After a valuable opportunity to review the Sony MDR-1000X noise cancelling headphones as well as attending the Plantronics Singapore launch of the new BackBeat PRO 2 with ANC, I had to compare the ANC of both headphones with Bose QC series, which for many years remain undisputed as the best active noise cancelling headphones. I experienced the QC15 and QC20 2 years ago and I was totally blown away by the amount of cancellation it creates, as if I was in a sonically-treated studio room.
Acoustic Noise Cancelling
Bose terms it “acoustic noise cancelling”, but essentially they are the same. Instead of passive noise isolation which means noise is reduced by physically restricting noise via earphone tips or thick headphone cushions, noise is electrically cancelled out by playing an inverse audio signal to effectively cancel out noises. The headphones know how to cancel out because of microphones located on the headphones. For Bose, microphones are located on the outside as well as inside the headphones, achieving better noise cancelling.
The QC35 is Bose first wireless ANC headphones, which satisfies consumers who have been requesting for the longest time. The design remains largely similar to the predecessors. Made mostly of high-quality plastic with leather furnishings around the headband, Bose puts weight above all, as frequent travelers would appreciate. One must definitely put some due care in handling the QC35, but Bose included a hard case so it will confidently survive rough baggage handling. The over-ear cushion is well-sized to easily cup over my ears without touching my ears.
The QC35 easily connects to Bluetooth devices by either using the NFC or manually activate Bluetooth pairing. The QC35 supports connecting up to 2 devices at a time and remembers previously paired devices.
Unlike other ANC headphones, the QC35 offers very limited controls. First, the ANC cannot be disabled during wireless mode. Second, there is no “ambient mode”, so you have to remove the headphones from the ears when carrying out a conversation. Neither is there auto-pause when headphones are removed. There are just 3 buttons to control the music and answer phone calls. The volume buttons protrude more while the middle button recedes, which I thought was a great design as the finger easily locates the 2 volume buttons and naturally will find the middle button. To skip track, press the middle button twice.
Perhaps it is this simplistic approach that works well for consumers. It does only one thing – ANC – and it does very well. While high-pitched sounds still make their way, it is very subtle and does not affect greatly to the musical experience. I was wearing the QC35 at the car grooming workshop and all casual chatter and distant radio sounds are totally eliminated. Only when I removed my headphones occasionally did I realise what noisy environment I was in.
Bose takes the unusual approach to fold the headphone cups outwards. Most other headphones fold inwards so that the ear cups face inwards when you rest the headphones around the neck. Actually, Bose approach makes more sense when packing and unpacking the headphones, such that when you pick up the headphones from the case and unfold, you can put it straight on the head without having to switch the direction. Similarly, when removing the headphones, you just fold the headphones cup outwards and towards the headband and place into the case.
Without doing side-by-side comparison, the Bose QC35 delivers music with forward treble and distinctive bass, the latter due to excellent noise cancellation resulting in improved audio response of the lows into the listener’s ears. In fact, thanks to ANC, there is no need to turn up the volume to enjoy music. There is slightly wide sound stage to feel the reverb. There is a boost around the mid treble, around 2 – 4kHz, which makes strings and brass a little harsher.
I enjoy listening Classical, instrumental or soft pop music on the QC35 because the multiple instrumental layers are easily delivered regardless of the environmental sounds, as well as the sound staging allowing each instrument to present itself without clutter. If you listen mostly loud and heavy music, not only the ANC is not that critical, the strong treble might cause listen fatigue.
Bose QC35 offers one of the most amazing phone call experience. When answering calls, I could hear the other party and the background, making me feeling as if I am at the location.
Is the noise cancelling still as superior to the other competitors like Sony MDR-1000X? The Bose ANC still offers slightly stronger noise cancellation at the lower frequencies, but Sony MDR-1000X seems to eliminate higher frequencies slightly better than Bose. Hence the latter achieves ANC in a more natural way without feeling over-processed.
Apps and Battery
When installed with Bose Connect smartphone app, I can access the QC35 to check battery level, adjust volume, do firmware update, change voice prompt language, change auto-off timer, manage all the connected devices, and access the user manual for help.
The QC35 is rated to last 20 hours with wireless audio, or 40 hours with wired (the included cable has a smaller 2.5mm audio plug on the QC35). It takes about 2 hours to charge the headphones over micro USB.
The Bose QC35 remains as a reliable pair of headphones to frequent travelers for its top-grade noise cancelling capability and thoughtful design elements. It does not offer tech gimmicks, and relies on core features to deliver the best experience. But other brands are catching up in this race, like Sony MDR-1000X which offers matching ANC qualities plus other interesting features. Bose must evolve the QuietComfort series to stay relevant.
- Superior noise elimination
- Ease of use
- Gradually losing competitive edge
Bose QC35 is available at Atlas showroom in Singapore at S$549. It is also available at good audio equipment retailers.