Bose bashing is popular among audio enthusiasts, and I understand why. The company's speakers and many of its audio products are designed to speak to the needs/wants/desires of mainstream consumers rather than to religiously follow the hunt for ultimate audio accuracy. One reader called Bose speakers the "Happy Meal of audio," and that's a pretty good description. The speakers are designed to sell--and they sure sell. Billion upon billions of dollars per year in sales. So I guess Bose gets the last laugh. And no matter what you think of Bose speakers, it's pretty hard to find a company in any category that's better at multi-channel marketing. Bose is sold everywhere from airport kiosks to print catalogs to big-box stores to door-to-door.
Bose got the memo on wireless headphones years before everyone else. The company has been making perhaps the world's most advanced noise-canceling headphones and marketing them to wireless-minded consumers long before Apple yanked the headphone jack out of our iDevices. the Bose QuietComfort 35 (Series II) Wireless Headphones are priced at $350 and are a pretty lightweight, nondescript-looking pair of headphones, especially in this era of fashion-statement cans from an ever-growing list of new players.
Setup is about as easy as possible: there's an on/off/Bluetooth toggle right on the outside of the right ear cup. Simply flip the switch to the Bluetooth side, and a female voice finds your device (in my case, a Macbook Pro) and announces it in your ear. My Bose QuietComfort 35 IIs came with a reasonable amount of charge right out of the box, but you will likely want to charge them up fully. To do so using my MacBook required a USB-A (female) to USB-C adapter. If you are using the latest MacBooks, you will quickly learn to appreciate the usefulness of that $6 adapter.
Much like many of the headphones in the wireless, noise-canceling category, the QuietComfort 35 is voice-activated. What makes the Bose headphones a little more new-school is the fact that they have Google Assistant built in, so you can use your voice to do all sorts of tasks--like getting texts, playing music, and more. Personally I'm not that into the whole voice control thing; but, if you are, you will enjoy these headphones.
Bose is a leader in noise cancellation, and you can select from three levels (depending on how loud that baby is crying in the back of the plane), or you can choose not to use it at all. Many noise-canceling headphones tend to sound "sucked out" in the midrange, but I didn't hear that with the QuietComfort 35. I tested the noise cancellation with me sitting in my office and my six-year-old son cranking Thunderbirds in the next room through my main AV system. I didn't have to make many adjustments to get a suitably quiet environment to enjoy the music from my laptop right between my ears. The noise cancellation in these Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones is as good I've heard to date, and these other headphones offer more adjustability than any of the other cans that I've reviewed in the class--and I've tested nearly all of them in recent months.
In terms of fit, the QuietComfort 35 Series II is the lightest pair of headphones that I've tested in the category. Bose uses a material called Alcantara, which is soft and feels cool on your ears. The issue of wireless headphones getting too hot or heavy over long listening periods is a concern, and these Bose suffer from none of those maladies. They also fold up nicely so that they fit into my briefcase.
I ripped some new music onto my music hard drive in the form of the latest Thievery Corporation album Treasures from the Temple. These Washington, D.C. deejays combine all sorts of groovy musical elements into a stylish mix that is both hip and easy to listen to. What I first noticed (and double-checked through a few other sets of wireless headphones sitting on my desk) was that the QuietComfort 35 headphones don't have that bass-forward sound that is all the rage these days. They sound very balanced, both with and without the noise cancellation. You can tweak the EQ of your music using the Bose app, but that was easier from my iPhone X than from my Macbook Pro. The track "Letter to the Editor" is an upbeat reggae remix with hard-charging female vocals and plenty of Thievery production effects. When the song makes it quickly to its first chorus, I got a headphone experience that was balanced but still pretty engaging.
"The Dream Police" is one of many fantastic recordings on David Byrne's solo record Rei Momo, and it makes for a wonderful audiophile demo on any system--be it a big stereo rig or $349 wireless headphones. Through the Bose headphones, the salsa accompaniment was spacious, with guitars jangling in the air without ever sonically stepping on the horns or strings. Byrne's iconic voice--familiar to anyone who grew up watching The Talking Heads on MTV in the 1980s--was layered wonderfully on top of this lush instrumentation.
The QuietComfort 35 got a much tougher test from "In the Flesh" off of Pink Floyd's The Wall. The hugely orchestrated opening gave me a chance to really air out these headphones (although I warn you to be careful about blasting ANY headphone, as that is a quick way to go deaf). In the first verse, I especially noted the echo on Roger Waters's voice en route to the recurring "wall-rift" presented over a cacophony of bass, drums, WWII airplanes, cymbal crashes, and airplane crashes. Through it all, the Bose headphones held up really well. Comfortable, balanced, and able to block out external noise. Not bad, folks.
• The QuietComfort 35 Series II headphones are perhaps the most comfortable headphones in their class.
• The battery life is very long, which is true of many of the headphones in this class. I recommend a quick charger like the Anker that I recently invested in for my travel rig. Respectfully, the battery life on these Bose headphones is so long that you can forget to charge them for an entire trip across the country and back.
• The overall tonality of these headphones is really balanced, perhaps even more so than cans from more "audiophile accepted" companies. Don't bring stereotypes to this headphone party, as the Bose likely don't sound the way you think they do. They are much better. More polite.
• I love how light these headphones feel on your ears, and they don't get hot. Not all over-the-ear headphones can say that.
• The QuietComfort 35 is not the sexiest headphone. If you are going for a fashion statement, there are better-looking headphones in the category.
• Some may consider the QC 35's sound to be a bit overly polite. Nothing is missing--it's just that they aren't going to come out and grab you musically. Think: more Lexus and less Aston Martin.
Comparison and Competition
There are plenty of players in the $300-to-$400 wireless headphone category, and I have been powering through most of them (the Beats are charging now on my desk). You can read my review of the Bowers & Wilkins PX, which is physically nicer than the Bose and has a more bass-forward sound. The B&W headphones are a bit heavier and slightly hotter on the ear, too.
Sennheiser's HD1 Wireless Over-Ear Headphones are another competitor that I've recently auditioned. The HD1 is $50 more in price and is the closest match to the Bose in terms of comfort, although I'd give the Bose a slight edge. The Sennheiser's sound is more engaging and detailed than that of the Bose.
I haven't gotten to the Beats Studio3 Wireless Headphones yet. That headphone is much more fashion-forward in terms of aesthetics. When I've auditioned older Beats models, they sounded way more bass-heavy than I prefer, but I'm eager to spend some time with the newer design--as I am hoping for more refinement.
I was speaking with AudiophileReview.com editor Steven Stone last week, who has both the Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II and the Beats Studio3 in for review for a roundup that The Absolute Sound is doing--and he shared my opinion that there is a lot to like about the QC 35 Series II in terms of fit, sound, and value. I know that plenty of audiophiles read this publication, and my advice to you is to put stereotypes aside--because if you are looking for a very comfortable, features-laden, balanced pair of affordable wireless headphones, the Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II belongs on your short list to consider.