Noise cancelling headphones have always had issues with sound quality but the new Bose QC35 go a long way to solving past problems. We are now a fair few generations into Bose's QC (Quiet Comfort) line of travel headphones and the 35 are now facing a lot of competition from the likes of Parrots Zik 3.0 and Sony's MDR and Fiil's new ultra advanced Diva Pro.
I reviewed the Bose QC25 last year and they quickly became my go-to headphone for both traveling and commuting. I loved the performance of the noise canceling tech but was somewhat let down when it came to the overall fidelity.
The QC35 are out now, they are the new kings and Bose is claiming a raft if improvements... especially in the sound department. We wanted to wait a while before publishing the review, I tested them on planes, cars, and trains as well as in noise trade halls and busy offices at work. Read on to find out how they performed.
Packaging and Accessories
The accessories and packaging with Bose headphones has always been good. You get a well-designed consumer friendly box that displays all the necessary information about features and functions of the cans that lurk inside.
It's a friendly design set to appeal to and entice buyers in stores as opposed to being a luxury niche style box of more audiophile focussed headphones. It's to the point but without fanfare and pomp. No problem for us as we throw out the packaging on the first day.
With the QC35, you also get a number of extras designed to enhance the experience and thankfully they are all pretty useful and are very high quality. You get the airplane adapter, a 2.5mm to 3.5mm headphone cable for when you don't want to go wireless (or if you run out of battery) and excellent travel case and a charging cable.
Design and Build Quality
Good God these things are light. That's probably the first thing anyone thinks when the pick up a pair of QC35. Not a light as the outgoing QC25 headphones but that extra weight is a result of an increase in build quality so we're happy with the trade off.
No doubt the styling is still very much in keeping with the Quiet Comfort tradition but subtle design changes have made both the silver and black versions look a little more up to date and almost cool. They are not as futuristic or as wild looking as Parrot's Zik 3.0 or as sleek as the Diva Pto but if like me you are more of a fan of understated design then the Bose will be right up your street.
Button placement for controlling tracks, calls and volume are all in the right place and after a couple of minutes using them they become second nature. It becomes intuitive after only a few minutes and again everything feels really well put together.
One of the most comfortable headphones we have reviewed
Apart from the noise cancelling the second best thing about the Bose QC35 is the comfort. You can wear these for hours on end and never feel the need to take them off.
Firstly they are a full circumaural design meaning that they are worn over your ears as opposed to on them. This lets your ears have ample room to breath and stops your head from getting all hot and sweaty. Additionally this will stop any build up of friction that some users report from using on ear headphones.
The headband is now a little bit wider and is covered in suede as opposed to cloth. This little touch both increases the overall feel of the product but alleviates pressure on the top of the head. Clamping pressure feels spot on, enough to hold them on your head but not to cause discomfort during those long flights and days in the office.
Next Level Noise Canceling
If you want to know the science behind how noise canceling headphones work then you can read this quick article. I'm sure most of your reading already know what noise canceling does so I'll just get on with saying that, currently, Bose does it better than anyone else and with the exception of the Diva there are no real competitors at this level.
The QC35 have two chips (one in each ear cup) that will pick up those unwanted ambient noises and remove them from what you hear. They manage to do this now in a fraction of a millisecond and the result on the QC35 seems like they have finally got the technology nailed on. Compared with the QC25 and Parrot Zik 3.0 you don't have that sucked out feeling of hollowness with these headphones. Instead, it sounds more like a normal wired headphone (in a good way) without excess crap cluttering up your listening experience.
I used the QC35 for a month flying back and forth to the UQ as well as on various trains and buses and the range of sounds that are blocked out make traveling much more of a pleasure. The thing I liked most was that it just seemed more refined and interfered less with the sound reproduction of your music than with previous generations.
Battery Life & Bluetooth
Bluetooth paired easily just as you would expect and there were no real issues here but I did have one issue. The Bose QC35 don't support streaming via Bluetooth APT-x and that to me is a pain in the ass. Battery life is claimed by Bose to be 20 hours and thankfully they have abandoned the AAA batteries of previous models in lieu of a built-in solution.
In real world testing, we found that most of the time we would get closer to 16-17 hours and that was listening at, what we would call fairly moderate volumes. Still good but I wish manufacturers would list real world results as opposed to best case usage scenarios.
Sound Quality - Easily the Best Sounding Bose Headphone Yet
The biggest leap forward Bose have made with the new model is without a doubt in sound quality. For years I have been saying the companies headphones are great for blocking out external noise but don't go banking on some top level sound. A big issue was the was that the noise canceling technology created a sucked out sound in the audio. Bose seem to have worked this out now and the QC35 are a very good sounding set of portable headphones in their own right.
The hiss of the last generation is gone and the sound is much more open and clear with a lot less of that muddy veil that I used to find irksome. The soundstage also appears to be larger in a side by side comparison. You don't feel as boxed in as you do with this new model and it displays solid amounts of depth and width. It might not be an out of head experience like you get on open backed headphones but it's a welcome leap forward from the company.
Treble is completely inoffensive, as it should be in a headphone of this nature. There's no real occasion where it would get too hot even when tested with the harshest of electronic and jazz tracks. There is just enough sparkle and although it won't be enough to satisfy treble heads out there it makes the perfect traveling companion. One that is not fatiguing through the highs, a relaxing listen that plays its safe in its presentation.
Midrange is the strong point with vocals, guitars, and the like sounding clear spaced and with admirable accuracy for a headphone that incorporates noise canceling technology. On most of the other NC headphones I have tested I got this find metallic roll off in the mids that, thankfully, isn't present here on the QC35.
The lows aren't the tightest but are still enjoyable and they don't bleed into the midrange which is always a plus. If you want to go deep and throw in some EDM and Dubstep the QC35 are more than happy to oblige and surprisingly offer very reasonable sub-bass. Detail in the bass is about average. Similar to what you can expect on other portable headphones within the price point that don't utilize noise canceling so this is certainly a plus point.
Soundstage is ok, its got good width but a little bit more depth but won't feel like an out the head experience. Imaging is good, definitely better than that of the Zik 3.0 and Diva and instrument separation is also quite admirable.
Bose QC35 Review - Conclusion
Bose has bucked the trend and in the QC35 has focussed on improving the making the QC35 one of the best noise canceling headphones of 2016. Companies always seem to be touting a wide range of feature, fixtures, and fittings but lost in the race for the next cool toy was the sonic performance.
Traditionally, NC headphones have been great at what they are intended to do, block out noise, but as a headphone producing sound they have always been pretty mediocre. The Bose QC35 mark a big jump forward for us in the sound department.
Combine that with the good battery life, a move away from AAA cells and some nice new touches on the design front then these are going rightfully be one of the hottest headphones on the market come Christmas 2016 and they are still the best headphone for flying.