There’s a price to be paid for the sound of silence, and audio hardware maker Bose has made an art out of it.
Go to any airport and it’s pretty evident that Bose has captured a good part of the travel crowd with their QCXX noise cancelling headphones. There have been several iterations over the years, from the QC15, the QC25, and now, the QC35. These headphones stand out from far, and it’s hard to miss the prominent branding by the side of these cans. The “QC” label, christened by Bose, stand for Quiet Comfort, and right out of the box, you realise why this pair of headphones are a constant companion to frequent fliers.
Crying infants, snoring passengers and a noisy airplane engine do not stand a chance against these babies, and being trapped in an enclosed area while dealing with all the noise for hours can make anyone go batty.
The QC35 is the newest product in the market, but the sheer dominance it commands has made me wonder if it is really worth the money in the first place. Retailing for S$559, this is the type of electronics that one would receive for a very special occasion. After a few weeks with the headphones, I’ve realised that not all of it is hype, and there are pretty good design elements to the headphones.
Once you’ve synced by the headphones via Bluetooth, or by tapping your phone to connect via NFC, you can’t help but notice how well fitting these over ear headphones are. While we usually attribute this to the material used for the ear cups, I found that the magic happens with the headband for the QC35. Covered with plush velvet and nicely cushioned, the headband sits nicely on the top of your head without exerting any significant pressure. Even after a marathon Netflix session on the plane, I never once felt a least bit of fatigued when wearing the headphones. Based on the noise cancelling headphones I’ve come across thus far, the over ear design has been a mainstay and Bose is no different.
The ear cups are not made of my preferred velour, but the synthetic leather still does the job. It might be a small thing to note, but I like the prominent left and right marking on the inner cups of a headphone. It’s small touch that some brands do not even think of, but this would help anyone put on their headphones much faster, as opposed to squinting for the markings on the side. If you’re fumbling about with these headphones on a dimly lit plane, getting these on as soon as possible does remove much of the frustration.
Alternatively, you could always go with your sense of touch and reach out for the power button located on the right hand side of the headphones. The controls are rudimentary with the middle multifunction button tripling up for many functions. With a triple press and hold to rewind your music, there’s quite a big of memory work to wield full control over the device. Perhaps Bose might have gone with a more minimalist look but we really could have used with an extra button to toggle the noise cancelling off if need be. It’ll come in handy when someone is talking to you.
While the charging port is placed on the right side of the headphones, I found that the weight distribution of the QC35 even distributed and there wasn’t any particular side that was imbalanced. Given how fancy some of Bose’s rivals have implemented in the noise cancelling headphone space, I’ll be looking forward to see what else they might have up their sleeves for the next jump.
For noise cancelling headphones made perfect for plane travel, the QC35 does not actually block out all sounds that well. While it’s hard to expect complete silence during operation, I noticed that quite a fair bit of environmental audio leaking in.
It was interesting to note that one could hear muted conversations if individuals are in close proximity, and the sounds of traffic on the road as well. It would appear that noise commonly associated outside of a plane are given a pass by the QC35.
That being said, the QC35 does make a huge difference in improving the travel experience, especially if you’re the sort that gets easily disturbed by the usual noise associated with air travel. Baby’s cry? Easily muted. The focus on the noise cancelling seems to be emphasized on the common sounds one might encounter on the plane. Having passed the test on the low rumble of the plane’s engine, the QC35 did well by eliminating noise originating from the stewardess pushing her cart along the aisle hawking duty free goods eliminating footsteps and the sounds of the wheels.
However, the biggest concern for anyone thinking of getting the QC35 would be the sound quality. While it still maintains the audio standards that Bose has come to be known for, I’ve experienced better sounding headphones in recent months such as Sony’s MDR-1000X. The QC35’s achilles heel would be its bass. The lows are not as impressive, and it might come across as thin if you’re looking for a more full bodied sound. The audio works for Netflix consumption, but you might want to give this pair an audition if music is your primary form of entertainment while on the go.
To be fair, people don’t buy the QC for audio, but for it’s ability to drown out external audio. You can’t expect a gun with a silencer to also be as accurate. One thing is sacrificed for the other.
While the QC35 might not be perfect in the audio department, it’s in the realm of the traveller’s needs where these headphones really shine. The battery life on these headphones are impressive. Having binged through almost an entire season of Narcos in one sitting, I was only able to put in a small dent into the power levels, leaving it with 60% battery left. Doing the math, the first season of Narcos had 10 episode at an average run time of 55 minutes per episode. This worked out to 9 hours of continuous operation time. On Bose’s marketing materials, the company promises 20 hours of battery life, so we can safely say that the QC35 has no problems sticking to it’s claim.
Given a forgiving combination with airplane mode and Bluetooth, the QC35 certainly can easily last through a 17 hour marathon flight from Singapore to San Fran with some juice left which is one of the longest flights available for anyone to fly on at the moment. It would appear that in exchange for battery life, the QC had to give up some of Bose’s audio prowess to fit it all in a manageable form.
In my travels, I’m often lugging around a camera, a lens and probably my laptop as well. Hence, throwing in a bulky pair of headphones does not rank high on my list of priorities when earphones can do the job. Thankfully, the QC35 folds away nicely so it’s easy to find these guys a spot in your bag. From the top of the headband, the QC35 measures in about 20cm with the cups taking up half of the length. When folded, the headphones collapses from its original width of 16cm to 13cm. If portability ranks high in your travel needs, I’d pick up the QC35 over the Sony MDR-1000X due to its lack of bulk.
However, if you’re the sort that loves to protect their investments, the supplied hard case does well to keep your headphones snug and still is comparably smaller than Sony’s hard case. So it’s still a win here for Bose. If there’s space for a thick paperback book, there’s a spot for your QC35.
Overall, I’ve come to realise why the Bose QC35 is common sight at airports these days. The QC35 checks off all the essentials needed for a peaceful plane ride in the areas that really matter. If you’re the type that travels often, do yourself a favour and pick one of these headphones up.