19 years after entering the noise-cancelling headphone game, Bose has introduced a new premium line, away from its renowned QuietComfort series. This is big news, given Bose QC cans have been a staple in the market since the arrival of the first pair, the QC1, at the turn of the millennium.
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 (£349.95/$399.95) are the first pair in that new premium line, which will expand in 2020 with the addition of the truly wireless Bose Earbuds 500 and the “breakthrough” truly wireless Bose Noise Cancelling Earbuds 700.
“The biggest leap forward in headphones since the iconic QuietComfort”, according to the US brand, the 700s primarily focus on an improved and more flexible noise-cancelling experience.
We’re expecting a review sample of the new Bose cans in the next week, but we’ve been hands-on with them at a pre-launch briefing - here are our first impressions...
Noise-cancelling: from 0 to 10
The unwieldy name might not roll off the tongue, but it reflects Bose’s core focus: its brand and noise-cancelling – which, to be fair, have the strength of association that Heinz has with baked beans.
The brand, of course, needs no introduction. But there’s plenty to talk about where noise-cancellation is concerned. Bose has worked hard to enhance the core skill, and to that end there’s a new noise-cancelling (NC) system with everything from new acoustics to new DSP – running off Bose’s own NC chip.
For one, they use an eight-microphone system – six work to cancel noise, two aim to improve voice pickup – with 11 increments (from 0-10) of noise-cancellation to choose from, allowing you to transition from full isolation to full transparency. ‘0’ is, actually, not zero at all but a very light level of noise-cancellation so you can hear your environment, while ‘10’ offers, as you’d expect, the most extreme level of sound blocking.
Historically, a review of a Bose QuietComfort model wouldn’t be without a mention of their almost suction-like, anechoic chamber-comparable isolation, but the effect feels more sophisticated here. The increments are effective, and three presets (‘0’, ‘5’, and ‘10’, for example) can be saved as a shortcut and easily selected on the ear cup to save you scrolling through each number on the dedicated (and seemingly intuitive) Bose Music app.
With the most intense mode (‘10’) in use during the demo, the 700s did well to block conversation and loud white noise playing on the telly. We look forward to hearing how they deal with a rickety London tube…
For quick interruptions, such as a crew cabin announcement or an interrupting co-worker, there’s a Conversation Mode, too, activated via a button on the right ear cup or via the app, to pause the music and let surrounding noise in, so you don’t have to keep taking them off your head.
What Bose is understandably also keen to communicate, though, is not only sound isolation during music playback but also the intelligibility of voice and video calls. So your voice can rise above traffic noise; so you can be clearly heard even in noisy environments.
In the 700s, a ‘beamform-array’ of mics isolate your speech, suppressing everything else, while a ‘rejection-array’ acts as a second line of defence for tracking and blocking any remaining sound.
As successfully demonstrated by Bose, the microphone system’s ability to enhance the clarity and focus of your voice is notable, with conversation much clearer and surrounding hum much less audible. In fact, during the briefing, this function perhaps proved the most impressive.
The microphone design is adaptive, too, so should automatically adapt to your changing environment.
Bose’s efforts to usher in a new breed of headphone are not single-minded, though. The 700s also – and arguably necessarily – bring the aesthetic bang up to date with a strikingly modern look more comparable to Sony, Sennheiser and B&W rivals.
We have to say, we like it very much. Available in black or silver finishes, the 700s move to a largely one-piece design that, unlike the Bose QuietComfort 35 II, is free of visible hinges. The stainless steel headband is beautifully integrated into the ear cups, which themselves are simply adorned with the Bose logo, the microphone holes and just a few function buttons. A pleasingly sparse button layout is partly down to Bose’s new touch controls on the right ear cup; tap it twice for play/pause and swipe your finger up/down and side to side for volume and track searching/skipping respectively.
In our briefing, our touch controls were careful and considered as we sat slouched yet attentively on the sofa – and there were no blips as we tapped and swiped through an iPhone’s music library. Only time will tell how the responsiveness of the controls holds up to on-the-go scenarios where motion might naturally be more hurried.
The 700’s minimalist styling is certainly a good example of the less-is-more adage, although it has to said this and their lightweight build, while practical, do make them feel less ‘luxury’ than a pair of B&W PX.
They don’t collapse inwards like their siblings to reduce their footprint, but the cups do fold flat neatly and compactly into their efficiently thin hard case, which is no thicker than your average paperback book, slender enough to slip into a car seat pocket.
Bose representatives claimed sound quality was “comparable” to the QC35 IIs, but while we didn’t have a pairs to hand for comparison, the familiar Bose-like balance, rich detail and punch seemed apparent as we switched through noise-cancelling and passive modes.
Considering the £60-or-so premium the 700s ask over the QC35IIs we're hoping for audio gains on top of the new design and features, so we look forward to comparing the two more closely during our full review.
The Bose specs look pretty standard issue on paper: Bluetooth, a 20-hour battery life and built-in access to Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa voice control (Siri is accessible too) are all present and correct.
Despite the success of its QuietComfort line over the years, Bose is clearly aware of the increasing competition from the likes of Sony and Sennheiser - the former is currently basking int he success of its class-leading WH-1000XM3.
Given the Bose are priced above such models, (who’ve naturally become more affordable as time has gone by), it will be interesting to see and hear how they stack up. Their noise-cancelling appears up to the job, so fingers crossed sound quality is up to scratch too.