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Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review: less business, more modern design

Guardian Technology 16 Sep 2019 06:00

Bose’s new top-of-the range 700 noise-cancelling headphones attempt to be the new gold standard, with a new design, new technology and a shift in focus.

Launched to sit atop the long-standing kings of noise-cancelling cans, the £300 QuietComfort 35 II, the new £350 Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 look to shift Bose’s rather staid image toward something more modern and fashionable.

Out goes the segmented headband and folding arms, and in comes a slimmer, seamless metal band terminating in two arms that slide smoothly through the outside of the ear cups for height adjustment.

It’s a sleeker design that removes harsh lines, junctions and breaks. Even the bunching of the ear pads has been smoothed out. The shape of the ear cups forces the headband, which is lined with a soft-touch silicone pad, to sit further back on your head. Wear them too far forward and they’ll slide off.

And they no longer fold in half. Instead the ear cups simply rotate, fitting into a wedge-shaped case, which Bose says is thinner at one end than the QC35 II’s and therefore easier to fit into a flight bag. But not folding means they are harder squeeze into an every-day bag without the case. A small step back in my opinion.

Slick controls

The controls have been redesigned too. Two buttons on the right take care of power, pairing and voice assistant control – Google Assistant, Alexa or Siri - with advanced Google Assistant or Alexa functionality baked-in if you’d like.

The new touch controls are the best I’ve used on any headphones, and worked reliably even in inclement weather, but not at all with non touch-enabled gloves. Double tap the Bose logo on the right ear cup to pause or play. Swipe forward or back for track skip, and up and down to adjust volume. Seven full swipes takes you from minimum to maximum volume with a continual progression in between.

Audio latency control was good, with audio and video perfectly in sync with all the major video apps and services, including the often problematic YouTube. Games showed a little bit of audio delay.

You can pair lots of devices and hot swap between them using the Bose Music app or you can simply disconnect and reconnect your devices manually using their Bluetooth settings.

bose noise cancelling headphones 700 review
You can switch between 11 levels of noise cancelling using the Bose Music app, from maximum blocking to fully open ambient sound. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Bose has re-engineered its noise-cancelling system for greater flexibility. Now you can choose from 11 levels from maximum noise blocking to fully open, piping ambient sounds from your environment into the headphones using the microphones on their surface.

Press the noise-cancelling button on the left ear cup to switch between three favourite noise-cancelling levels, which default to zero, five and 10. Every time you switch levels or in and out of conversation mode, the noise-cancelling ramps smoothly up and down again like someone turning a big analogue volume knob. It’s a small detail that makes the whole experience feel all the more luxurious.

bose noise cancelling headphones 700 review
If you like super-clean, full sound, these headphones hit the spot. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

If you do, then you’ll be treated to well-balanced audio with punch in the low end for a fully rounded sound and clarity in the highs to make tracks sparkle. You’ll also hear an almost clinical separation of tones, which allows individual instruments and notes to stand boldly on their own, not blended into a mush.

There is no equaliser control yet, but Bose said it was working on the ability to adjust the sound of the headphones as part of its new architecture.

bose noise cancelling headphones 700 review
Power, noise cancelling and voice assistant buttons round out the on-headphones controls. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

20 hours battery life

The Headphones 700 last just shy of 20 hours between charges when using Bluetooth and noise cancelling turned up to maximum, but longer when used via cable. While not industry leading, given Sony’s MX-1000M3 last in the region of 30 hours. That’s long enough to last a week’s commuting or a transatlantic flight.

Observations

  • There’s a strum on a double bass when you turn them on, which I found annoyingly loud in quiet environments

  • Occasionally it took several attempts to get the Bose Music app to connect to the headphones

  • You can independently adjust the volume on the headphones when using the wired connection, handy for use as a gaming headset or with a headphones splitter sharing a tablet

  • The case has a small pouch inside that holds the USB-C and analogue headphones cable

  • Bose no longer supplies an aeroplane headphones adapter in the box, but you probably don’t need one anymore

  • The headphones support Bose AR, the company’s audio-augmented reality platform

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 cost £349.95 and are available in black or silver.

Verdict

They’re certainly sleeker and more expensive-looking. The way they operate is smoother too, whether it’s the fading and in and out of sound modes or the best-in-class swipe touch controls.

But part of the seamless design is the removal of folding arms. The ear cups still rotate to flat, but the headphones are harder to fit into a general commuting bag than the QC35. The ear cups feel more spacious and cooler when wearing, but the headband squeezes your head noticeably harder than the QC35, and as a result weren’t quite as comfortable. They are still more comfortable for extended periods than key competition though.

The lack of higher quality or low-latency Bluetooth audio formats beyond SBC and AAC is slightly disappointing for non-Apple users, and while battery life is solid at just shy of 20 hours, it’s not class leading.

Pros: brilliant user-adjustable noise cancelling, best-in-class ambient sound, best-in-class voice calling, great sound, excellent controls, good battery life, multi-point connectivity, comfortable, USB-C, enhanced Google Assistant support

Cons: expensive, no aptX etc, bugs with PC connectivity, don’t fold

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