This article titled “Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review: less business, more modern design” was written by Samuel Gibbs Consumer technology editor, for theguardian.com on Monday 16th September 2019 06.00 UTC
Bose’s new top-of-the range 700 noise-cancelling headphones attempt to be the new gold standard, with a new design, new technology and a shift in focus.
Launched to sit atop the long-standing kings of noise-cancelling cans, the £300 QuietComfort 35 II, the new £350 Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 look to shift Bose’s rather staid image toward something more modern and fashionable.
Out goes the segmented headband and folding arms, and in comes a slimmer, seamless metal band terminating in two arms that slide smoothly through the outside of the ear cups for height adjustment.
It’s a sleeker design that removes harsh lines, junctions and breaks. Even the bunching of the ear pads has been smoothed out. The shape of the ear cups forces the headband, which is lined with a soft-touch silicone pad, to sit further back on your head. Wear them too far forward and they’ll slide off.
And they no longer fold in half. Instead the ear cups simply rotate, fitting into a wedge-shaped case, which Bose says is thinner at one end than the QC35 II’s and therefore easier to fit into a flight bag. But not folding means they are harder squeeze into an every-day bag without the case. A small step back in my opinion.
On the head they feel slightly heavier than the QC35 II. The ear pads are slimmer and the ear cups feel more airy, which helped keep my ears cooler, but they grip the sides of my head noticeably harder. They were comfortable for extended periods, but they didn’t feel as immediately snug and relaxed as the QC35.
The controls have been redesigned too. Two buttons on the right take care of power, pairing and voice assistant control – Google Assistant, Alexa or Siri – with advanced Google Assistant or Alexa functionality baked-in if you’d like.
A button on the left ear cup controls the noise-cancelling level. Press and hold to activate conversation mode, which pipes in sound from outside so you can talk to someone – although you look exceptionally rude doing so.
The new touch controls are the best I’ve used on any headphones, and worked reliably even in inclement weather, but not at all with non touch-enabled gloves. Double tap the Bose logo on the right ear cup to pause or play. Swipe forward or back for track skip, and up and down to adjust volume. Seven full swipes takes you from minimum to maximum volume with a continual progression in between.
Connectivity was rock solid to phones and tablets, both Android and iOS. The headphones support Bluetooth 5, but only the SBC and AAC audio codecs. That’s fine for Apple users, because AAC is the highest quality an iPhone or iPad can support, but Android or Windows PC users looking for more advanced formats such as Qualcomm’s aptX series or Sony’s LDAC will have to look elsewhere.
Audio latency control was good, with audio and video perfectly in sync with all the major video apps and services, including the often problematic YouTube. Games showed a little bit of audio delay.
The Headphones 700 can also connect to two devices at once, which means you can watch a video on an iPad and then take a call on your phone or similar. It worked great with mobile devices, but connecting them to a computer and a phone simultaneously caused audio issues.
You can pair lots of devices and hot swap between them using the Bose Music app or you can simply disconnect and reconnect your devices manually using their Bluetooth settings.
Top noise cancelling
The original QC35 pushed noise-cancelling technology to the next level and the Headphones 700 match them, competing favourably with Sony’s best, particularly on commutes, handling wind noise better than any other. Turned up to maximum, the noise cancelling is very effective, blocking or diminishing even the most difficult of sudden or loud noises. The difference between the Headphones 700 and even mid-range models is night and day. You get what you pay for.
Bose has re-engineered its noise-cancelling system for greater flexibility. Now you can choose from 11 levels from maximum noise blocking to fully open, piping ambient sounds from your environment into the headphones using the microphones on their surface.
That means if you want some awareness of what’s happening around you, such as conversations in an office, but without the hum of air conditioning or computers you can adjust the level accordingly. The ambient sound mode is a cut above too, sounding far more natural and open than any other similar technology I’ve used.
Press the noise-cancelling button on the left ear cup to switch between three favourite noise-cancelling levels, which default to zero, five and 10. Every time you switch levels or in and out of conversation mode, the noise-cancelling ramps smoothly up and down again like someone turning a big analogue volume knob. It’s a small detail that makes the whole experience feel all the more luxurious.
Bose products always have a signature sound that has proven divisive in audiophile circles. The Headphones 700 are no different. If you didn’t like how the QC35 or even the original TriPort headphones sounded, you won’t like these.
If you do, then you’ll be treated to well-balanced audio with punch in the low end for a fully rounded sound and clarity in the highs to make tracks sparkle. You’ll also hear an almost clinical separation of tones, which allows individual instruments and notes to stand boldly on their own, not blended into a mush.
The Headphones 700 can handle most music genres well, with an easy listening and open sound that’s slightly more spacious than the QC35. Overall they are some of the most consistent and best-sounding headphones you can buy, right up their with Sony’s MX-1000M3.
There is no equaliser control yet, but Bose said it was working on the ability to adjust the sound of the headphones as part of its new architecture.
Voice calling, as well as voice assistant access, is a new focus for the Bose headphones. Using a series of microphones they perform a similar beam-forming noise cancellation on your voice as smart speakers. The result is clear and loud voice pickup even in the noisiest of environments. If you make a lot of calls or talk to Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri all the time these are for you.
20 hours battery life
The Headphones 700 last just shy of 20 hours between charges when using Bluetooth and noise cancelling turned up to maximum, but longer when used via cable. While not industry leading, given Sony’s MX-1000M3 last in the region of 30 hours. That’s long enough to last a week’s commuting or a transatlantic flight.
It takes just under 2.5 hours to charge them via USB-C, which is fairly slow compared to the fast-charging smartphone. A 15-minute quick charge provides over three hours of playback time though, which is handy if you forget to charge them.
- There’s a strum on a double bass when you turn them on, which I found annoyingly loud in quiet environments
- Occasionally it took several attempts to get the Bose Music app to connect to the headphones
- You can independently adjust the volume on the headphones when using the wired connection, handy for use as a gaming headset or with a headphones splitter sharing a tablet
- The case has a small pouch inside that holds the USB-C and analogue headphones cable
- Bose no longer supplies an aeroplane headphones adapter in the box, but you probably don’t need one anymore
- The headphones support Bose AR, the company’s audio-augmented reality platform
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 cost £349.95 and are available in black or silver.
For comparison, the RRP for the Bose QuietComfort 35 II is £300 (currently £260), Sony’s WH-1000XM3 cost £329, Beats Studio 3 Wireless cost £300, with cheaper models such as Lindy’s BNX-60 starting around £90.
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 mark a shift for the company, attempting to diverge from a perception of being bought by business travellers towards a design-led luxury offering with a £350 price tag to match.
They’re certainly sleeker and more expensive-looking. The way they operate is smoother too, whether it’s the fading and in and out of sound modes or the best-in-class swipe touch controls.
They are also the best-sounding Bose headphones to date, with a consistent refined performance. Audiophiles may still be put off by the Bose sound signature. Noise cancelling is top notch, but now adaptable with a sliding scale of levels available, and voice calling or voice assistant control is best-in-class. If you make calls or talk to Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri a lot, these are for you.
But part of the seamless design is the removal of folding arms. The ear cups still rotate to flat, but the headphones are harder to fit into a general commuting bag than the QC35. The ear cups feel more spacious and cooler when wearing, but the headband squeezes your head noticeably harder than the QC35, and as a result weren’t quite as comfortable. They are still more comfortable for extended periods than key competition though.
The Headphones 700 support Bluetooth 5 for better connectivity, can connect to two devices at once, which is extremely handy, but they struggle connecting to both a computer and a smartphone. Hopefully an update can solve those problems, but stick to mobile devices for now and everything works fine.
The lack of higher quality or low-latency Bluetooth audio formats beyond SBC and AAC is slightly disappointing for non-Apple users, and while battery life is solid at just shy of 20 hours, it’s not class leading.
They’re pricey, but the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are some of the best headphones you can buy. They just don’t quite transform the market in the same way the original QC35s managed in 2016.
Pros: brilliant user-adjustable noise cancelling, best-in-class ambient sound, best-in-class voice calling, great sound, excellent controls, good battery life, multi-point connectivity, comfortable, USB-C, enhanced Google Assistant support
Cons: expensive, no aptX etc, bugs with PC connectivity, don’t fold
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