I rush out to try every new major brand pair of Bluetooth headphones that hits the market, because I’m still in search of the perfect ones. The latest contender is the Bose QC 35 released earlier this month, which is basically a wireless version of the QC 25 that’s on the head of everyone in Business Class on every flight you’ve ever taken. As our own Chris Welch observes, the noise reduction on this model is astounding — it instantly boils off the ambient din of midtown Manhattan.
And yes, I know, they’re Bose. "No highs, no lows, must be Bose," the old saying goes. But I’m living in a post-brand world, folks. I don’t care what the label says, I just want great wireless cans, which I feel should be a reasonable ask in 2016.
Boy oh boy, do the QC 35s come close to being perfect. So close. I find that they’re light and easy to wear for long stretches, the controls are simple, they have phenomenal noise reduction, there’s a wired mode that doesn’t require power, and the wireless connection seems to withstand the RF nightmare of a dense urban center. They even have upgradeable firmware. They’re ticking all the boxes! And the sound quality is just fine — they’re not the best-sounding headphones I’ve ever heard, but my workhorse everyday headphones don’t need to be.
Then I heard it: phhhhbbbt phhhhbbbt. Phhhhbbbt phhhhbbbt. Above a particular volume, the bass on the QC 35 completely falls apart, distorting so badly that they sound broken. If you use the QC 35 exclusively at moderate volumes and only listen to bright music — rock and classical, for instance — I suppose you might never notice. (And in fairness, the cufflinked dudes in Business Class who normally wear QuietComforts are probably listening to Credence Clearwater Revival and Vivaldi.) But if you like loud, bass-heavy music, the QC 35s are absolutely not for you. They will drive you bonkers.
I’ve verified this behavior on multiple pairs of QC 35s now, so I know I wasn’t using a defective unit. (Unless a bunch of them are defective, in which case Bose has a very different kind of problem.) What’s odd to me is that the reviews have been mostly glowing — CNET, Gizmodo, The Next Web, Tom’s Guide, buyers in the Head-Fi forums all agree. I’m pretty sure even Chris Welch, who sits four desks away from me, thinks I’m crazy. The wide consensus is that these might be the best wireless headphones ever made, and I seem to be the lone voice of dissent.
So yes, you’ll probably like these, even if you’ve been conditioned to dislike Bose. Just don’t listen to anything that the guy in Seat 1A wouldn’t, and you’ll be fine.
As for me? I’m still waiting.