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Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review: Bose's best-ever headphones?

Christopher Minasians
23 Jun 2021
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
350
incl VAT

Bose’s gorgeous NC 700 headphones are worthy successors to the QC35 – though they can’t quite dethrone the Sony WH-1000XM3

Pros 
Outstanding microphone quality
Gorgeous design
Excellent active noise-cancelling technology
Cons 
Sony WH-1000XM3 provides better ANC performance
Doesn’t support high-quality codecs
Headband design reverberates unwanted sounds
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Bose is a pioneer in noise-cancelling technology. From pro-grade aviation headphones to classic consumer cans such as the QuietComfort 35 – originally introduced back in 2003 – its innovations have played a big role in shaping the industry. Now, for the first time in nearly two decades, it's introduced a new flagship product with a new design: the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700.

If the US-based manufacturer hopes to take the top spot among ANC headphones, however, it needs to best the Sony WH-1000XM3, which have held the crown since late 2018. Let’s find out whether it can.

READ NEXT: Bose QuietComfort 35 II review

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review: What you need to know

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are over-the-ear Bluetooth headphones with active noise-cancelling (ANC) technology built-in. There are plenty of those on the market, but these are a premium product, with a stylish, streamlined design. They’re also made almost entirely out of stainless steel for a real quality feel.

READ NEXT: Our favourite noise-cancelling headphones

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review: Price and competition

The Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are available online for £350. That’s quite a bit more than their predecessors, the QC35 Series II, which can currently be had for £259. They’re also considerably more expensive than my personal favourites, the Sony WH-1000XM3, available for £272 and the £279 Jabra Elite 85H, which boast excellent recording qualities.

If you’ve got over £300 to spend on a pair of ANC headphones, it’s also worth considering the innovative Nuraphone headphones at £349 and the practical Microsoft Surface Headphones at £320.

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review: Build quality and design

The 700’s new design represents a major revamp. They headphones look like a cross between the older Bose QC35 and Bowers & Wilkins’ PX, and in my view they’re the most stylish Bluetooth headphones I’ve come across – period. The stainless steel headband arcs gracefully around the top of your head, before making its way seamlessly down to the hinge; this, in turn, attaches to the driver housing with a distinctive and highly adjustable pivot mechanism. As with like the QC35, you can swivel the drivers around by almost 90°, although you can’t fold them inwards any more.

Unfortunately, while the headphones’ design might be pretty, there’s one catch. If you use them while jogging – or if you’re just someone who walks at a pace – you’ll immediately notice clunky reverberations resonating from the 700’s headband, as a result of the headband knocking against the drivers’ housing.

As for comfort, it’s subjective. These headphones sit more firmly around my head than the QC35 and the Sony WH-1000XM3, which makes them more suitable for workouts and physical movement. On the flip side, the tighter clamping force means they don’t feel as if they’re floating around your ears – something I greatly appreciate about those two alternatives. It may also be an issue if you wear glasses, as I started to feel a little uncomfortable after an hour of usage.

Personal preference aside, the 700s have soft cushiony pads that are large enough to wrap around most ears. Bose has also made them easier to clean, with a rubbery material on the inner part of the headband; unlike the QC35s, the new headphones won’t showcase dirt or sweat.

READ NEXT: Nuraphone review

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review: Features and connectivity

One thing you’ll quickly notice about the updated design is a modern USB Type-C connector for charging on the bottom of the right cup. On the opposite cup, there’s a 2.5mm port for wired listening, with a metre-long audio cable (with a 3.5mm plug on the other end) provided in the box.

Battery life is quoted at 20 hours, with a full charge taking around 2.5 hours; if you’re in a hurry, a 15-minute charge will give you up to 3.5 hours of music. By comparison, the Sony WH-1000XM3 provide 30 hours of playback, with up to five hours of use from a short 10-minute burst-charge.

There are also three buttons on the headphones. The one on the left lets you cycle through three levels of noise-cancellation: you can configure these through the Bose Music app, picking from ten ANC levels, including a hear-through mode. If you want only two levels of ANC you can simply configure two presets to the same level and the headphones will intelligently skip over the duplicate. So, for example, setting the first and second presets to level 0 (ANC disabled) and the third to level 10 (maximum) allowed me to toggle between the minimum and maximum levels with a single press.

Move over to the right cup and you’ll find a small power and pairing button, plus a larger one that summons a voice assistant. Like the QC35, the 700s come with both Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant built-in, so you can use whichever voice platform you prefer to control your headphones, check the news, control your smart home devices and so forth. At the time of writing this review, Alexa has the upper hand, as you can also use your voice to wake up the assistant without having to press the button, which isn’t possible with Google. Both Siri and Bixby are supported too, although the integration isn’t so extensive.

What about volume and playback controls? These are invisibly implemented through a touch-sensitive area on the outer part of the right driver. You can swipe up and down to adjust the volume, back and forth to skip or go back a song, and double-tap to play or pause your music; a long press lets you hear the battery level or enable and disable voice wake-up.

It all works very well: to me, these are among the best touch-sensitive headphone controls around. They’re far more responsive than the Sony WH-1000XM3 and on par with Microsoft’s Surface Headphones and the Nuraphone. Unlike the latter two, however, the Bose 700s doesn’t have sensors to detect when they’re off your head, which means it doesn’t have an automatic pause and resume function; you’ll have to touch the side panel in order to resume or stop playback.

READ NEXT: Microsoft Surface Headphones review

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review: Microphone quality

The 700s aren’t just well equipped with controls and features – they also offer sublime call quality. I found they effectively cancelled out background noise and honed in on my voice even in noisy environments. They can do this because four out of the eight microphones dotted around the headphones are used to boost the 700s recording qualities, with two of them solely dedicated to enhancing voice clarity.

This puts the 700s leaps and bounds ahead of both their predecessors (the Bose QC35) and their rivals, the Sony WH-1000XM3. They even marginally outperform Jabra’s very own noise-cancelling headphones, the Elite 85H. In this department, I’d have to say they’re the best Bluetooth headphones I’ve come across.

READ NEXT: Jabra Elite 85H review

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review: ANC performance

Needless to say, the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700’s eight integrated microphones aren’t just for making calls. Six of them are used for cancelling out ambient noise while you’re listening to music, of which four are dedicated to the ANC feature.

To test how well the ANC system works, I first sat in a silent room to listen out for any hissing noise – an issue that plagues cheaper sets. I’m pleased to say that there’s absolutely no audible hiss present, with or without ANC enabled.

Next, I fired up a few controlled tests to simulate a range of outside noises, from low, buzzing aeroplane hums to thunderous storms. I quickly found that the Bose 700s did better than the QC35 at blocking out noise at the low end and isolating mid-range frequencies – but the Sony WH-1000XM3 did noticeably better at blocking out mid-to-high frequencies. One proof of this came courtesy of a 10-hour loop of people talking; with this headache-worthy YouTube video blazing out of my speakers, I was able to zone out a little better with the Sony headphones around my ears.

The Sony headphones also came out on top in real-world, outdoor usage, more effectively blocking external noise. That’s not to say the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are bad – far from it – but they’re second-best to the Sony headphones.

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review: Sound quality

Clearly when you’re paying this much for a pair of headphones, sound quality is paramount. To put the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 through their paces, I connected them to my phone over Bluetooth, as most consumers will do... and found to my displeasure that they only cater for the SBC and AAC codecs, with no support for the higher-quality aptX, aptX HD or LDAC codecs.

This is particularly vexing because AAC can cause lip-sync issues in the YouTube app on Android, and there’s no word from Google as to when or whether this will be fixed. Switch to SBC, which doesn’t have the same problem, and you’ll be getting inferior audio quality, which is a big waste on a pair of premium headphones. I’d have hoped that Bose would at least have supported LDAC, which is available on every modern Android device running 8.0 Oreo or above.

Still, even over SBC, the sound is very good. Some subtle differences do appear between the old QC35 and Bose’s new flagship headphones: the 700s have a dip in the upper mids, which manifests as a slightly veiled sound in Mariah Carey’s vocal track “We Belong Together”. They also have a more emphatic the mid-bass response; this adds to the impact, giving Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic” a bit of extra pizazz.

Overall, though, the 700s sound a lot like the QC35. Both headphones have a tight bass response and do well in vocal tracks, with a well controlled mid-range. Indeed, this is what sets Bose headphones apart from their competitors – they’re more revealing around the lower mids than the Sony WH-1000XM3, Jabra Elite 85H or Microsoft Surface Headphones.

The Sony WH-1000XM3, by contrast, has a far greater emphasis in the bass department, sounding more fun and extending lower into the sub-bass frequencies. If you’re a fan of bass-heavy music, the Sony headphones will sound better, even if the mid-bass isn’t as controlled as with the Bose.

The WH-1000XM3 also manages a longer extension at the top-end, plus a wider sound delivery and better instrument separation. All of these little differences come together to edge the Sonys in front of the Bose 700s.

READ NEXT: Sony WH-1000XM3 review

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review: Verdict

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are supremely stylish, and when it comes to sound quality and noise-cancelling they retain most of the strengths of their esteemed predecessors, the QC35. Undoubtedly, they’re the best Bluetooth headphones Bose has ever made.

The problem is, Sony, has set an incredibly high benchmark with the WH-1000XM3, and the 700s can’t quite match it. The Sony headphones might not be as stylish, but they house more features, sound better, block out more noise and are around £80 cheaper. Given the choice, it’s obvious which one I’d pick.

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