbuds
Bose stepped up its game with the Sport Earbuds: these true wireless workout earphones are the most comfortable of their kind. The slick design means you can use these outside of the gym without looking like you’re about to deadlift double your weight. The StayHear Max ear tips work extremely well, and keep the earbuds in place during very rigorous movement.
Bose Sport EarbudsFull Review
Just like Bose’s debut totally wireless earbuds, these earphones feature an IPX4 water-resistant rating, so you can sweat to your heart’s content while wearing these. The microphone quality isn’t perfect but it’s improved since the previous generation. Bose packed in a four-mic array, which does a fabulous job of cancelling out low-frequency background noise.
Battery life is average for earbuds of this variety, and we measured just over 5 hours of playtime from a single charge. The case can fast charge the earbuds, when you’re in a pinch. All you have to do is place the buds in the case for 15 minutes, and you’re met with 120 minutes of playtime.
While the Sport Earbuds may not be the most durable on the market, they're among the most comfortable.
It uses Bluetooth 5.1 firmware, and connection strength is good, but imperfect. When Lily took the earbuds outside with her phone, the buds struggled to stay connected beyond the five-meter mark. However, when her phone was inside and she was outside, the connection didn’t start to break up until she edged toward the nine-meter mark, which is the absolute maximum end of the wireless range. These support AAC and SBC, the former of which supplies consistent high-quality audio to iOS devices.
If you want to stay well under $200, and need a pair of earbuds for everyday use, we recommend picking up a pair of the Bose Sport Earbuds.
Game in comfort with the Bose QuietComfort 35 II Gaming Headset
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II Gaming Headset is just the beloved Bose QC 35 II with a microphone attachment slapped on. Its design is deeply rooted in the world of general consumer audio, making it the least-flashy gaming headset you can buy. Depending on your taste, this may be a negative but our resident gaming expert Sam Moore enjoyed it.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II Gaming HeadsetFull Review
Bose includes a robust USB-A volume dial, which is intended for PC use. The large dial can’t be missed, and offers a satisfying amount of resistance as its rotated. The rubberized bottom prevents the dial from slipping across the table, one of the last things you want to happen mid-firematch. It also features a button, so you can monitor your microphone levels.
You might like: Best gaming headsets with good microphones
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II Gaming Headset doesn’t overcomplicate things, and is meant for wired use when gaming. You can, however, use it as a standard QC 35 II Bluetooth headset when out and about in the real world. It’s kind of a two-in-one, which might make the $329 price more palatable. The boom microphone is very good, and the internal microphone (for wireless use) isn’t too shabby either. Unfortunately, you can’t buy the boom microphone separately, so you can’t just attach it to a pair of Bose QuietComfort 35 II that you already own.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II internal mic sample:
Bose QuietComfort 35 II boom mic sample:
You can’t create a custom EQ profile, which is a real shame, but it has a generally pleasing frequency response. Sub-bass notes are amplified 6dB, meaning you’ll notice a difference in loudness between bass notes and midrange notes. The difference isn’t dramatic though, so you can still perceive plenty of detail from your music.
If money isn’t much of a concern, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II Gaming Headset is the perfect companion for all of your late-night gaming sessions. It’s also a great thing to have if you spend the majority of your weekdays stuck in conference call, after conference call. If you want the regular Bose QC 35 II but think you could make use of the boom mic, this headset may be worth your time.
Looking for an alternative? Check out the Beats Powerbeats
If you don’t want to get Bose headphones but want something to bring with you to the gym, then try the Beats Powerbeats. You’ll get an IPX4 water-resistant build with plenty of ear tip options to choose from, so they stay in your ears during your workout. If the double-flange ear tips fit you, you should use them as they are the best for blocking out external noise, especially since the isolation on these earbuds isn’t the greatest. The battery life lasts about 8 hours, and 5 minutes of charging yields 90 minutes of playback.
These wireless earbuds have Apple’s H1 chip integration, so you can activate Siri with just your voice. On top of that, they have AAC support so if you’re using an iPhone you can listen to your music at higher quality. Another cool feature: you can stream audio from one iPhone to two pairs of Powerbeats (or a Powerbeats headset and another H1 chip headset). The heavy bass response can mask vocal frequencies, but it also makes these earbuds perfect for energetic workouts.
The rest of the Bose headphones lineup
Of course, the options listed here aren’t all of the available Bose headphones. The ones that didn’t make the cut are all still fine, just not among the best four options they have to offer.
- Bose QuietComfort 20: Just like the former earphones, these are not headphones. A popular choice for in-ear lovers, the QC20 is one of the more tried-and-true options here.
- Bose SoundLink Around-Ear Wireless Headphones II: These cans are a very basic addition to the over-ear headphone lineup, without ANC or too many premium features. It’s not on this list because of its price.
- Bose SoundSport Free: Whether you’re going to be lifting in the gym or going for a run, you shouldn’t have any issues with these falling out of your ears.
- Bose SoundLink Micro speaker: For the on-the-go party that’s virtually pocketable, grab the SoundLink Micro.
What you should know about Bose headphones
Bose headphones are like any others in the sense that they use a set of drivers and fit on, around, or in the ear. But there are a few features that Bose headphones offer that make certain information more pertinent than with other brand lines. For one, Bose headphones are one of few lines that offer Google Assistant integration.
What is active noise cancelling and how does it work?
For commuting to school or elsewhere, noise cancelling headphones are a great choice for young people’s auditory health. Bose headphones use active noise cancelling which uses basic physics (if there’s such a thing) to get rid of unwanted noise. We have a full explainer of the details here, but the gist of it is due to something called destructive interference.
Why is isolation so important?
If you’re not listening to your music in a car, you’re probably listening in crowded buses, gyms, loud city streets, or rumbling trains with your Bose headphones on. In these less than ideal situations you’re surrounded by loud sounds. And when there are two sounds of a similar frequency, your brain will ignore the lower one and just focus on the one that’s louder. This is called auditory masking and while it sucks for music listeners today, it was great for our ancestors that had to survive in the wild and listen for predators.
Is Bluetooth really so bad?
You may have heard that Bluetooth sucks, and you should totally never buy wireless headphones. But is Bluetooth really that bad? Well, kind of. While Bluetooth quality and codec technology have improved greatly over the last few years, you still won’t get the same level of quality that’s attainable with wired headphones.
We tested a few of the major Bluetooth codecs (the technology responsible for transferring higher amounts of data between your headphones and source device, thus resulting in higher quality) and found that they don’t all live up to their claims. In our testing, even AAC can be a little inconsistent on Android phones—but near-perfect on iOS devices. Luckily, your old ears most likely won’t even be able to hear the frequencies that are lost during the transfer. So while it’s technically true that wired headphones sound better, you’ll need to be a very keen listener to pick up the differences in most cases.
Do you need to burn in your headphones?
If you hang around audiophiles enough or find yourself down a rabbit hole of audio forums on the internet, one phrase you’ll hear tossed around is “burn-in”. This is the belief that your brand new headphones need to be used for a certain amount of time before they can reach their peak performance. I’ll save you the hassle of trying this for yourself and just tell you that it’s not true. If you want to dig even deeper into this topic you can read our full explainer.
Is Bluetooth dangerous?
No, Bluetooth is not dangerous. There are plenty of conspiracies floating around on the internet but even though Bluetooth is a relatively new technology the science behind it is decades old. Just read for yourself.
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Frequently Asked Questions
The AirPods Max are a truly incredible pair of headphones, provided that you use them with an iPhone—if you use them with an Android, you miss out on a lot of their best features. They have the best active noise cancelling we've tried to date, lovely sound quality, and additional features like spatial audio. That being said, they cost $549, so you really have to be a diehard Apple fan to pay for these.
Bose doesn't make a lot of wired headphones anymore, but if you're looking for a slightly older pair of wired active noise cancelling headphones, we recommend the Bose QuietComfort 25. In addition to this option, a lot of Bose's wireless headphones have a cable port, so they can be used for wired listening.
Because earbuds are smaller than headphones, the drivers inside the earbuds are also smaller. Earbuds produce a weaker response than headphones and this is particularly noticeable in the low end of the frequency spectrum. However, earbuds are typically better for passive isolation due to their in-ear placement. They are also more portable and lightweight, making them great for exercise. Check out our headphone buying guide to help you figure out what type of earphones are right for you.