Bose QuietComfort 35 Review: An exceptional wireless noise cancelling headphone

UPDATE: Bose has added adjustable ANC to this pair of headphones!

On the morning of Sunday June 5th, 2016, Bose surprise-launched a brand new lineup of wireless headphones. Two models hit stores immediately, and two are coming later this year.

The line included a brand new flagship noise-cancelling headphone: The Bose QuietComfort 35.

I shouted many expletives at my computer screen for a while upon reading and being stunned by this news, then told myself I wouldn’t run out and buy the headphones. I was done. I didn’t need more headphones! I already had the QC25’s, and those were awesome and good enough!

I lasted about a day and a half.

This silver color very nearly sold me on the headphones by itself. It’s a slick, great--looking, classy finish.

The Bose QC35 is a greatest-hits version of other Bose headphone models, along with a few sprinkles of new that are all its own. It takes the wireless function and basic design of last year’s excellent Soundlink II and pairs them with a slightly improved version of the breathtaking active noise cancelling from the QC25.

It comes in two colors: a brand-new Silver (pictured above), and a Black color that’s suspiciously similar to the limited edition Triple Black QC25 released last year.

That second fact made me feel a little bit silly for purchasing the Triple Black headphones last year…but I get that every headphone has to come in black. This has become a weird fact in the audio industry. Want your product to be popular? Better have one that comes in black!

Design/Build/Comfort

The design is almost 100 percent identical to last year’s Soundlink II around-ear wireless headphones, with some tweaks. The steel hinges are slightly more flexible and allow the QC35 to fold to a smaller size for stowage in the included case. The backs of the earcups are made out of the same higher-quality material as the QC25, though the right side has a seam in it near its top third…probably in place so that the Bluetooth signal can better penetrate the otherwise solid ear cup.

Like the Soundlink II, this will actively connect to two bluetooth devices at once, and seamlessly switch between them depending on which one is producing sound. There’s a new iOS/Android app called Bose Connect which gives you control over what devices are connected, allows you to rename the headphones, and also provides some other controls and info. This app is great, and makes usability much better. You can achieve basic device selection by pushing on the power/toggle switch, but it’s way less convenient.

The comfort here is lovely. Luscious. Like a soft, warm pillow of wonderfulness. A plush and delightful wearing experience. They totally disappear on your head. Just like all Bose headphones, really. Bose has been a master of comfort for years and years, and hardly anyone else has caught up. These are a touch heavier than any other Bose headphone, but still super plush and pleasant to wear.

So, if this model is largely inspired by the Soundlink II around-ear design, what’s new? The materials are like those in the QC25…strengthened ear cup backs, steel hinges, and glass-filled nylon. That’s like plastic, except way better and more durable. The headband is a combination of Alcantera cloth and protein leather, and upon first opening the package it smells like a new car. Which is great! The ear pads contain soft memory foam, and their leather material doesn’t heat up my ears nor collect a ton of sweat. You can use these in a warmer room or environment without issues. I don’t know if I’d exercise in them, but I don’t usually like to exercise with full-size headphones.

The cloth on the inside of the ear cups has been extended to cover the entire interior of the cup for the first time ever in a Bose headphone. It’s a small detail touch that most people won’t notice, but it’s pretty nice. I noticed it as soon as I picked up the headphones, because it turns out I’m really weird and picky.

These more than live up to my picky nature, design-wise.

Sound

These have best-in-class Noise Cancelling performance, just like the QC25s. If you want a noise cancelling headphone, you probably want a Bose product. Seriously. These have the best isolation on the market, especially for their small size and comfort.

(EDIT: The new Sony MDR-1000X have slightly better isolation! But oh man they have light bass response, so nevermind)

If you’re going to be in any kind of remotely loud environment, these are a phenomenal choice. The environment will be reduced to a soft murmur, and you will fully hear the details of your music/sound. Bose’s noise cancellation is just as great as ever. The background noise magically goes away. If you’ve never heard it before, it’ll blow your mind. It still makes me smile every time, and this is the third generation of the tech that I’ve owned.

The QC35 actually has three distinct sound/use modes available. A 2.5mm to 3.5mm standard audio cable is included. You can hook this up and use the headphones with the power turned off…and the sound is adequate, but nothing special.

The other two modes require the power switch to be on. With the cable hooked up, noise cancellation and the Active DSP turn on. With the cable detached, noise cancellation, Active EQ, and the Bluetooth 4.1 connectivity all fire up.

The Active DSP and EQ are special Bose processing technologies which help the headphones to produce incredible sound in conjunction with noise cancelling. If the sound were left unchanged, the noise cancellation would make it sound quite strange. The DSP handles that. The cool thing here is that these produce a better sound than any other Bose headphone I’ve heard. The bass is full, robust, and deeply extended. You’ll feel it in your chest and your feet. Impressively, it doesn’t bleed into the mids and highs whatsoever. Vocals are strong and smooth-sounding, and highs are crisp, bright, and detailed. The sound signature here is phenomenal, and rivals some of the best headphones out there. It’s like having a nice home theater setup on your head.

Furthermore, in wireless mode the Active EQ will help maintain this audio curve at any volume level. Different volumes will affect the audio performance of headphones normally, but the QC35’s are constantly EQ-ing the sound to maintain the same performance. If you’re not a fan of electronics messing with your audio….you might not like it. But the results are great. These headphones will take any music or sound you throw at them, and play it back with aplomb.

The QC35s also have a really wide and spacious soundstage for their size. Over time, the noise cancelling can lead to a bit of a closed- in, plugged- ears feeling that you may not like on first use, but it’s something you’ll adjust to over time, and it’s not bad for your ears or anything. Did I mention the background audio goes away? If you’ve never tried Bose noise-cancelling, do yourself a favor and try a demo unit in a store. Then you can curse at me for making you want to save up for the headphones.

Wireless mode is the best way to go, followed by wired with noise cancelling on. Wired un-powered mode is there in a pinch, but you may not ever feel that pinch because oh man the battery in these is completely insane and awesome.

Extras

I don’t know how Bose achieved such wonderful battery life for these headphones. Ditching the AAA battery system from the QC25, there’s now a built-in battery that charges fully over USB in a couple of hours. It provides 20 hours of battery life in wireless mode, and 40 hours of wired noise cancelling use. This is phenomenal, and one of the best batteries I’ve ever encountered. It’s stupidly good.

(UPDATE: Apple has since outdone this battery life in the Beats Solo 3 Wireless, but 20 hours is still really impressive).

The included case is hard-sided and robust. Unlike the QC25’s case, which had an included diagram to show you which ear cup to fold which way, the QC35 will fit in with either ear cup folded to the top. A nice little touch. There’s also two neoprene pouches for cable storage, one inside the case and one on the back, that you can use at your discretion. Not that you’ll need the cable that often with 20 hours of battery life. An old-style airplane adapter is also included for airplane use. There’s a little notch in the case to hold it.

You can take calls from your phone when using these in wireless mode. The mic sounds good, with the same noise-cancelling tech applied to filter out noise. There’s also a sidetone feature so you can hear your own voice. This is wonderful! Taking a call on the 25’s could be uncomfortable, since my voice sounded muffled and distant, and that problem is now solved! Another win for the new hotness of the QC35.

Final Thoughts

I thought I was done with headphones. I have amassed a small collection over the last year and a half or so that features models for every possible use. And then Bose surprise-released these, a fantastic combination of features from some of their best models, with a new bassy sound to boot. And a slick new Silver color. They’re priced at $350 bucks…and I realize that’s not cheap. But it’s very competitive with other models on the market right now, and absolutely worth the price. If you find yourself considering both the QC25 and 35, the 35 is totally, fully, 100 percent worth the 50 dollar price bump. If the QC25 drops in the future, the choice will be tougher, but right now it’s easy.

These are the Bose headphones to buy. They do everything that all the lower models do, and then some. They’ll isolate you from outside noises. They’ll give you great battery life. They connect to things wirelessly. They look great. And they sound wonderful. Bose has a real winner here, and I suspect they’ll sell it for many years and eventually come out with new colors too.

Here’s a link to Bose’s product page for these, with a bunch of good info.

And here is a goofy promo image I stole from their site, because what headphone review would be complete without one?

This woman is putting her fingers gently into various paints, while also listening to the headphones. You too can do this if you buy these headphones and have some paint!

Edited 6/14/16 for better explanation of the sound experience, and for clarity.