I take sick joy in flying. Most people hate air travel. I get it—the atrocious lines, the cramped seating, the overpriced gum at Hudson News. I endure it because it provides many hours of blissful me time. I devour podcasts. Kindle books. Magazines. Entire Pink Floyd albums. I might even chat with my wife a little. (I never, ever, pay for Wi-Fi. It always sucks and it makes me think about work.) I absolutely love it.
Bose QC35 Headphones
My new favorite travel headphone. Battery life exceeds the quoted 20 hours. Comfortable and unobtrusive over-ear fit. Noise-canceling tech is the best in the biz. Premium construction: anodized aluminum covers and synthetic protein leather cushions on the ear cups, stainless steel springs and an Alcantara cushion in the headband. Tactile buttons on the right ear cup instead of wonky touch controls.
They sound terrible in passive mode, just use them wirelessly. They fold down pretty small, but they still take up too much room in the carry-on.
How We Rate
- 1/10A complete failure in every way
- 2/10Sad, really
- 3/10Serious flaws; proceed with caution
- 4/10Downsides outweigh upsides
- 5/10Recommended with reservations
- 6/10Solid with some issues
- 7/10Very good, but not quite great
- 8/10Excellent, with room to kvetch
- 9/10Nearly flawless
- 10/10Metaphysical perfection
Headphones are a big (really big) part of this narcissistic orgy of self. I’m not alone here—everyone wears them when traveling. I see Bose a lot, which makes sense, because the company is known for premier noise-cancelling cans. They do an exceptional job eradicating the ruckus of flying.
I’ve never worn Bose headphones though. They sound like shit. It’s the nature of the tech. Active noise-canceling collects the noise around you via an array of microphones on the headset, then adds canceling information to whatever you’re listening to in order to mask the cacophony. Bose holds several patents on this technology, but its execution has always been inelegant. Cymbals slip underwater, guitars turn into phone calls, and everything sounds like Napster-era 128k MP3s. Other companies (Sennheiser, Plantronics, Jabra, Beats) aren’t any better.
So I was skeptical when Bose sent its new flagship model, the QC35. They’re the first wireless noise-canceling headphones from Bose. They’re also the first to sound awesome. In developing the Bluetooth circuit for the QC35, Bose also improved the sound silencing software. These are the first Bose cans I’ve worn where I found the audio to be better than “Eh. It’ll do.” The sound isn’t perfect, but it’s smooth and virtually artifact-free. I wore them on two long flights and several bus rides around town. No crunchy audio detritus, just well-tuned music and little environmental bustle.
In the years that I’ve spent in audiophile circles (and, ugh, web forums) I’ve connected with hundreds of like-minded Bose haters. Perhaps you’re one yourself. If so, I’m speaking directly to you: These headphones sound good. Really good. Give them a shot. You’ll probably be as impressed as I was.
But I know you’re probably not listening. I brought the QC35 to one of the country’s premiere headphone meet-ups. Imagine conference rooms filled with people wearing $1,000 headphones connected to expensive tube amplifiers listening to lossless digital files of Steely Dan and Dire Straits. These people take detailed notes (!) and compare cables (!!) and discuss headphones they own and headphones they want but can’t afford. I offered a dozen hardcore headphone nerds the chance to audition the QC35s. Most offered variations on, “Bose? No thanks.” One guy insulted me before shooing me away. Another actually hissed. I couldn’t convince them to even try these remarkable cans. Exactly one guy agreed with me. He’s the founder of a leading headphone forum.
That should tell you something.
Some ‘phone fans are warming to the the QC35s. But most self-described audiophiles will never give Bose any love. That’s fine. Next time you board a plane, take a look around. You’ll see a lot of people wearing Bose cans. They’ll be immersed in audio cocoons, listening to the sound of music, not the drone of a jet. Look for me, because I’ll be one of them.