- Bluetooth wireless
- Audio cable remains an option
- Compact design
- Controls can be finicky
- Great wireless sound
Take a look around the cabin on your next flight – especially long international treks – and you'll likely spot many a pair of Bose noise-cancelling headphones helping cocoon travellers from the low dull roar of the cabin.
The latest model in the QuietComfort line-up is the QC35 ($499), which upgrades the popular QC25 to add Bluetooth wireless, a rechargeable battery and twin microphones for better clarity when you're making hands-free calls via your smartphone.
Here's how Bose' new noise-slamming cans shape up.
I've packed various pairs of Bose noise-cancelling headphones in my travel kit for almost a decade.
It's safe to say they aren't the best headphones per se – when I want to bliss out to all-enveloping music at home, I jack into the stereo system with a pair of Sennheiser Momentums.
Where Bose excels is to wrap quite good headphones in superbly effective noise-cancelling technology: in the case of the new QuietComfort 35s, they actually sound better than my current QC25s.
That's a good advance on its own, but more noteworthy when it's achieved over Bluetooth.
Forget about that thin stretched and clipped quality of many Bluetooth headphones. The QC35s boast a richly lined soundstage that's both wide and deep: even with complex compositions and arrangements, you can hear everything that the artist and producer have channeled into the deck.
There's some interesting EQ circuitry in this: the frequency response subtly varies as you adjust the volume. Wind the sound down and the broad middle range softens, with the bass over-emphasised. It sounds kooky but it's quite effective.
The QC35s share the same collapsible design as the QC25s so there's a more modest claim on real estate in your carry-on bag...
... although if you're travelling really light I suggest the QC20 earbuds or perhaps the forthcoming wireless QC30s (shown below), which go on sale mid-September for $399.
If the rumours of Apple's next-gen iPhone 7 ditching the audio jack for an all-in-one USB-C connector turn out to be true, then the QuietComfort 35s will really come into their own.
That said, I'm glad that Bose retained an audio jack on the left earcup and includes a cable in the box, for those times when you're rather be cabled up than cordless, such as when the rechargeable battery runs flat (more on that in a moment).
And the range of the Bluetooth radio is solid – I've wandered all around my two-bedroom apartment with little dropout from even the iPhone's modestly-powered sender.
As for using Bluetooth in flight: you'd want to check with your airline but it's generally allowed during level flight but not during the taxi, take-off or landing stages (ditto for using your own headphones, mind you, because those parts of the flight are when you need to be able to hear crew instructions in the event of an emergency).
Another change from the QC25s: instead of a single AAA cell the new QuietComfort 35 model packs a rechargeable battery which Bose rates up to 20 hours.
I'm perfectly happy to keep a pair of fresh AAA batteries in my QC25 case (that's two batteries: a backup, and a backup for the backup) but as long as you plug the QC35 into any handy USB socket during your travels, you'll probably never hit empty.
In fact, just a quick 15 minutes of charging adds 2.5 hours to the battery life: ideal for a quick top-up on the run, even drawing a little juice from your laptop. But you might want to bring a slightly longer cable – the one supplied is rather short and can leave your QC35s dangling from a USB socket or charger.
If the battery needle does swing around to 'empty', the audio cable will let you use the QC35s as regular headphones without the benefit of noise-cancellation.
(Also, plugging in the cord disables the Bluetooth radio and conserves battery life – you can get 40 hours on a single tank if you rely on the cable instead of wireless.)
Driving the QC35s is largely a matter of tapping at the buttons lining the right earpiece (bad luck if you're a leftie), but be ready for a bit of fumbling as these seem a little small and close together.
Taking and making voice calls on the QC35s has an edge over the QC25s with two microphone pickups for a clearer connection.
As you'd hope, pairing the QC35s to your smartphone, tablet or even laptop is a doddle; if your device de jour is equipped with an NFC radio chip, pairing is reduced to a delightfully showy touch-to-connect movement.
The new Bose Connect app for Android and iOS puts pairing a tap away and lets you manage two simultaneous pairings (for example, pair the QC35s to your desktop/notebook and smartphone to easily swap between devices as your music source).
A shame that's about all the app does: you can't adjust the degree of noise cancellation or tweak the automatic EQ settings, for example, and the inbuilt voice prompts are several clipped degrees of Stephen Hawking below Apple's more natural Siri.
If you've been eager to cut the cable and the noise, the QuietComfort 35s are the wireless Bose headphones you've been waiting for.