When Bose launched the first QuietComfort active noise-cancelling (ANC) headphones in 2000, it changed the way consumers enjoy music outdoors, and especially on planes. The headphones were very functional, achieving noise cancellation and comfort, and were loved by frequent travellers. The QuietComfort (QC) series became the benchmark for decades to headphones manufacturers to emulate. For headphones reviewers, it is the ultimate reference headphones for active noise cancellation technology.
Thanks to this sponsored partnership, I received the latest Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 (also known as HP 700) to review. I will make some comparison to the predecessor, Bose QuietComfort QC35 II.
The HP 700 design is so iconic and inimitable. The ear cups, slightly flatter than the QC35 II, appear to be held by slim rods joined to the headband in a seamless flow. To adjust the length, just slide the ear cups along the rods. The headband is forged in stainless steel covered with soft silicone padded with foam for overall protection.
Pill-shaped operating buttons are blended to the design, and the navigation is achieved by touch panel located on the right ear cup, at the area with the “BOSE” logo. Minimalist and elegant.
One thing I find during my use is that the ear cups twist around very loosely, and they tend to rub against the plastic of the other ear cup. As a person who is particular with keeping my gadgets in great condition, I foresee that over time there will be wear marks. The clamping force of the HP 700 is stronger than the QC35 II, but comfort level is better than many other ANC headphones I reviewed.
With this new design, Bose forgo the ability to fold the HP 700, resulting in a larger storage footprint than the QC35 II. It is understood that the HP 700 does not replace the QC35 II, hence I would consider the HP 700 as a premium styled ANC headphones while the QC35 II is more functional and practical.
The Bose HP 700 can be personalised through the Bose Music app, which is different from the Bose Connect app for QC35 II. The new Bose Music app requires user to create a login to manage the headphones. Once done, you can do firmware updates, change the ANC favourite levels, assign the voice assistant button, manage the connected Bluetooth devices. The HP 700 can connect 2 devices at the same time, which many users like because many people now owns multiple smartphones.
There are only 3 buttons found on the HP 700 – Power-Bluetooth, Voice Assistant, and ANC. The touch panel on the right earcup lets the user navigate the tracks and adjust volume. I like that I can adjust volume in multiple steps by sliding over the touch panel simulating a volume knob instead of swiping many times. I like that I can personalise three ANC levels as favourite to toggle when I press the ANC button (default is 10, 5, 0). With the integration to voice assistant features, I can allow the smartphone to alert me with incoming notifications, from which I can press the voice assistant button to read out the message. I find that it’s rather disruptive to my listening flow, so I prefer to disable it.
The battery life is around 20 hours, which is shorter than most other ANC headphones. But I reckon most of us would not use the headphones for 20 hours straight, so it should not be a deal breaker. It takes 2.5 hours to fully charge the headphones, or 15 minutes to extend usage by 3.5 hours.
There is one thing that makes the HP 700 experience a little less perfect. I find that the power button reacts with a mere short press, resulting in frequent accidental shutdowns. Fortunately, restarting takes just 5 seconds, and I kind of like the epic startup and shutdown audio sequence, which is a sweeping double bass chord played in sforzando. From another perspective, it ensures the power sequence is not delayed due to insufficient holding time.
Active Noise Cancelling
Needless to say, the ANC is improved over the QC35 II, albeit not as obvious, since the QC35 II is already very good. What was improved is the further attenuation of the higher frequencies, but the midrange is slightly eased off. So for a noisy fan exhaust, while the higher pitched hiss is reduced, the chesty air is a little more audible.
But what I really appreciate is the 11-step ANC level, plus an option to turn off ANC from the app. Unlike the QC35 II, ANC Level 0 is not ANC disabled, but it’s the maximum Conversation Mode that lets you hear the environment through the headphones as if you are not wearing them. It works so well for me, I can get on with life without ever removing my headphones. At office or at home, I can choose the ANC level to get the right balance of isolation so that it is just loud enough for me to be aware but not to distract me. During my weekend shopping along Orchard Road, I conveniently toggled my favourite ANC levels when I pay for my items at the cashier, when I am resting at the noisy mall waiting for my wife to finish her shopping. Even as we were walking to the car with my hands full, I could still leave the headphones on my ears, music turned off, and converse with my wife. I do hope that future updates to the firmware would allow me to disable ANC from the headphones, like how QC35 II could.
The audio balance on the HP 700 is different from the QC35 II. To me, the QC35 II sounds a little more aggressive, pushy, and cluttered sound stage at the upper midrange and lower treble, which makes music louder, tighter, more exciting. The HP 700 sound is more to my liking, delivering better instrumental separation, wider sound staging. Treble is clear and disciplined, where vocals remain close, cymbals are crisp without too tiring. The bass is sufficiently intense but not too boomy, while the midrange is kept clean. I certainly enjoy music better on the HP700 than the QC35 II. Despite only supporting up to AAC codec (no aptX or LDAC), I do not detect any audio compression.
I like that regardless of which ANC level, the audio balance remain consistent. There is slight difference when ANC is disabled from the app, where I get more deep bass and a little less transparent treble. But under passive mode (direct wire) with power turned off, the treble and bass sounded flat, the midrange is echoey. All I can say is: just remember to charge the HP 700 before going on a long trip.
As for voice call quality, the HP 700 is marvelous. I love how I can hear the ambient sound while talking to the caller, which makes the conversation more natural. I do not have to raise my voice to hear myself, and my caller can hear me clearly in a shopping mall.
After testing for 2 weeks, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 is surprisingly versatile. I can wear them whole day and for any occasion – at work, at shopping, at home. The ANC implementation leaves no compromises, and the sound quality is enjoyable without fatigue. Voice calls are impressive. I love the design, it’s understated yet outstanding.
But do not write off QC35 II just as yet. The predecessor remains more comfortable to wear for long periods and more compact for travel. The sound character favours listeners with a preference for exciting treble and tighter sound.
HP 700 vs. QC35 II: Summary
|Bose Headphones 700||QC35 II|
|Design||– Premium stainless steel headband |
with durable silicone padding- Touch panel control
|– Plastic headband with Alcantara fabric|
– Foldable with small storage footprint
|Noise Cancelling||– Improved isolation at higher frequencies|
– 11 levels of noise cancelling
– Conversation Mode
– Customisable favourites on ANC button
|– 2 levels of noise cancelling and ANC off|
|Weight and Comfort||250g||– 240g|
– Lighter headband clamp force
|Battery life||20 hours||20 hours|
HP 700: Strengths
- Iconic design that looks subtle yet eye-catching in any occasion
- Better controlled ANC levels to personalise the preferred amount of ambient noise
- Able to connect 2 devices at the same time
HP 700: Weaknesses
- Relatively lower battery life than competitors
- Does not support premium codecs like aptX and LDAC
- Requires larger storage space as the headphones do not fold
- Passive audio quality is uninspiring
The Bose Headphones 700 is available at S$599. Visit https://bose.life/2lgtIW9 for product details.
Disclosure: Products are provided free of charge for the purposes of this review. No other compensation was received. Opinions are from author.