The Bose QuietComfort 35 II are a bit older than the Sennheiser PXC 550-II, but Bose’s old dog can keep up with Sennheiser’s new pup. Shopping for audio products can be overwhelming. We want you to spend less time researching, and more time enjoying your music. Today, we’re comparing two popular noise cancelling headphones from reputable brands, to see which is best for your needs.
Editor’s note: this versus article was updated on June 17, 2021, to mention the Apple AirPods Max.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II vs Sennheiser PXC 550-II: Hardware and design
Both headsets are predominantly plastic, with ear cups that rotate flat and fold towards their respective headbands. The QC 35 II relies strictly on tactile buttons to control the headset, while Sennheiser integrates buttons and a touchpad on its headphones. The PXC 550-II is free of a power button because rotating the right ear cup powers the headphones on and off.
Related: Best noise cancelling headphones
Bespectacled listeners are bound to enjoy either headset, though Bose made its name on comfort, and the QC 35 II edges out the Sennheiser PXC 550-II in that regard. Each headset has an over-ear design, but the QC 35 II gives you greater clearance for large ears compared to the Sennheiser PXC 550-II. Bose and Sennheiser’s headphones both include removable memory foam ear pads, which makes them easy to clean or replace.
Which headphones have better software?
With the Sennheiser PXC 550-II, you can toggle between three noise cancelling settings: Mode 1, Mode 2, and off. In the Sennheiser Smart Control app, you can select which kind of ANC you want for Mode 1 (adaptive ANC or adaptive, anti-wind ANC). You can also toggle effects like smart pause, which automatically detects when the headphones are removed and pauses playback. The app also features call enhancement and smart assistant preference settings. Both applications let you create a custom EQ, but Sennheiser’s options are limited.
The Bose Connect+ app has a more pleasing UI than the Sennheiser Smart Control app.
The Bose Connect+ app lets you find your headphones, select your preferred voice assistant, and set up the action button. You can only assign one action to the Action button: either accessing your assistant, or cycling through ANC modes, but not both. If your smartphone has a native Google Assistant, you can access it via the multifunction button on the right ear cup. You can toggle between three levels of ANC: low, high, and off.
Bose’s app also lets you connect two headphones to one device and share audio. This is something iPhones and some Samsung devices already support, but other users will enjoy the streamlined way to share music.
Does Bose or Sennheiser have better noise cancelling?
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II has long been atop many people’s lists of “best ANC headphones” for a good reason: they’re good noise cancelers. Sennheiser’s headphones aren’t quite as good in the bass region, but both are effective. However, the Bose QC35 II is better here.
Learn more: How do noise cancelling headphones work?
Sennheiser supports more Bluetooth codecs
Anyone who alternates between iOS and Android devices will get more mileage with the Sennheiser PXC 550-II, because it supports a handful of high-quality Bluetooth codecs: AAC, aptX, and aptX Low Latency. All devices can stream high-quality audio to the Sennheiser headphones, which is in great contrast with the Bose QuietComfort 35 II, which only supports AAC and SBC. As is well documented, AAC performs inconsistently across Android devices, because the operating system struggles to encode the codec properly.
Both headsets support wired audio for lossless playback.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II uses Bluetooth 4.1 firmware, which is a bit dated compared to the PXC 550-II’s Bluetooth 5.0 firmware. The main difference between these two firmware versions is power efficiency, which the Sennheiser’s more impressive battery life demonstrates. Both headsets support multipoint connectivity, which is great for keeping an ear on incoming calls and notifications while watching TV.
The Sennheiser PXC 550-II has better battery life than the Bose QC 35 II
The Sennheiser PXC 550-II lasts 21 hours, 58 minutes on a single charge with ANC on its highest setting, which outperforms the Bose QuietComfort 35 II battery measurement of 15 hours, 46 minutes.
Both headsets require a microUSB cable to charge, and both support fast charging. Bose’s headset can offer 2.5 hours of playtime after just 15 minutes of charging, while Sennheiser’s provides 1.5 hours of playtime after a 10-minute charge. It takes just over two hours to charge Bose’s headphones, while it takes three hours to charge Sennheiser’s.
Both headsets have excellent sound quality
If you came for accurate sound quality, you’ll get it from either headset.
Sennheiser and Bose’s headphones reproduce neutral-leaning frequency responses, but per our objective measurements, the Sennheiser PXC 550-II are a touch more accurate. This is visualized in the frequency charts: Bose’s headset amplifies sub-bass notes to an audible degree, while Sennheiser’s sound signature toes the line of platonic ideal (the dotted red line) until 1kHz.
Again, both headsets make music sound as the artists and audio engineers intended, so there’s no wrong choice. Plus, you can equalize either sound profile in the respective mobile app. These neutral sound signatures are great for tinkerers, and make it easy to adjust the output of certain frequencies without introducing harmonic distortion.
See also: Best Sennheiser headphones
Which headphones are best for phone calls?
The microphone systems have very different frequency responses: Bose applies a high-pass filter to its microphone, so that low frequencies are de-emphasized. This may look strange but it’s strategic: manufacturers do this to reduce the proximity effect, which is when bass notes are amplified too much as a speaker gets close to the microphone.
Sennheiser applies a less intense high-pass filter to the PXC 550-II, which effectively transmits accurate audio without flirting with the proximity effect. Both headsets are well equipped with excellent mics to handle your personal and professional calls.
Give each demo a listen, and vote on your favorite microphone:
Bose QuietComfort 35 II microphone demo:
Sennheiser PXC 550-II microphone demo:
Should you buy the Bose QuietComfort 35 II or Sennheiser PXC 550-II?
You can’t go wrong with either headset, but there are a few things that may sway you toward one over the other. Operating system-agnostic listeners will find the Sennheiser PXC 550-II to be a better tool, because of the vast high-quality Bluetooth codec support. However, if you want the most comfortable headphones and better ANC, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II make more sense.
Another thing to consider: price. Typically both headsets retail for around $300 USD, but prices are constantly in flux. When we originally reviewed the Sennheiser PXC 550-II noise cancelling headphones, they were available for just shy of $200 USD, now you’re lucky to find them for less than $300 USD. The Bose QuietComfort 35 II currently retail for about the same price, depending on your preferred vendor. Be sure to consider the costs and benefits of where you buy you headphones from; some vendors have great customer service and warranty coverage while others don’t.
Check out the Sony WH-1000XM4 instead
The Sony WH-1000XM4 is also great for listeners willing to up their budgets. It’s also on sale for $299 USD, which is a big price drop for a recent flagship. The sound signature isn’t nearly as neutral-leaning as either headset discussed today, but you can take granular control of the EQ in Sony’s Headphones Connect app.
Sony’s headset has much better noise cancelling performance than the Bose QC 35 II and Sennheiser PXC 550-II, and more software features too. Even simple hardware comforts like a USB-C port is built into the Sony headset. It’s also much cheaper than the infamous AirPods Max but offers a similarly comprehensive feature set.
The Apple AirPods Max have the best active noise cancelling in the biz
Anyone deep in the Apple ecosystem will appreciate the Apple AirPods Max. This headset has the most effective active noise cancelling performance we’ve ever tested here at SoundGuys, and it also sounds fantastic. What’s more, when paired to an iPhone or other Apple device, it offers an impressive set of features like Spatial Audio and Bluetooth multipoint functionality. It doesn’t have an easy option for wired listening, and its carrying case is pretty useless, but otherwise the AirPods Max is a great pair of headphones if you can foot the $549 bill.
Consider the Shure AONIC 50
Another great noise cancelling headset is the Shure AONIC 50. If you want some of the best wireless audio quality, with vast Bluetooth codec support and USB-C passthrough audio functionality, get these comfortable headphones.
Next: Best Bose headphones