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Bose QuietComfort 35 review: the best noise-canceling headphones are now wireless

One of the year's best gadgets, but $350 is a lot for peace and quiet

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As headphones go, Bose guaranteed itself a hit earlier this month when the company unveiled the Quiet Comfort 35s. These new $350 headphones feature Bose’s best-in-class noise cancelation and are capable of hushing busy streets and packed flights down to a whisper that vanishes completely once your music starts playing. And these are the first Bose headphones to offer that peace and on-demand isolation wirelessly. I’ve been using the QC35s for a couple weeks now, and that’s all it took to sway me into buying them. These won’t be my sweat-soaked gym headphones (Beats Solo 2 Wireless) or my open-back “audiophile” headphones (Grado) that stay at home. But if you can deal with the price, the QC35s just might be the perfect everyday headphones.

Bose QC35

That doesn’t mean they’re the best-looking headphones around. The "Bose look" is very established by now, and the QC35s do nothing to break out of that mold. They’re for the professional crowd and frequent flyers, so you’re not going to get the same "fancy headphones" aesthetic that you’d expect from, say, Sennheiser. Put more plainly: they’re boring, and that’s just fine for a lot of people. Bose currently offers two options (black or silver), though you’ll be able to customize the colors later this year much like the QC25s. So at least that’ll allow for some personalization.

But what the QC35s lack in style, they make up for in divine comfort. The headband is a little wider than the older wired QC25 headphones, which is a blessing for my enormous cranium. The part of the band that makes contact with your head is wrapped in Alcantara, an ultrasuede-type material that’s very soft and cushiony. The earcups, made from synthetic leather, wrap nicely around your ears and create a nice seal and noise isolation — even before you power on the noise cancelation feature.

The areas that you touch most often are built from glass-filled nylon (which Bose swears is way better than regular plastic), and stainless steel is used for the headband spring and pivot points (where the QC35s fold) for added durability. I’ve never encountered any build quality issues or reliability concerns with prior Bose headphones, so I don’t expect these to be any different.

On the face of the right earcup is a power toggle, which you’ll use to turn on the headphones and also to quickly switch between the two devices you’ve paired most recently. Reach behind your right ear and you’ll find the volume controls with a play / pause button in the middle. (You can hold that button down to activate Siri on the iPhone, or double / triple press to either skip tracks or go back to the previous song.) Beneath the buttons is the microUSB jack for charging, and over on the bottom of the left earcup is a 2.5mm headphone jack. If you’re listening with the included 2.5-to-3.5mm cable, Bluetooth automatically switches off and battery life jumps from an already generous 20 hours up to 40 hours since you’re using all of that charge for noise cancelation.

They look very much like Bose headphones

You can also go wired if the battery dies completely, but sound quality takes a serious dive in this scenario since you also lose Bose’s Active EQ. Plus, the entire point of dropping $350 on these headphones is going wireless. Be free! And know that the option’s there for when you’re stationary. The wireless connection proved largely reliable over the course of my review, with only a couple split-second dropouts in midtown Manhattan. But 99 percent of the time, it worked without issue.

Bose QC35

The QC35s have NFC built in, so pairing the headphones is a bit quicker on Android than iOS, but it still took under 30 seconds to get going on my iPhone. You’ll hear voice feedback whenever you turn them on, alerting you to how much battery percentage remains and also which device the QC35s are currently linked to. As I said earlier, switching between two music sources — say, your laptop and smartphone — is as easy as giving the power toggle another slide forward. (The headphones can even maintain two connections simultaneously if you wish.)

Bose’s Connect app promises to make switching between multiple devices easier, and it’s also how you’ll install firmware updates. But the idea of headphones requiring an app feels positively silly to me; it’s overkill. So I never bothered and, surprise, everything still worked fine. Only if you plan to pair your headphones with a long list of other gadgets do I see it being worth the install.

So how do these noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones sound? In my listening time so far, they’re slightly richer and fuller than the SoundLink II headphones (also wireless, but sans noise cancelation) that Bose released last year. And that’s to say they sound pretty good. The "no highs, no lows, must be Bose" tagline is straight up unfair at this point, as the experience you get is anything but sterile or flat. My test material has included the latest releases from Drake, Sturgill Simpson, Chance the Rapper, Brian Fallon, my 2016 Spotify playlist, and random selections from Discover Weekly and my iTunes library, which contains only Apple Lossless files.

For the most part, the QC35s present a faithful reproduction of the recordings that I know best, though bass is notched up a bit. The soundstage isn’t as expansive and detailed as $1,000 headphones, but it’s still very pleasing. Acoustic guitars ring through with wonderful clarity and presence; harmonies have enough space to make every vocal note feel distinct; and the QC35s deliver plenty of thump when needed, like during Beyonce’s "Freedom" or through the entirety of Views. I didn’t experience the same distortion issues that drove my colleague Chris Ziegler away from these headphones. Whether it’s differing music tastes or volume preferences, I was left impressed, and he obviously had a different takeaway. You should absolutely try them and run through some favorite songs of your own before buying if you’re on the fence.

Bose QuietComfort 35

Now I’m sure audiophiles would recommend putting $350 elsewhere if sound quality alone is your deciding factor. But that’s not why you buy the QC35s. It’s the noise cancelation that’s the secret sauce here. Bose’s arrangement of microphones in each earcup continuously listens to the outside world around you, sending an equal and opposite signal to your ears that cancels out all that background noise. It never goes away completely; if you’re not listening to any audio, you’ll still hear coworkers talking at the office or a baby crying on a plane, for example. But those sounds are much, much quieter than they’d normally be, and the moment you begin playing music, it’s like you hit the mute button on everything (and everyone) around you.

Sound quality is good, and the noise cancelation can feel like magic

It’s a blessing to have these things on the subway; you’re no longer just pretending that you can’t hear the people next to you. You can’t use ‘em everywhere, though. Since there’s no water resistance, I still have to deal with people grunting at the gym. Even wearing them outside on hot New York days has me a little wary of shorting them out. Bose’s 20-hour battery life estimate seems right on; I end up charging them probably once every three days — and that’s usually when the battery is at around 40 percent. The QC35s also have a noise-rejecting dual-microphone system built in for voice calls and Siri, which worked well enough in my tests. I’ll always feel a little foolish talking without a phone next to my ear, though.

The QuietComfort 35s are exactly what Bose promised they’d be. They’re the best noise-canceling headphones around, and the best-sounding headphones that the company has produced yet. Now you’ve got the added convenience of them being wireless — just in time for an iPhone without a headphone jack. Do I recommend them? If you’re someone seeking escape from outside noise or distractions, then yes. Wholeheartedly. While $350 isn’t cheap, this is one of those instances where you can know you’re buying the best thing available right now. If you don’t need to live in your own world of silence, then plenty of other headphones will do. But it’s hard to leave that peace and quiet once you’ve had it.