Bose is back on top when it comes to noise-canceling headphones

Jacob Krol, CNN Underscored
Thu July 25, 2019

Story highlights

  • New Bose Noise-Canceling Headphones 700 are available for $399.95
  • They set a new standard for noise cancellation and introduce technology to improve your voice on calls

Bose is finally hitting reset, or at least an addition button, on its noise-canceling headphones. The Bose Noise-Canceling Headphones 700 are available now for $399.95 and are the brand's new flagship active noise-canceling cans.

While these aren't replacing the classic QuietComfort 35 II ($349.95; bose.com), they definitely show an evolution, and a big move by Bose of stepping up to the plate to compete with other brands, specifically the Sony WH-1000XM3 ($348; amazon.com) over-ear headphones.

The 700s improve on a lot and introduce a new design. These look more modern, with no visible screws and almost no gaps between materials. Unlike the QuietComfort 35 II, these don't fold into a smaller design and have a more elegant look to them.

You still get the best-in-class noise cancellation for your enjoyment, but the 700s also do a trick where they can help your voice sound clearer for phone calls or virtual assistants. The sound is still presented in a classic Bose fashion, and battery life is at least on par with the QuietComfort 35 IIs.

A more modern and higher-end design

Bose is swapping out basic plastic for some higher-end materials on the 700. For starters, the collapsible plastic top band is now a piece of stainless steel. It makes the overall fit a bit tighter on your head and is a super scratch-prone surface, like any stainless steel product. The carrying case can help you avoid scratches, though.

The case is about on par with Sony's and is larger than the one for the QuietComfort 35 IIs. Since you can't fold these down, they get placed in flat with the earcups folded toward the padding. It's not a big deal, but they'll take up more room for travel.

That stainless steel top band has padding and a rubberized coating for a comfortable fit on the portion that touches your head. And the top band seamlessly connects down to the earcups. Those earcups have some flexibility and ample padding on the sides for a comfortable fit.

The outside of the right earcup has a touch spot where a double tap lets you play or pause, a swipe up increases volume, a swipe down decreases the volume, and a long hold gets you a verbal battery update.

That right earcup also has a physical programmable button that can be used to call a virtual assistant or adjust noise cancellation on the fly. You'll also have a Bluetooth pairing function, which still supports more than one device. A USB-C charging port is also here. The left earcup has the power button and a slot for the 2.5mm headphone jack.

That's right -- the end on the 700s is a smaller 2.5mm port. You do get a 2.5mm-to-3.5mm cord in the box, so you can plug it into devices that still have the headphone jack. You can use Bluetooth for devices that don't. On iOS and Android, you can link it up to the still-in-desperate-need-of-a-redesign Bose Music app.

After a few weeks, I'm pretty much adjusted to the 700s. They can be a little tight at first or for the first few wearings, but you'll get used to it. The padding does a nice job of creating a soft buffer and the ample padding around the earcups is a really nice feature.

From a design perspective, these are super modern. I've been testing the black variant, and they look pretty sleek.

Over 10 levels of noise cancellation

Bose has been a longstanding leader in noise cancellation tech, and the 700s don't hurt that reputation. If anything, they raise the bar. Traditional noise cancellation using microphones to block out the noise is improved, but those microphones are working double time when you're on calls, blocking out environmental noise to let your voice come through clearly.

The 700s use a system of eight microphones, with six working to cancel noise, while the other two pick up your voice. I was a bit skeptical about this at first, but after a few weeks of testing, I can tell you it's a dramatically improved experience when making calls. Traditionally, when calling on the train or a noisy city street, you get a lot of environmental noise. However, the 700s manage to cut down a lot of it, even better than AirPods and a lot better than the previous QuietComfort 35 IIs.

When you make a call, the phone will dial and start to ring, but you'll notice noise canceling is still on and the microphones are picking up your voice. First off, this helps you avoid screaming, since you can hear your voice level, and it also blocks out the rest of the noise. Not all of it, but when you're standing next to a fast-moving subway, it really removes the roar.

When it comes to traditional noise cancellation, you now have 10 levels to pick from in the companion app. You can also quick switch by programming one of the buttons via the app. This level of noise cancellation is an improvement over the QuietComfort 35IIs, which had less than half of these options. It lets you really pick the perfect level. I hover around 8 or 10 when commuting on a busy train.

This really is the next level of noise cancellation and fixes an area of tech that kind of got left behind. The technology behind it is impressive and rounds out the experience of the Noise Canceling Headphones 700s.

Classic Bose sound

One area where the 700s and previous Bose headphones have been lacking is customizing the sound experience. You get a one-size-fits-all when it comes to how the audio is presented. Don't get me wrong, it's a balanced mix, but you don't have the ability to manually adjust the treble, low, mid, high or bass tones in the Bose Music app.

As always, I threw a wide variety of genres at the headphones as I tested them. Taylor Swift, Bruce Springsteen, AC/DC, the Rolling Stones, Ed Sheeran and Michael Buble were just a few of the artists I tested.

First impressions first, you get a very balanced experience. It's a bit of a cooler balance, but you still get a decent amount of bass with crisp and vibrant tones surrounding it. Those looking for a more exciting feel will likely need to opt for a pair of the Sonys. But with any genre, the sound quality is definitely there.

Bruce Springsteen's "Western Stars" mixes cooling vocals with light percussion, guitars and even at times a full-on string section. It sounds beautiful on the 700s and presents a really nice experience. Similarly, I thoroughly enjoyed pop hits like "Shape of You" by Ed Sheeran or "You Need To Calm Down" from Taylor Swift. While these didn't have an earthshaking amount of bass, it stills builds up and delivers a worthwhile listening experience.

I think if Bose wanted, it could deliver a software update to the Bose Music app for iOS and Android, along with the 700s themselves, to enable an equalizer. The app itself is really only used for initial setup, performing updates, customizing buttons and adding a smart assistant.

Only around 20 hours of battery life

The 700s get about 20 hours of battery life with noise cancellation on, about the same as the Bose QuietComfort 35 II's, and 10 hours shorter than the Sony WH-1000XM3s, whch regularly get a mind-boggling 30 hours of battery life. So the battery life for the 700s is 10 hours shorter than the Sony headphones, but it's not a complete deal-breaker.

Bose has a quick charging function where a 15-minute charge through USB-C delivers 2½ hours of listening. You can also get verbal battery updates with a tap, and when you turn the 700s on, these will automatically tell you the battery level. The Bose Music app shows you battery life as well.

It's not 30 hours, but 20 hours is still really good.

Bottom line

It's hard to tabulate which noise-canceling headphones come out on top, especially when comparing the Bose Noise Canceling Headphone 700s with the Sony WH-1000XM3s.

Both are truly flagship options. Sony is more affordable, at $348 versus the $399.99 Bose 700s.

However, from the standpoint of what the product can do, Bose's 700s are coming out on top. The classic noise cancellation has gotten updates, and you can now have 10 levels of control. The improvement for voice calling and virtual assistants is truly an impressive feat. And 20 hours of battery life is certainly less than 30, but quick charging can help you get through the day.

The sleek modern design from Bose might not be as compactable as before, but these are quite comfortable. The stainless steel band gives you the feeling you're getting your money's worth.

Even if it's only by a slight margin, Bose is back as the king of noise-canceling over-ear headphones. The 700 really impresses at $399.99, and those new to the market or needing to replace broken headphones should go for it.

But if you currently have a pair of QuietComfort 35 IIs or the Sonys that work well, you don't need to rush out and buy a pair of 700s. This is just the beginning of this new tech from Bose, and it will get even better in future models.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailers' listed prices at the time of publication.