Are the AirPods Pro as good as Bose QuietComfort 35 II?

Rose Gold Bose QuietComfort 35 II and AirPods Pro
Rose Gold Bose QuietComfort 35 II and AirPods Pro (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

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.

Christine wears Rose Gold Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones

Christine wears Rose Gold Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

During Black Friday last year, I saw that the Bose QuietComfort 35 II (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab), 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 (opens in new tab), 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 Connect app

Bose Connect app (Image credit: iMore)

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 (opens in new tab) to turn the ANC off or set it to a lower level.

Apple AirPods Pro

AirPods Pro controls in Control Center

AirPods Pro controls in Control Center (Image credit: iMore)

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

Christine wears her AirPods Pro

Christine wears her AirPods Pro (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

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 (opens in new tab), 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 (opens in new tab). 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?

Rose Gold Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones

Rose Gold Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

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

AirPods Pro in case

AirPods Pro in case (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

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.

Rose Gold Bose QuietComfort 35 II inside case

Rose Gold Bose QuietComfort 35 II inside case (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

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

Rose Gold Bose QuietComfort 35 II with case

Rose Gold Bose QuietComfort 35 II with case (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

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!

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.

7 Comments
  • I had QC35s that went everywhere with me for two years. My wife got the AirPods Pro for Christmas, so I got to try them on. I sold my QC35s the next day. Here’s the thing for me: I would never work out in my Bose headphones. Not getting them sweaty. So I also had PowerBeats Pro. The AirPods Pro are close enough to the Bose in quality and more portable than the Powerbeats Pro, so it was a no-brainer. I sold my trusty Bose and my PowerBeats and got more money back than the cost of the AirPods Pro. I travel a lot, so the only issue I’ve had is that the battery life won’t last a whole day non-stop, but it charges so quickly that it’s not a big deal to pop them back in the case for 15 minutes every few hours (like when I’m checking in or talking to someone or whatever). I’ve never had them actually run out of power while I was actively watching a movie or anything. Best headphones I’ve ever had.
  • Disappointing article. With the header stating that you pitted the two products against each other I expected a much more rigorous head-to-head comparison in a variety of situations with results presented clearly. I am left not knowing how they compare other than the obvious fact that AirPods are more portable and regret reading the article.
  • I asked Rene Richie the same question when he gave his first impressions of the AirPods Pro, we need an update of your article once you have taken a plane flight and can give a direct comparison on the noise reduction between the AirPods Pro and Bose QC. I have not seen an article yet that makes this comparison. I have the Bose QC25 for years now, but I don't like the bulk of them going through airports and on the airplane, though they do a marvelous job of NR on an airplane. I have tried the original AirPods on airplanes and they definitely do not work well with the airplane noise.
  • I've tested both the Airpods Pro and QC35 (version 1) on an airplane. The Bose is better, much better in that setting. I'm not saying that the Airpods doesn't do anything but at my seating (at the back) the noise level was above 90 dBm (measured by the Apple Watch) at a moment so I switched to the Bose and they never came off. However, in normal situations when I'm moving about, I prefer the Airpods since the Bose cancels out too much surrounding sound which could be a bit dangerous. So I use my Bose when traveling and at telco meetings for the office (easier to put on/off for me since I'm hard of hearing and normally uses hearing aids). I use my Airpods when I'm walking and training.
  • I have both and I use my airpods at school because of the noise canceling and the convenient ambient sound setting. the bost is the best for audio quality and noise cancelling but the airpods are a strong competitor but the bose qc 35ii are nowhere near as convenient to use and compact as the airpods pro. i use android and the airpods still work perfectly as they should so if you have an android, you can definitely use airpods or airpods pro
  • The overall sound, ANC, and passive sound-isolation of Bose are clearly better to my ears on airplanes in offices, and in cafes. The AirPods Pro are better than TWS earbuds lacking ANC, and don’t offer as much in sound isolation for me; at the price, worth the convenience of small charger case (and mediocre battery life)? Not sure. My main gripe about the AirPods Pro is that there is no way to control volume without reaching into pocket or “Hey Siri, lower volume”. It’s more natural for me to tap and hold to change volume like on my older non-Apple TWS earbuds. The change to switches on the stems instead of taps takes adjustment, because I tended to pull out or adjust position of my old buds by the stems.
  • I travel a lot internationally. Over the years I owned the QC2's, the QC15's, the QC25's and then moved to the QC20i in ears for their compactness. I had recently purchased the Sony WF-1000XM3 for wireless connectivity when the AirPod Pros were introduced. As Christine and others will confirm, the over-ear Bose (and Sony equivalents) do a somewhat better job of cancelling in-flight, low frequency noise and sound slightly better acoustically, not to mention their much greater battery life, but the AirPod pros are just so small, so unobtrusive, and for someone who travels as compactly as possible using only a backpack and a carry-on bag, I am more than happy to accept the trade-off. And being 100% Apple-centric, the far superior integration of the AirPod Pros over the Sony in-ears, not to mention their elegance and smaller case size more than compensates for the slight acoustic superiority of the Sonys. One other practical consideration for me: the QC25s were great because they were single AA battery powered and I always kept a spare battery in my bag. With the advent of rechargeable devices one has to remember to recharge them and I would all too often get on a flight and find my QC20i's less than fully charged since I rarely used them otherwise. With the AirPod Pros I find myself topping up the case on a regular basis since I use them far more regularly and a Lightning power connected cable for charging my iPhone and iPad is never far away, including when I'm in the air. Apple really hit the sweet spot with the AirPod Pro's in MHO.