When one looks for a suitable pair of headphones; what does one look for in particular? Of course, the question is highly subjective, but one may come up with general criteria for suitable headphones. They should not be too highly priced, neither should they be too cheap (as we all know what happens to the average run-of-the-mill headphones). They should sound great, comfortable for long wear, preferably wireless but with reasonable battery life. They should surround us with quiet comfort so we may work in peace, relatively speaking. Although, being visually impaired, total isolation from the outside world might not be desirable.
I almost always wear headphones for my daily work, and I work in noisy places like my resident hall’s common room or a cafe where the noisy student chatter always distracts me. I was looking for a pair of headphones which should be comfortable as well as reduce outside noise.
The Bose Quiet Comfort 35 are bluetooth headphones equipped with Active Noise cancelation technology. Just to mention, there are two types of noise canceling headphones, active and passive. The passive noise cancelation headphones are such that they fit snugly over one’s ears and prevent much of the outside noise coming in while one uses them.
The active noise cancelation, on the other hand, is another matter altogether. The microphones situated inside and outside the ear cups constantly listen to the outside noise and create opposite signature signals to cancel the noise.
Bose is well known for its active noise cancelling technology and QC 35s are the first wireless headphones launched by Bose to have this feature.
I came across Bose’s new headphones, Quiet Comfort 35, and I found most of what I have been looking for.
I will try to put forth my impressions of them. I have owned them for a week now and have tested them in various surroundings and with various audio tracks. I have tested them connected to single devise, multiple devices to check the connectivity issues.
First, let me talk about the initial impressions when I unboxed them. For a pair of headphones packed with lot of functionality, they did feel a bit fragile in the beginning. However, I quickly overcame that feeling, they are flexible, and fold in a smaller size for carrying them around. They can be folded flat to fit in a briefcase, or they can be folded to fit in their carrying case, which can fit easily in a briefcase or a backpack. The carrying case is hard-shelled, and felt luxurious to touch. The headphones fit in them snugly, there is also an inside compartment to carry the audio and USB cable. There is also a small slot in a corner to carry a special jack for onboard flight entertainment system.
When I put them on, they fit quite snugly and my ears were covered completely without the ear-cups touching my ears. The fit was not too tight, but was not too loose either and the headphones did not move even with a violent shake of my head.
The right ear-cup has all the controls, and the left ear cup has no buttons, so it is easier for a visually challenged person to quickly know the right and left ear cups. When one touches the surface of the ear-cups, they feel glossy and smooth. In the middle of the ear cup one can feel the embossed Bose logo on both the ear cups. The headband feels luxurious, broad enough to take up the weight and flexible enough to adjust to most of the skull sizes.
On the right ear cup, slightly above the embossed Bose logo, there is a round-shaped button which slides sideways; easy to locate for a visually challenged person. One may also easily feel in which direction the button is to be slid.
When you slide the button to “on” position, the voice prompt announces the battery level and whether the headphones are connected to any device. It took me less than 3 seconds to pair them with my iPhone 6, using the usual bluetooth connecting steps. With NFC paring capability, one might pair an NFC enabled Android device. However, I do not own such a device so am unable to comment on it. If one puts one’s fingers towards the back of the right ear-cup, one will find three buttons. The lower button is the volume down button, and one can feel the lower side of that button slightly tapering down like an arrow head. The middle button is the play/pause button which is also used for skipping backwards or forwards a track while listening to music. Pressing it three times quickly will skip a track back and pressing it twice quickly will skip forward a track. The middle button is also used for answer/end a phone call. The upper button is the volume up button, which slightly tapers upwards.
Beneath the right ear cup, there is a micro USB slot for charging.
The left ear cup, as I mentioned, has no buttons. However, at the bottom of the left ear cup, there is a headphone jack. Bose Has their own headphone cables, with 2.5 millimetre jack going in the headphones and 3.5 millimetre jack for the host device. Needless to say, these bluetooth headphones can also be used as wired headphones.
When one connects the headphones to a device, the voice prompt announces the device’s name. As most of the bluetooth headphones, one may connect multiple bluetooth devices , however, only two devices will stay connected at a time. When two devices are connected, the voice prompt announces their names, with the latest device’s name at the end. For Example, if one has connected an iPhone as well as a Mac, the voice prompt will announce “Connected to iPhone and Mac”.
Using the power switch button, one may move seamlessly between multiple connected devices. For instance, if one has an iPhone, Mac and iPad connected to the headphones, one may move to any of the devices by sliding the power button all the way till the voice prompt announces the device name. After hearing the device name, one lets go of the button and when the device is connected, the headphones beep to indicate successful connection in a slightly higher tone. The lower toned beep indicates that the connection was unsuccessful. While staying connected to two devices, if one looses connectivity, the voice prompt announces the device name “XYZ” is lost. If the device is found again, the connection establishes itself and the voice prompt announces it.
The QC 35s can be used to answer phone calls, such as a regular phone call, FaceTime call, what’s app, Facebook messenger call etc. To answer a phone call, one simply presses the middle button on the right ear-cup, and pressing the same button will end the current call. Pressing volume up/down buttons together will toggle mute for a current call. Pressing the middle button slightly longer will put the current phone call on hold and will answer another incoming phone call. Pressing the middle button again once will allow the user to establish a conference call, though I have not yet tried this feature.
The active noise cancelation technology works during the phone call as well, which filters out extraneous noise and provides crisp and clear sound to the other end. The microphones located inside and outside on each ear-cup lets one hear one's own voice so one may know how one is sounding to the other party, as well as making sure that one is not shouting at the top of one's lungs. The middle button is also used to activate SIRI on an IOS device.
One problem most bluetooth headphones featuring Active noise cancelation technology face is that the audio quality suffers significantly. I am happy to say, however, that the QC 35s do not have this problem. The sound quality is amazing, better than the Beet’s Wireless Studio, for sure. I tested both headphones in a noisy apple store and could immediately recognise the difference between the Beet’s Studio wireless and Bose’s QC 35s. The Active noise cancelation in the QC 35s works jolly well. When I put the QC 35s over my head, even before turning them on, the surrounding noise was reduced to a distant rumble. When I turned them on, the surrounding noise almost disappeared and I experienced amazing quietude. I did experience discomfort in the beginning, my ears kept popping as if I was flying on a high altitude, but I got used to it shortly. However, I want to add that the noise cancelation does not totally block out the outside noise while not playing music. It does block out lower frequency noise, such as a rumbling air conditioner, bus or a car noise. It also blocked out the train noise pretty well. Higher frequency noise, such as conversations in one’s immediate vicinity is not totally blocked out, though, it is reduced to a distant murmur. While testing these headphones in a busy Edinburgh cafe, most of the noise was blocked out.
When one listens to music, the outside noise is totally shut off. While working with the headphones on with voiceover, the external noise was reduced to a large extent, but not in its entirety. Again, the lower frequency noise was blocked out completely, but the higher frequency noise still persisted, though it was considerably diminished. I could still hear the busy bustle of the cafe I was sitting in, tingling crockery, conversations around me; but like a distant chirping which did not really bother me.
If you are an audiophile, you might not want to go for the QC 35s, as audiophiles would seldom go for bluetooth headphones. Coupled with the active noise cancelling feature, one might assume that the audio quality might suffer, but I did not experience this. The sound coming out of the headphones was rich, crisp. The music stage was pretty detailed, distinguishing vocals from the instruments. I listened to various tracks from my iTunes library and they all sounded rich. While listening to Symphonies such as Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem”, I could experience the elaborate soundstage and the vocals were easily distinguished from the rest of the orchestra. The New age composers like Kitaro, Yanni, world music composers like Niladri Kumar sounded much richer with crisp highs, balanced treble and base. The Indian Fusion and classical music sounded extraordinarily great, I could capture each separate note of a Sitar, while listening to PT. Ravi Shankar. Pure Indian Classical vocals sounded a tad shrill, but adjusting the EQ settings on my IOS device did solve the problem. While listening to music on a Mac via I-tunes, however, I would suggest turning off the sound-enhancer or at least keep it to low or medium low to get the best out of the QC 35s. Personally, though, i would have liked these headphones to pack some more base in them. The QC 35s have their own EQ which tries to deliver music faithfully. However, there is no customisable EQ settings.
The QC 35s have amazing battery life. Bose mentions 20 hours of active listening time with wireless, and amazing 40 hours with them wired up. I found the battery estimate mostly accurate. The voice prompt announces the battery level once it reaches 10%. If one is using an IOS device, one can check the battery percentage in a status bar. While charging the headphones, however, they cannot be used. It took me two hours to charge them fully.
One more thing to mention is that the headphones come with a dedicated app for IOS as well as for Android, which allows the user to Change the headphone name, turn on/off the voice prompt, change the voice prompt language, enable auto-shut down the headphones after a set idle period,move between multiple bluetooth devices, clear-up bluetooth device list from the headphone memory etc, but the IOS app is not that VoiceOver friendly. The buttons are not labelled, so one has to go in the menus to figure out what exactly the menu is all about. Since there is no customisable EQ settings, I found the app mostly superfluous. Not installing the app will certainly not hamper the headphone performance, but one may miss out on firmware updates etc from Bose. Since the headphones are launched in June 2016, along with the app, it is reasonable to expect firmware and app updates soon. I, therefore, would suggest installing the app anyway.
To summarise, The Bose Quiet Comfort 35 bluetooth headphones have amazing design, excellent sound quality, unrivalled active noise cancelation feature, stellar battery life, significant comfort for long use, steady connectivity. On the other hand, the absence of customisable EQ settings and lack of booming base might put one off. Although, one is paying not only for excellent sound quality, but primarily for active noise cancellation and comfort. I have been wearing my QC 35s regularly for more than 6 hours without taking them off; I even forget at times that I am wearing them.
All in all, I found these pair of headphones highly satisfactory. Priced at 290 pounds they are certainly not cheap, but considering that they are one of the best active noise cancelling bluetooth headphones with sound quality not compromised, you cannot go wrong choosing them. I am certainly happy with mine!