I like to consider myself somewhat of a headphone addict. If you come into my office, you may find at least two headphones on my desk, and a few more pairs stashed away in one of many laptop bags or backpacks. There are also earbuds scattered about the house. I definitely have more pairs than the average person, and I try to use them for different purposes.
During Black Friday last year, I saw that the Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones were on sale at Amazon for $250, and it was too good of a deal for me to pass up. I've been wanting a pair of Bose headphones for years, and honestly, how can I refuse a pretty pair of Rose Gold headphones? Yes, I can be basic too. The Bose QC35 II have now replaced my previous daily-use headphones, the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless Headphones, and they're definitely my new favorite go-to pair.
But a month later, my husband managed to surprise me with AirPods Pro for Christmas. Even though I usually prefer over-the-ear style headphones over in-ear buds, I definitely wanted AirPods Pro since they came out last year, just because I had the first-gen AirPods and knew how convenient they are to have.
Plus, my biggest gripe with the first and second-gen AirPods was that they didn't have the silicone tips that provide a better fit, so they would tend to always feel loose when I used them. AirPods Pro changed all that.
So now that I have my pair of Bose QC35 II and AirPods Pro, I decided to put them to the test against each other.
About that Active Noise Cancellation
So first thing's first, and that's Active Noise Cancellation (ANC). How ANC works is that the headphones or earbuds measures, compares, and reacts to current outside noise, and then cancels it out with an opposite audio signal.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II
Bose is a company that is known for their incredible sound quality and psychoacoustics, which is why headphones and earbuds from them sound amazing and have great noise cancellation technology. In fact, it's why I've been wanting a pair of Bose for a while now.
With the Bose QC35 II, since it's an on-ear headphone, I feel that they cut me off from the outside world the moment I put them on my head. Thanks to the soft leather ear pads, Bose's anti-noise blocks out the hustle and bustle of my surroundings. While I haven't been on a flight with them yet, you'll see many people on a plane with headphones like Bose to drown out that cabin noise with their ANC tech.
So far, I've only used the Bose QC35 II in noisy cafes and at home, and I can't hear a thing once they're on and I'm listening to music. If nothing is playing, some noise will still come in with the high level of ANC, but it silences harsher sounds, like a blender or grinder, and even blocks out electrical hums. When audio plays, I'll need it around 80 percent volume to completely block out outside noise, depending on what I'm listening to.
By default, the Bose QC35 II is set to high ANC levels. But you can use the Bose Connect app to turn the ANC off or set it to a lower level.
Apple AirPods Pro
Usually we associate that bigger is better with phrases like "go big or go home." So you would expect the Bose QC35 II to be untouchable when it comes to the ANC, but the AirPods Pro are actually quite mighty in their own right, which I found surprising.
Due to the in-ear design of the AirPods Pro thanks to the silicone tips, it's able to block out a significant amount of outside noise the moment you put them in. It is slightly less than what gets blocked out with my Bose, but it's still very noticeable, which is impressive considering the size — AirPods Pro are so tiny! It's definitely proof that bigger doesn't always mean better.
While using the AirPods Pro at my usual coffee spot, the ANC was enough to completely tune out the loud blenders, grinders, and chatter from other guests while I had music playing. If nothing was playing, it was enough to muffle most noise, but I feel that the Bose are better equipped for that.
So while the AirPods Pro look small on the outside, they do provide enough ANC to match Bose QC35 II for my daily use.
Transparency is a game changer
The biggest feature with AirPods Pro's ANC that is missing from my Bose QC35 II is Transparency. While the Bose QC35 II have three levels of ANC available (High, Low, and Off) that you can toggle in the Bose Connect app, it's just not the same as having an "Aware" mode, which is what you get with AirPods Pro's Transparency mode.
With Transparency, it's a feature that allows environmental noise in to the earbuds while you're listening to audio. No, you aren't exactly turning off ANC with the AirPods Pro, but it is filtering in outside sound so you can still be aware of your surroundings. This especially handy when you want to listen to your music but need to know if there are cars driving by, or hear your name being called.
When I have Transparency on in a public area like a coffee shop, I am still able to hear the chatter going on around me, but still enjoy my music or audio. Apple managed to make Transparency intelligently balance filtering out the noise we want to hear, such as car engines and voices, without overemphasizing other ambient noise like fans.
Honestly, I wish that my Bose QC35 II's had some form of Transparency/Awareness mode, but it appears that I'm going to be SOL on that one. Thankfully the AirPods Pro has it, at least, and it's definitely a feature that makes them worth the price tag.
But who has the better sound quality?
Honestly, I believe that the Bose QC35 II sound better than the AirPods Pro, but I'm sure that's a given considering the bigger speakers and other components. As much as I love Apple products, they're not the ones I recommend for amazing audio quality. Bose is a company that specializes in audio products, so they have that reputation. I certainly don't consider myself an audiophile, but it's easy to tell the difference between sound quality with these two products.
In all honesty, the AirPods Pro don't sound bad. Yes, I still prefer my Bose headphones for sound quality, but the AirPods Pro aren't too shabby either, considering the size with ANC and Transparency. To be fair, the AirPods Pro do sound 100 times better than the first two iterations, and that's because of the silicone ear tips that provide a better, more secure fit and help seal in sound. But even with that improvement, it doesn't quite match up to the quality you get from Bose, or even other high end brands like Sennheiser, Sony, and more.
So for superior sound quality, I'm definitely going to go with the Bose QC35 II. But the AirPods Pro sound quality is nothing to shake a stick at, either.
Portability and convenience
Obviously, AirPods Pro wins by a mile here. They come in a tiny little charging case that easily fits into your pocket, or you can carry it in a case with a carabiner attached to your belt loop. You can take them with you anywhere, and you'll probably forget that they're even there because they're small and unnoticeable.
The Bose QC35 II are over-ear headphones, so you'll either have them around your neck, or folded and tucked away into the carrying case. And sure, the carrying case is nice and makes transportation easy, since it fits in your computer bag, but it's bulky.
As far as comfort goes, honestly, they're both comfortable for what they are. The Bose QuietComfort 35 II is appropriately named, because they're some of the more comfortable headphones I've owned. I forget they're even on my head after several hours, thanks to the padded headband and ear pads.
And the AirPods Pro are much more comfortable and snug than the previous iterations due to the silicone ear tips — so much so that I forget they're in my ears sometimes, even after hours. This is impossible with the first-generation AirPods I have.
Dat battery life doe
If you prefer long, uninterrupted listening sessions, then the Bose QC35 II is the way to go. It's marketed with lasting around 20 hours on a single charge, making it perfect for situations like longer flights. I can easily last about a week and a half before I need to charge them up again, depending on how much I've used them.
AirPods Pro, on the other hand, only lasts a measly four-and-a-half hours on a single full charge with ANC on (otherwise it's five hours). However, since the carrying case also charges them, you should actually get around 24 hours total when taking into account the charging case battery.
Unfortunately, the 24-hours isn't continuous listening time, so the Bose QC35 II still wins in the battery life department for me. This is especially true if you need something for a long, international flight that is more than five hours.
Tune it all out
Despite liking the Bose QC35 II more for aesthetics, sound quality, and battery life (I'd definitely use these for longer flights), I just love the convenience of AirPods Pro too much. I have them with me all the time so they're easily much more accessible, and they fit better with the new design. Plus, with ANC, Transparency, and improved audio, it's almost as good as Bose, but easier to carry. Who said great things don't come in small packages?
Have AirPods Pro replaced your previous headphones for everyday use? Or do you still prefer using Bose, Sony, Sennheiser, or another brand? Sound off in the comments!
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Christine Romero-Chan was formerly a Senior Editor for iMore. She has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade at a variety of websites. She is currently part of the Digital Trends team, and has been using Apple’s smartphone since the original iPhone back in 2007. While her main speciality is the iPhone, she also covers Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac when needed.
When she isn’t writing about Apple, Christine can often be found at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as she is a passholder and obsessed with all things Disney, especially Star Wars. Christine also enjoys coffee, food, photography, mechanical keyboards, and spending as much time with her new daughter as possible.