Who needs to live their life outside a noise-cancelling bubble, anyway?
The world is noisy. Barking dogs, noisy subway neighbors, obnoxious airline seatmates, angry politicians — we've all had days where we wish we could just tune out for a quick second.
Me, I tune out best with music. For the last year, I've been rocking the Jabra Move wireless headphones, which remain (in my opinion) the best Bluetooth headphones you can buy for under $100. But the Move is a pair of on-ear headphones, and a cheap one at that — while it's good at delivering music to my ears, it's not so great at the whole "drowning the outside world in rock and roll" sort of thing.
No, for that, you want the Bose QC35. I picked up these wireless headphones on my first day in San Francisco for WWDC, and as anyone who saw me wandering around can attest, I have not taken them off since.
The wireless choice is a no-brainer
The QC35's are the Bluetooth version of the popular noise-cancelling QC25, which, amusingly enough, I had previously purchased for a flight precisely two weeks before the wireless headphones made their debut.
My original reason for getting the QC25s was much of what I mentioned above: The Move is a great budget wireless headphone, but not so great at drowning out plane noise. When faced with taking a trip on a propellor plane surrounded by young children, I caved. I'd owned a pair of Bose's noise-cancelling headphones back in 2010, but after they broke in an unfortunate travel incident, I'd been too broke to replace them. The QC25s were a natural choice, and they weren't so pricey as to break my (slightly larger, but still pretty miniscule) headphone budget.
I privately bemoaned going back to wired headphones after freeing myself from them for over a year, but reasoned that the peace of mind from noise cancellation would be more than enough to put up with a cord on plane trips.
And sure enough, I found myself tangled a time or two, the Bose noise-cancellation experience is second to none. I heard no babies, and got work done.
But two weeks later, the QC35 arrived, breaking my heart. Bose's noise-cancelling technology and no wires? Purported 20 hour battery life? WHERE WERE YOU TWO WEEKS AGO, HEADPHONES. So I did what any normal person would do: I sold my QC25 to my best friend (thanks, Sarah) and immediately drove down to Best Buy to pick up the 35. No regrets.
Two weeks later, I've charged these headphones precisely once. Bose's 20 hour battery life is no joke — and it's active battery life, at that. I've used these on and off on the same charge for about a week and a half, and they're currently at 30 percent.
Charging is simple: The QC35 comes with a micro-USB cord that you can plug into the wall or a computer, and the lithium-ion batteries do the rest. You can, of course, use these headphones with a wired connection if your battery runs out — but why would you?
Bose's 20 hour battery life is no joke.
If you've never owned wireless headphones before, I find it hard to put into words just how wonderful it is to cut the cord. No getting tangled in cords. No worrying you're going to accidentally pull your laptop off the table if you stand up too quickly. No having your head or hair pulled on if the cord catches on your clothing.
In short: It's a glorious life, and one well-worth paying an extra $50 to get.
Clear and quiet
Now, I'm not the kind of audiophile who needs to own seventeen pairs of headphones for each musical style. That said, even I understand the sound compression trade-offs when you go wireless. And while I find the Bose QC35 excellent in its sound quality, it won't challenge $700 wired headphones for the top audio prize — maybe not even ones in its $350 price range.
Music is nigh-identical to the QC25; I'd call it black magic, but I'm pretty sure it's just great EQ.
But the vast majority of the population has no idea what $700 headphones sound like. And honestly, even those with an appreciation for audio quality shouldn't find too many faults with the QC35's playback.
Music in most genres sounded nigh-identical to the QC25, despite not having a physical connection; I'd call it black magic, but I'm pretty sure it's Bose's volume-optimized Active EQ working behind the scenes. Even bass-heavy rap and rock sounded great, with very little distortion. I did get some bass distortion when cranking the headphones to max volume, but I feel for anyone who needs to listen to their rap that loudly — I couldn't do it for more than a moment without fearing for my eardrums.
Of course, what heightens the audio quality from "pretty good" to "outstanding" is the noise cancellation. Though I've been frugal on the purchasing end, I've listened to many a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, and none but Bose have ever impressed me; the QC35 is just as good on that front as its predecessors. (Geoffrey Fowler at the Wall Street Journal recently did an audio test on the current crop of noise-cancelling technology, if you want to see some hard numbers.)
You can connect the QC35 to a number of Bluetooth or NFC sources, and the headphones will attempt to automatically play music from the nearest source once you've paired them. If you're someone who regularly uses more than three devices, Bose even has an app for the QC35 that lets you manually switch to the right device; the app also is responsible for updating firmware for the headphones.
A sound cloud for your head
Most closed-ear headphones and I get into a bit of a tiff around the two-hour mark: They tend to squeeze my head, and 120 minutes in, my head is having none of it. The QC35 doesn't do that: These headphones merely rest atop your head, using the plush ear and headband cushioning to keep the glass-filled nylon (yes, Bose is beyond mere plastic) from pressing into your skin.
I can sleep with the QC35 on inside a plane. The headphones are that comfy.
They're not going to win any points for hipster style, but you know what? Screw it. I love my headphones big and bulky. The Bose style may not be en vogue, but it's like a comfy pair of shoes: As long as you feel good, who cares how it looks, really?
Bose also seems to have fixed a long-running problem I had with its older headphones: The folding joints on the QC35 no longer catch hair, skin, or clothing on a regular basis. I used to be unable to hang Bose headphones around my neck without worrying half my hair would come with the pair if I took them off; no longer with the QC35s.
I have worn the QC35s almost everywhere since picking them up two weeks ago. I've used them on planes and on the bus. I've used them to drown out animal noises and small children. I've even used them to hear conversations in a loud party. (Fun trick: The noise cancelling mic technology will always attempt to drown out the loud bass, leaving closer, higher-pitched noises — like human voices — clear and distinct.)
We're only halfway through the year, so I'm hesitant to call the QC35 my best technology purchase of 2016 just yet. But it's number one on my short list, and almost certainly the best pair of wireless headphones I've ever tried. If you have the budget to go wireless and noise-cancelling, there's no other pick worth considering.