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 those came out the noise cancelling cans to beat were the QC35 Series 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 review was updated on May 20th, 2020 to include a new section discussing alternative options.
What’s inside the box?
When you open the box you’re greeted with a sturdy carrying case. Opening it up reveals the headphones nicely tucked away inside. It really shows just how flexible these headphones are. They’re ready to be thrown in your bag without a second thought. Along with the headphones, you’ll get a micro USB charging cable and a 3.5mm audio cable. It would’ve been nice for them to give the QuietComfort 35 II a USB-C charging port, but at least they still have a headphone jack.
What made Bose Connect+ the QC35 II special when they came out?
Compared to the regular QC35 headphones, these weren’t much different from the newer series II. Everything about them was almost identical, save for a few key features. For one, the newer series II has a dedicated Google Assistant button on the side so you can activate the Google Assistant seamlessly right from the headphones. Since the release, there’s also been an update to make them compatible with Amazon Alexa as well, so if that’s your personal assistant of choice then you’re in luck.
One other new feature is a dedicated active noise cancelling toggle that lets you switch between three preset strengths of ANC. It’s pretty nifty but in my testing, I basically either kept it on or off so I’m not sure how useful it is. Still, at least you have the option to control it if you want that extra bit of customization over how you listen to music.
How do you connect to the headphones?
When you open the Bose Connect+ app it’ll first try to find the headphones, and then ask you to swipe them down into 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 Google Assistant setup, which lets you toggle having your notifications read aloud into your ear and even has a dedicated Google help page for the product. Then you can ask it questions just like you would if you activated on your phone, except it’s not. 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. Talking to the Google Assistant is instant. As soon as you press the button they start listening so you can ask your question or give the command. Then with your command sent, you just have wait for the answer as it’s sent from your phone. The reply obviously isn’t instant but it’s still quick enough to be impressive.
Now the Google Assistant and Alexa compatibility isn’t the only new feature with the new Bose QuietComfort 35 II when compared to the first version. In the Bose Connect+ app you can remap the Action Button on the left earcup to control the active noise cancelling which now comes in three levels: high, low, or off. You’ll still be able to access the Google Assistant by holding down the multifunction button on the right earcup for a second. So you get the best of both worlds.
You’re probably wondering: “Well, what if I have an iOS device?” And if you’re rocking an iOS device you too can have the best of both worlds, kind of. You’ll have to download the Google Assistant app on your iPhone in order for the Action Button to pull it up, and then you can access Siri by holding down the multifunction button.
As far as connection goes these are just as strong and consistent as the original version of these. 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 AirPod-like. Super quick.
So if you’re wondering why we spent so much time on the new Action Button and the connection aspect of these headphones, it’s because the addition of the Google Assistant/ANC controls and its dedicated hardware button is basically the only difference between these and the Series I QC35. So everything else about these including the build quality, sound quality, and battery remains pretty much the same. But in case you missed our first review, we’ll dig into each of these now.
How’s the build quality of the Bose QC35 II?
Design is easy because as the only difference is the button like we mentioned, these are still a smart-looking pair of headphones. They 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 these for hours without ever feeling like you have to take them off to let your ears breathe. They’re also super durable and can be bent and twisted in a bunch of ways so if you have to jam them into your bag you can do so with a clear conscious.
But you should still probably just use the included carrying case. Besides the action button and multifunction buttons we already mentioned, you’ll get the volume up and volume down buttons as well as a power switch on the right earcup. You’ll also see that these charge via micro USB on the bottom of one earcup and even have a 3.5mm input on the other so you can hardwire them to your phone, if you still have that option.
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 trip across the United States three or four times. Not bad. In our testing, we got exactly 15 hours and 46 minutes on about 80% battery. So unless you play your music at max volume constantly you shouldn’t have an issue with these.
How do the Bose QuietComfort 35 II sound?
So first things first, nothing with the sound quality has changed here when compared to the first version. Even though these have the Google Assistant and as of Android Oreo , Android has LDAC, aptX, and aptX HD support for higher-quality streaming via Bluetooth—you won’t find that here. You need two to tango with these codecs so when one side doesn’t support a codec, they default down to the standard SBC which is the same as the original. These do support AAC thankfully, so you’re not stuck out in the rain when it comes to latency at least. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, the average person will probably find these more than great.
The Bose QC35 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 are definitely still given preference over everything else, but on the bright side it’s only by a very small amount. 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.
I was hoping that there’d be just a little more detail in the background instruments of some songs but it seems to be the same as the previous model, which isn’t a bad thing since those were fine. But one could always hope. These also do a great job at straying away from harshness, though at the detriment of the detail in the highs. 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 microphone?
Like most Bluetooth headphones, the microphone on the QC35 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.
Of course, that only applies if you have a voice that’s higher in register. See how the lower in frequency you go, the quieter that response gets? If you have a particularly deep voice, you’ll find that the microphone quality will struggle to pick up your voice’s fundamental tones, so it’ll sound a bit weird—to say the least. However, most don’t have much to worry about here.
How’s the active noise cancelling on the Bose QC35 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. Though Sony left Bose in the rearview mirror with the WH-1000XM3, 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.
Everything in blue and green was cancelled which shows you just how good these are as it’s most near the 20 dB line. That means that sounds in those frequencies will be almost 20dB lower. Pretty neat stuff!
A firmware update made my Bose QC35II sound worse, how do I fix it?
There were a few complaints going around a while back that firmware updates were causing some Bose QC35 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 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.
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-1000XM3?
The Sony WH-1000XM3 were the main competitors for the QC35 II when they first came out, and to some extent they still are. These headphones are still arguably the best around and offer many things that the Bose headphones do not such as higher quality Bluetooth streaming codecs like LDAC and aptX. That said, it doesn’t matter if you’re on iOS as Apple doesn’t support anything better than AAC on their devices.
Battery life is slightly better on the WH-1000XM3 as well, clocking in 24 hours of constant playback in our testing. They also offer a slightly better microphone, a transparency mode feature similar to the AirPods Pro or WF-1000XM3 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 QC35 II are a great pair of headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM3 are just slightly better.
However, that microphone might not be as clearly better for you like it is for me. If you don’t have a voice like Barry White, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II is probably better for calls than the Sony WH-1000XM3 for you. Be sure to listen to the video above for a comparison.
Should you get the Bose QC35 II or the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700?
Since the release of the QC35 II, Bose has come out with a new and improved pair of active noise cancelling headphones. Cleverly named the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, they have 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 these charge via USB-C which is definitely a plus. The earcups are no longer made of the microfiber cloth here, which is a negative for me as I found the newer model to be slightly less comfortable because of this. 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. Where the QC35 II had three modes (low, medium, high), the new Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 feature 11 different levels of ANC. Again, I mostly keep it either on or off, but if you want more control you have it here again. It’s also slightly better at cancelling outside noise than the QC35 II, so if that’s what’s driving your purchase decision then there’s your answer.
Another difference is that the new model now have touch-sensitive earcups for playback controls, directly competing against the Sony WH-1000XM3 which have similar controls. So if you’re into touches and swipes instead of clicky buttons, these are for you.
Should you buy the Bose QC35 II?
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-1000XM3 a compelling option in comparison. But you’ll have to decide for yourself if it’s better for you.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II are the same headphones 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.
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 QC35 II are still a great pick-up today especially if you can find them on sale. At the time of this update they cost just as much ($349) as some of the newer models we’ve mentioned in this article, which is ridiculous. I’d recommend waiting a bit before pulling the trigger as these go on sale often and can be picked up for around $260 if you’re patient. Still expensive, but your patience will save you a good amount of money.
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-1000XM3 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 and there’s even great options from other companies like AKG, which have the AKG N700NC which have the strongest active noise cancelling we’ve tested.