Bose has done a good job in recent years of keeping its venerable brand current with tech-savvy products like Spotify-integrated speakers, a whole-house audio system, and noise-cancelling earphones. It’s even plunged into the world of apps.
However, if there’s a modern audio gadget Bose isn’t strong on, it’s wireless headphones. That changes right now as Bose is announcing no less than four new models, two of them with impressive noise-canceling tech.
The headliner is the QuietComfort 35 ($349.95), which looks and feels like a wireless version of the company’s current noise-canceling over-the-ear headphones, the QC25. There are also two wireless earphone models, the SoundSport ($149.95) and SoundSport Pulse ($199.95), as well as an over-the-shoulders pair, the QuietControl 30 ($299.95).
I got chance to try out all the new models (except for the Pulse), and although it was a controlled Bose demo, I came away impressed with how Bose has integrated its noise-canceling tech with the convenience of wireless models.
Hearing (fewer) things
Before you ask, the QuietComfort 35s aren’t noticeably heavier or bulkier than you’d expect. Clearly, adding Bluetooth connectivity hasn’t led to a crazy-big battery. Bose also wisely made sure to keep wired connectivity as an option, and, yes, the headphones will still work via that connection once the battery, rated to last 20 hours, goes dead (though obviously the noise-canceling and -enhancement tech will be kaput).
I only wore the QC35s for about 10 minutes, but I thought they were very comfortable. To cancel external noise, Bose uses both passive and active tech — that means the earcups create the best possible seal while an array of microphones work with chips inside the cups to counter noise with an equal and opposite audio signal.
As I’d expect from a company that’s been building noise-canceling headphones for decades, the headphones reduced noise to virtually nothing. In fact, lower bass sounds like the rumbling of a subway train (which Bose simulated at the demo), disappeared completely. Higher-frequency sounds were dulled to essentially a background whisper, easily overpowered by the actual music you’re listening to.
The model that’s newest for Bose — and probably the most innovative — is the QuietControl 20. This headset, which is an over-the-shoulder “spaceship” design with earbuds, boasts a first for Bose: controllable noise cancellation.
A little background: For the QuietComfort 20 earbuds, which debuted in 2013, Bose introduced a new feature to its noise cancellation called Aware mode. Turn it on, and the earbuds let in the sounds of the outside world, but don’t stop playing your music. That’s useful when you want to use your earphones while, say, walking down a busy street.
For the wireless QuietControl 30s, Bose takes the feature to the logical next level: Instead of an on/off mode, you can now adjust the exact amount of noise cancellation on a slider within the app or dedicated buttons on the in-line controls. Maybe walking inside a mall you want a mix of isolation and awareness, but still want to be able to switch to noise-cancellation to full for, say, a phone call. (Battery life is rated at 10 hours.)
The QuietControl 30 is a pretty comfortable, lightweight headset, and the ring-like shoulder thingy lets you pull them out without putting them away. More important, the earphones sound great — quite an achievement for a wireless model. Details like subtle inflections in voices and the quieter notes in background instruments were unusually clear, even when the full street noise of New York’s Bryant Park was reverberating around me.
Finally, there’s the aptly named SoundSport, a pair of wireless earbuds (joined by a tether) that are water- and sweat-resistant. They’re very similar to the QuietComfort 20, with silicone tips that are flexible enough to adapt to the contours of your ear when you put them on and still accommodate ear hooks for more stability if you want it.
When checking out the SoundSport, I did my best to simulate going for a run, bobbing and weaving my head in an attempt to knock out the headphones, but those silicone tips did their job. Music sounded just fine — as good if not better than my BlueAnt Pumps.
Bose will also have a version of the SoundSport with a heart-rate monitor, called the Pulse, which will work with the Bose Connect app as well as other apps that can integrate the data.
As for when you can get your hands on this gadget goodness, Bose is releasing the QuietComfort 35 and SoundSport on Monday, with the QuietControl 30 and SoundSport Pules coming in September. While Bose is a bit late to the wireless-headphone party, the breadth of its offering should take care of every customer, and the designs are all very good. For most, the only question then becomes: Bose or Beats?
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