Get on a plane going anywhere and you'll spot frequent flyers donning noise-cancelling headphones to block out that background hiss and hum. A whole lot of the time it'll be Bose QC35 cans adorning such travellers' heads - because this company makes what is widely regarded as the best active noise-cancelling (ANC) headphones out there.
But times have changed and competition is tougher than ever. We've seen considerable success from Sony, Bowers & Wilkins, B&O BeoPlay, among others, all vying for the ANC crown. Bose isn't having any of it, though, with the reveal of its Smart Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, a built-from-the-ground-up set of over-ears that are here to regain the ANC crown. And based on our first listening experience, the brand looks to have succeeded...
Design & Comfort
- Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Siri support
- Measure: 203 x 165 x 51mm / Weigh: 250g
- Carry case included (218 x 179 x 62mm)
- USB-C charging (cable included, no plug)
- 2.5-3.5mm cable for passive listening
- Touch controls (vol/skip/pause/play)
- Black / Silver finishes available
Available in black or silver finishes, the first thing you'll see about the Bose Headphones 700 is that quality has upped its game compared to the QC35 II. Not that the latter was badly built - it used premium materials, like anodised aluminium, but simply just didn't look as though it did.
The Headphones 700 changes this. The design is built around a main stainless steel structure, with a dual-hinge headband that's designed to sit in the perfect place on any head. It pivots in all the necessary directions to cater for head length and shape, temple adjustment, and also folds flat so these cans sit comfortably when sat idle around the neck.
We've not worn these headphones for more than 15 minutes thus far, so can't comment on how long-term wear feels - something that we'll come to in our full review near to the 11 July UK launch date - but for that short period of wear we felt very comfy indeed. There's no unwarranted pinch, yet the fit feels well adhered to the ears; there's no burrowing of the headband into the skull, because of the almost gel-like silicone material and padding used here; while the leather-like earcup cladding feels sumptuous against the lobes.
But, as you'll see in our pictures, the Bose Headphones 700 don't fold. Which, if you're a QC35 user looking to go to the next level, might strike fear in your heart. We thought this might be a hurdle for many buyers, but Bose showed us the side-by-side difference of the two pairs, including their carry cases, and the difference isn't particularly grand, especially as the newer 700 series is a thinner headphone when flat.
Besides, the Noise Cancelling 700 bring a variety of other benefits. There's a smaller, more subdued logo on each earcup - we'd advise all brands to opt for this, none of the massive logo adornment that, say, JBL seems to love - and the finish, as it's made from stainless steel, is tougher and more resistant to scratches than previous Bose headphone offerings.
Touch control is another great benefit. The front area to the right earcup's exterior can be used as follows: drag up for volume up; drag down for volume down; swipe forward to skip track; swipe back to skip back/replay track; and double-tap to play/pause. It's all intuitive, doesn't need to be tapped too hard, while the deft control of volume adjustment - it doesn't do 'one block at a time' style volume, rather it tracks your finger and can move from, say, three quarters volume to half in a flash - is super smooth. There are no unsightly markings showing all of this can be done either making for a subtle implementation.
Noise-Cancelling Modes & Sound Quality
- 10 levels of active noise-cancellation (ANC)
- Additional 'Level 0' for Transparency mode
- 8 microphones system for isolation
- Beam-form voice isolation system
- 20 hours battery per charge
But the real reason you'll buy these headphones is for the active noise-cancelling technology. Which has had a total overhaul in the Headphones 700 with the introduction of 'Transparency mode' and 10 differing degrees of noise-cancellation strength.
All of this is quickly adjustable from within the Bose Music app, when paired to the headphones via Bluetooth. However, as you won't always wish to dig into that app, a dedicated button on the left earcup controls noise-cancelling in two ways: either on/off, if that's how it's setup in the app; or by cycling through three user-selected levels (that's 0, 5, 10 by default) as you so desire.
Bose is renowned for its noise-cancelling tech because it delivers a strong form of it - which is great for travellers looking to cut out train, plane and other on-the-go sounds. But sometimes it can be a bit too much. With the Headphones 700, the option to dip to, say, level 7 rather than full-on 10 may be perfect for those looking for more subtlety. Even level 0 offers some isolation of sound, but allows for most sound - particularly voice, so conversation is easy - to pass through.
All this makes these new cans far more versatile in their appeal. As does the addition of voice assistants, with Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Apple's Siri all supported from the off. You simply have to choose which one you're using from within the Bose app and job's a good'un - activation takes place using the dedicated button on the right earcup. Or don't use any at all if that's not your thing.
Noise-cancelling technology is one thing, but Bose steps things up with voice isolation technology in the Headphones 700. Indeed, it's the first company to use what it's referred to as an 'adaptive quad microphone system' to isolate voice from surrounding noise - which could be useful in video, conference or phone calls. We love the idea - and it was well presented to us by live testing in central London - but don't really see the 700 series as the pinnacle place for such a technology to arrive. Perhaps it's just our way of operation, but over-ears headphones tend to not feel like headphones for making phone calls in. But, hey, each to their own, and when it's deployed elsewhere we're sure this upgraded beam technology will be greatly received.
Far more important to us is sound quality. Here, again, the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 deliver with aplomb, offering crisp highs, zinging mids and plenty of bass - we provided our own day-to-day podcasts and tunes to have a quick listen and were very pleased indeed. The noise-cancelling will bring a more equaliser-adjusted (EQd) sound then if just listening passively via the provided cable - but you might have to if the battery depletes.
Speaking of which, the on-board battery is said to provide up to 20 hours listening time. The use of USB-C for recharging, however, means just 15 minutes at the plug can provide some 90 minutes playback, which is potentially very handy should you forget to switch the noise-cancelling off (a feature which can be set to auto-off from within the app - but isn't as so by default for those travellers who like to leave the ANC on, even if there's no signal running to the headphones). We'll test longevity per charge when we receive a final sample for review.
For those wondering what Bose was going to do next to step up a gear in the headphones world, the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 is the perfect answer. These over-ear headphones bring a much higher degree of build quality, comfort and ANC adjustment compared to the QC35 model.
There's also smart assistant integration for the big three (Google, Amazon, Apple), a solid app for various customisations over subtler yet important settings, well integrated touch-based controls, and sound quality to rival the best competition out there - including the Sony WH-1000XM3.
We'll be doing more listening to bring you the full and final verdict on these potentially class-leading ANC headphones just before the UK launch on 11 July 2019. Watch this space.