Impressive noise-cancelling and design, but imperfect sound quality doesn’t justify the significant outlay
- Next-gen noise-cancellation
- Comfortable and stylish
- Crystal-clear, upfront sound
- Intuitive touch controls
- Lack class-leading insight
- Rivals have better battery life
Few products come with a reputation quite like Bose’s new headphones. The Noise Cancelling 700s are the latest in a 19-year long line of Bose QuietComfort noise-cancellers that for much of that time have set the benchmark in the category.
The 700s break away from the QuietComfort range, inaugurating a new premium series that will be expanded in 2020 by the addition of two pairs of true wireless in-ears; the Bose Earbuds 500 buds and the Bose Noise Cancelling Earbuds 700s.
In the here and now, Bose says these Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 on-ears are ‘the biggest leap forward in headphones since the iconic QuietComfort’ – a bold claim considering the success of that range. But if anyone can push the boundaries of wireless noise-cancelling again, surely Bose can.
The rather unwieldy name of Bose’s new headphones might not roll off the tongue, but it reflects the company’s focus on noise-cancelling technology, which Bose has worked to improve.
The 700s use a new noise-cancelling system with everything from new acoustics to new digital signal processing – all running off Bose’s own NC chip. It features an eight-microphone system (six to cancel noise, two for voice pick-up) and 11 increments (from 0-10) of noise-cancellation intensity to choose from, allowing you to transition from full isolation to full transparency.
Zero doesn’t actually turn noise-cancelling off, but instead is a light veil that allows you to hear your environment, while ‘10’ represents the most extreme level of sound blocking.
BOSE NOISE CANCELLING HEADPHONES 700 TECH SPECS
- Design style: Over-ear
- Bluetooth version: 5.0
- Noise cancellation: Yes
- Battery life: 20 hours
- Voice control support: Yes
- Touch controls: Yes
- Weight: 254g
Our previous reviews of Bose QuietComfort models have mentioned their almost suction-like, anechoic chamber-comparable isolation, but the effect feels more sophisticated here, even when transitioning from off to 10.
We find levels 8, 9 and 10 best for blocking out the noise of the daily commute, although background noise is satisfyingly dampened with 6 activated. But whichever level we use, in whatever environment, the isolating effect is as good as we’ve experienced in a pair of headphones.
The incremental system works, although we find ourselves skipping two levels at a time to hear notable progress between steps. You can scroll through levels in the companion Bose Music App, or use the app to set three levels as presets. Out of the box, these are preset at 0, 5 and 10.
If the ‘0’ level doesn’t allow you to hear enough of your surroundings for quick interruptions, such as a station announcement, the helpful Conversation Mode can save you taking the headphones off your head. Activated by holding a button, it allows surrounding noise in, including voices.
The work hasn’t just gone into ensuring your music listening is noise-free, but also into guaranteeing your voice and video calls are as intelligible as possible. The 700s use a ‘beamform-array’ of mics that work to isolate speech and suppress everything else, while a ‘rejection-array’ acts as a second line of defence for tracking and blocking any remaining sound. The microphone design is adaptive, so it automatically adjusts to your changing environment.
We’re impressed by the call quality – even standing next to roadworks, you can feel the noise-cancelling in action. The drilling on pavement and the sound of traffic are barely noticeable, and we don’t feel the need to shout above it – it sounds more like we’re in a room than on a noisy roadside.
Switch to the Award-winning Sony WH-1000XM3s, and that disruptive background noise is much more apparent, our voice notably lost amongst it. The only downside of a noise-cancelling system this advanced is its impact on battery life, which is 20 hours here – short of the 30 hours promised by the Sonys.
The 700s bring the aesthetic up to date, with a strikingly modern look that’s more than a match for the latest models from rivals such as Sony, Sennheiser and B&W. Available in black or the silver finish of our review sample, the 700s are largely a one-piece structure that, unlike the Bose QuietComfort 35 II, is free of visible hinges.
The stainless steel headband is beautifully integrated into the earcups, with its bottom acting as a slider for the cups to move up and down. The chamfered, shimmer-finished cups are adorned with the Bose logo, the microphone holes and three function buttons (noise-cancelling, power/pairing and voice control) between them.
The button layout is pleasingly sparse, partly due to the touch controls – a first for Bose – on the right ear cup; tap it twice for play/pause and answer calls, swipe your finger up/down for volume change; and swipe to the side to skip tracks. Hold the Bose logo for a battery level reading, and press it for one second during an incoming call to decline it.
It only takes a couple of days to learn the various touch and button actions, although one obvious drawback is their sensitivity. On occasion, the play/pause double-tap functions don’t work first time, and any slight touch accidentally triggers the headphones’ actions. While this issue isn’t exclusive to Bose, the app could also do with increased stability – every so often, it takes ages to acknowledge the Bluetooth connection with our phone, or fails altogether.
For a hands-free experience, there’s built-in voice control. The 700s support Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, and either can be activated with a press of the bottom button on the right earcup. With Google Assistant, you can ask the 700s to play specific songs, albums and artists on supported apps (such as Spotify), read out and reply to messages and notifications, ask questions or even sing happy birthday.
The slender build and minimalist styling get a thumbs up for aesthetics, and comfort too – their secure grip just the right balance between loose and vice-like. Weighing just 254g, they don’t exert too much pressure on the appropriate headband cushioning.
But the slim profile means the 700s don’t feel as well-built as some rival pairs, such as the B&W PXs. And we’d keep the supplied carry case handy, too – the Bose’s earcup sliders ended up a little scratched after sharing a bag with an Apple MacBook Air, so we’d recommend taking good care of your $399 purchase.
The case is no thicker than your average paperback book, and the 700s fit comfortably inside once the cups are folded flat – they don’t collapse inwards like their siblings, due to their hinge-free form.
The 700s mirror their siblings’ familiar sonic character – bold, clear and upfront. Bose claims the sound quality is comparable to the QC35 IIs, and we’d agree. But the company hasn’t taken the same giant steps to advance the audio performance over its previous efforts as it has with the noise-cancellation and design.
We play everything from Maribou State’s downbeat electronica to Purple Mountains’ giddy indie All My Happiness Is Gone, and the stunning clarity and directness of the 700s’ delivery is consistently impressive.
Synthesizers chirp and chime away with candour and sweetness, and as the denser mixes follow, the Boses ensure everything is rightfully heard, producing a fast, spirited listen that plays into the hands of popular music.
The neutral-to-lean character is at odds with the rich balance of its greatest rival, the Sony WH-1000XM3s (£270), and you don’t quite get the depth of bass to complement the agility and punch present at the low frequencies. The Sonys are the Bose’s sonic polar opposite, opting for more openness and full-bodiedness over agility and absolute clarity.
Play Weyes Blood’s Picture Me Better through the 700s, and while Natalie Laura Mering’s vocal is there right between your ears with all the assertiveness we’d expect from Bose’s unwavering character, the Sony’s broader landscape is coloured with more detail. There’s more delicacy and subtlety to the vocal. As the violin piece in Nearer To Thee comes into play, the Sony scuppers greater texture and makes more of a meal of the atmospheric dynamic shifts.
We’d be more forgiving of the Bose’s comparative sonic inferiority had they price-matched the Sonys, but they cost $80 more. Bose has made great headway with its noise-cancellation, call quality and aesthetic design – all areas in which the 700s are pretty much best in class.
But at this price, the sound quality also needs to be more or less peerless, and Bose’s Noise Cancelling Headphones 700s just fall short.
- Sound: 4
- Comfort: 4
- Build: 5