High-end noise cancelling headphones might seem like an unnecessary luxury, considering that they often cost more than a lot of high-end smartphones. Of course if you travel a lot, you'll agree that these headphones are an important and often indispensable part of your kit. Not only do noise cancelling headphones make things quieter (particular on flights), but they also help you hear audio better, whether music or sound from movies or TV shows.
A stroll around any airport terminal will show you that there are two brands that are way ahead of the competition when it comes to wireless connectivity and active noise cancellation: Sony and Bose. Today, we're reviewing the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the latest high-end headset from the American audio manufacturer.
Priced at Rs. 34,500 in India, this new pair of headphones is among the most feature-filled and capable models in Bose's consumer range, with active noise cancellation, wireless connectivity, and more. We've tested the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, and here's what we think.
Bose follows a rather distinct style for its older QuietComfort and SoundLink headsets, which are instantly recognisable to anyone even slightly familiar with headphones. However, the company has departed from this design language with the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, adopting a whole new aesthetic. The headphones look quite different and a bit artsy in our opinion, with smoother textures, fewer sharp edges and buttons, and a rather unique headband that appears to not be attached to the ear cups at all; don't worry though, it's attached firmly.
The frame of the headband is metal, while the ear cups are plastic with a dull finish. The underside of the headband has soft foam padding which is also found around the ear cups to ensure a proper noise-isolating seal. We found the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 to be very comfortable to wear and use over long hours, although spectacles will interfere with noise isolation, and in turn with the quality of the active noise cancellation. Raising the arms of our spectacles above the ear cups fixed this issue (and didn't interfere too much with our vision either).
This pair of headphones doesn't have a lot of visual elements, which is a departure from the design language on the QuietComfort series. There's just a single Bose logo on each ear cup, with two buttons on the right for power and to summon the voice assistant (the default one on your smartphone), and one on the left that controls the active noise cancellation level. By default, this cycles between three ‘favourite' modes - ‘off', level 5 (some noise reduction), and level 10 (full active noise cancellation).
Playback and volume controls on the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are implemented through touch, with the forward part of the right ear cup sensitive to gestures and taps. Swiping up and down adjusts the volume, swiping left and right will skip to the next or previous track, and a double-tap will play or pause music, or answer phone calls. These controls worked well for us, and we quickly got used to them. Interestingly, the headphones also tell you the amount of power left in the battery in terms of hours rather than as a percentage, which we found rather useful.
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 uses Bluetooth 5 for connectivity, and supports the SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs. The headset has what Bose calls an ‘unrivalled microphone system' which works for both active noise cancellation, as well as for voice communication. The headphones are claimed to run for 20 hours on a single charge with active noise cancellation turned on, and we were able to match this figure during our review. You can, of course, get a few more hours out of the battery with noise cancellation turned off or at a lower level.
The headphones can be charged through a USB Type-C port on the right ear cup. The sales package of the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 includes an audio cable for wired connectivity, a USB Type-A to Type-C cable for charging, and a hard-shell carry case which has a useful compartment for the cables covered by a convenient magnetic flap.
As is the case with most high-end audio products these days, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 has a companion app to control some of its settings and functions. The Bose Music app lets you connect to the headphones, adjust the noise cancellation level to your liking, customise the ‘favourite' settings that the button on the headset cycles through, set your preferred voice assistant, set the auto power-off time, and more.
The app isn't something you'll need to use often, and it really only came in handy for us when we just started using the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, when we used it for an initial setup and tweaked the settings to our liking. It was buggy though, sometimes not connecting to the headphones until we'd restarted either them or the app. Apart from that, we also needed the app to access the Bose AR feature.
With the latest range of Bose headphones, the company is touting something called Bose AR — an audio-based augmented reality platform. Although augmented reality usually involves visual elements, Bose hopes to popularise the idea of audio-based AR. Going to Bose AR in the Bose Music app shows the existing apps that support the platform, and there aren't many for now - just two that we could install on Android and six on iOS were listed at the time of our review.
We tried one of the apps, Audiojack, on an Apple iPad mini (2019). This ‘story-telling' app created various sound effects and connected with the Bose headphones, but the experience was nothing out of the ordinary or even special. As such, we're of the opinion that Bose AR is a gimmick for now; it might get better in the future but it certainly adds nothing worthwhile to the product at this time.
The rivalry between Sony and Bose was a close one while the QuietComfort 35 II was the latter's top product in this segment, but the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 has definitely taken things up a level. Design, comfort, active noise cancellation, and sound quality have all been improved on the new Bose offering, and it is visibly and audibly a generation ahead of the competition.
We used the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 in a variety of environments to test the active noise cancellation, including in our office, in a mall, in a taxi, and on a couple of flights. We usually had it connected to an Android smartphone, but also tested sound quality with an Apple iPad mini (2019). Even on the Android smartphone, the headphones automatically selected the AAC Bluetooth codec
Let's first talk about active noise cancellation — the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are undoubtedly the best we've heard when it comes to this feature. The ability of these headphones to create silence in otherwise noisy environments is incredible, and were able to almost completely block out ambient sound. While the typical ‘vacuum' effect was audible, it wasn't as unsettling as on our previous favourite noise cancelling headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM3.
The best test of active noise cancellation is on an airplane, and these headphones were able to almost entirely shut out the sound of the jet engines on the flights we took. While noise cancellation doesn't eliminate sounds such as voices, we did find that even these sounds were much softer with the headphones on. The level of quietness achieved was refreshing, and also helped us hear things such as dialogue in movies and TV shows more clearly, apart from making the music listening experience more immersive and distraction-free.
The ability to adjust the intensity of noise cancellation isn't a new feature, but Bose has made it much more customisable with the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. Although we liked the starkness of the ‘level 10' setting, we see the appeal of having ten adjustment points for people who might want to tone things down a notch. We spent a lot of time using the ‘level 5' setting since this gave us a bit of ambient awareness while still bringing noise levels down to a comfortable point.
Coming to sound quality, Bose has done an excellent job, but this isn't quite the best we've heard from a pair of wireless headphones. We started with the UK garage classic Sweet Like Chocolate by Shanks and Bigfoot, and immediately noticed a calculated attack in the low end along with sparkling highs. This genre is largely about the rhythmic beats, and we loved how dedicated the headphones were to keeping things as accurate and true to the sound as possible. Sharon Woolf's easy vocals weren't quite the centre of attention, but were never lost in the airy, immersive bass.
Moving on to a high-resolution version of State Of The Art by Gotye, we were impressed by the openness and spaciousness of the sound. Even small details could be heard in the wide soundstage This was impressive most of the time, but some details would occasionally get lost in the focus sound of the track. We felt that the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 wasn't quite as detailed as the Sony WH-1000XM3, which perhaps has to do with the lack of support for more capable Bluetooth codecs such as aptX and LDAC.
Listening to Rock With You by Michael Jackson, we definitely felt that the sound quality was a step above that of the Bose QC35 II in terms of detail and presence, but stopped short of Sony's tightness, sharpness, and revealing nature. To be clear, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 sounds good, but there's just a bit missing at the top that we expect from such a high-end pair of headphones.
Finally, we used the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 for hands-free calling. This is among the best headsets we've used for phone calls, with clear sound on both ends. The typical distant-sounding effect that usually gives away the fact that you're using a headset was not a problem at all when using this device, making for a natural sound that surprisingly improves voice quality on calls.
Bose has long been considered the leader when it comes to active noise cancellation on headphones, but the last couple of years have seen Sony take the lead with its WH-1000X series. With the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, Bose has taken several big steps forward, shaking off its ageing QC lineup in favour of modern design and improved performance. These headphones, in our opinion, once again take the lead when it comes to design, comfort, and noise cancellation, but don't quite do enough to catch up with Sony in terms of sound quality, whether with noise cancellation on or off.
Although the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 does sound very good, it isn't quite the best-sounding pair of wireless headphones you can buy for the price. However, this product is, on the whole, still an excellent proposition. Sure, it's expensive, but Bose does have the kind of glamour and desirability that makes it an aspirational brand.
Unless you're particular about getting that slight edge in sound quality (or if you absolutely have to have the superior Bluetooth codec support that Sony and others offer), the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 is a strong recommendation from us. It's expensive, but then so are most nice things in life.
Price: Rs. 34,500
Ratings (out of 5)