For the longest time, Bose’s QC series of headphones were the benchmark when it came to over the ear headphones featuring ANC (Active Noise Cancellation). Sony, however, turned the tables with its WH-1000XM3 headphones, which we tested and found to be a great sounding pair of cans that set a new benchmark. However, in August this year, Bose released its new, completely redesigned Noise Cancelling 700 (the NC 700) headphones that are supposed to take the crown back from Sony. Will the latest pair of Bose headphones be able to overthrow Sony to reclaim its top spot as the best consumer-grade wireless headphones? Find out in our review.
Bose Noise Cancelling 700 headphones
Type-C charging cable
3.5mm audio cable
Diving right into how the Bose NC 700 performs, we noticed that the device’s drivers have been further tuned to deliver better sound quality than the company’s previous offerings. The new cans are quite stable over the entire range of the audio spectrum and also sport the well-known Bose sound signature, which is neutral. This means there’s no notable emphasis on any particular range of the sound spectrum, be it the lows, mids or the highs. While such a sound signature setting would be appreciated by purists, standard consumers, who prefer boosted bass frequencies, might not find the sound signature as exciting since most headphone manufacturers these days slightly boost the lower frequencies.
Bose is well known for its almost flat sound signature and the Bose NC 700 is no exception. The headphone has a neutral sound signature and in ṭhe low end of the audio spectrum, we noticed it is capable of accurate bass response with good depth and precise decay. The quality of lower mids is easiest to tarnish since most overlapping frequencies in this range tend to blend similar sounding instruments. However, the headphones managed to preserve the subtle continuous soft thumping bass drum kick in the track, Howlin For You by The Black Keys. It does the same for the extremely subtle and fast bassline tab in Knights of Cydonia by Muse, which can easily be lost in the heavily layered track.
The Bose NC700 is also capable of handling the mids almost perfectly. It has smooth mids so that longer listening sessions don’t fatigue the listener but there’s a slight tradeoff in terms of detail when the Active Noise Cancellation is turned on. However, this is a standard case for almost all earphones that come equipped with the option and in the Bose NC700, the phenomenon is noticeable in the lower-mid audio range. Vocals of singers with baritone voice types can sound a bit boxy and the prime example of this is the track Call On Me by Chris Rea where some detailing of the singer’s husky voice is lost during the chorus. Do note that this is us nitpicking, since most details are well preserved in the upper-mid and mid audio section.
We remember that audio on the Bose QC 35 II exhibited some crackling when we tested tracks at high volumes but this doesn’t happen on the Bose NC700. We did notice a little sibilance while listening to some tracks like Boulevard Of Broken Dreams by Green Day and In The Name Of Love by Martin Garrix and Bebe Rexha, when the volume was pushed beyond 90 percent. Below the 90 percent volume mark, there’s no noticeable sibilance and the overall highs are relaxed with a smooth roll-off at the extreme high-end of the audio spectrum.
Tuning soundstage is something that Bose excels at and it has nailed it this time as well with the Bose NC700. It performs well in our standard test song Hunter by Björk where the attenuated bass that’s prominent throughout the track has a wide stereo trajectory. Similarly, soundstaging plays a prominent role in the heavily layered Patakha Guddi by A.R. Rehman and the headphones do justice to the track with its wide and spacious soundstage. Imaging and positioning are also remarkably handled by the new Bose cans.
Positioning of various instruments in the track The Look by Metronomy is almost perfect. While the percussive tones start off on the left, the Bose NC700’s render the drums and the guitar riff right in the front and center. The acapella bits in the track also rise distinctly from the left and then the right, before meeting in the center, whereas the washboard can be clearly heard on the far left. We can surely say that wide and spacy soundstaging, combined with the intricate handling of imaging makes the Bose Noise Cancellation 700 a pretty good pair of headphones.
Noise cancellation performance
Bose has worked hard in improving noise cancellation on the Bose NC700 headphones but it is not perfect, yet. The passive seal formed by the headphone’s earcups is good enough to block low noises from the surroundings. We tested the Bose NC700 in multiple scenarios to find that when the Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) is turned to 10, which is the maximum setting, most low hums like light keyboard taps, and the noise made by an AC are tuned out by almost 90 percent. However, the headphone lets through sharp or shrill sounds like a honking horn or the clanking of a mechanical keyboard that’s placed a few feet away.
We also tested the headphones on a flight and it managed to drown out about 50 to 60 percent of the total ambient noise. While Bose NC700’s ANC is not as good as we expected on its own, turning the music up by at least 50 percent completely drowns out the ambient noise. Overall, active noise cancellation on the new Bose headphones are much better than its predecessor, but it is still lagging behind the competition.
The level of noise cancellation can be seamlessly toggled between three levels, with the help of a single button on the left earcup and it can be further tuned with the Bose Music app. We will talk more about the app and its features in another section. If excellent ANC is what you seek, we believe that the Sony WH-1000XM3 (review) will serve you better.
Gaming, movie and call audio performance
Headphones and other audio devices were never restricted to a specific usage. While audiophiles tend to have different devices for their audio needs, most people use the same pair of cans to listen to music, watch movies and/or play games. The wide soundstage is of immense help while playing battle royale games like PUBG and Apex Legends as it becomes easier to figure out which direction the enemies are approaching from. However, while watching action movies, we noticed that the regular gunshots and explosions weren’t as impactful, even though audio clarity is superb and the overall audio is a few steps shy from perfect.
The Bose NC700 is equipped with a new eight microphone system and four mics work in tandem to deliver enhanced voice pickup. While on calls, the person on the other end could hear us clearly, even with some noise and chatter in the background. Bose says it employs a beamform-array to isolate speech and adds a ‘rejection-array’ to mute background noise. It clearly works to accurately pick up what you are saying, if you are on a call or while commanding voice assistants.
Build and design features
Bose has outdone itself when it comes to rehauling the design of its headphones. While we don’t know if its future headphones will feature a similar design, the company has completely revamped the Bose NC700. While the headband and earcups are still constructed out of sturdy ABS plastic, they feel premium with a glossy finish. Its complete inner, and the upper outer section, are covered with soft rubber that not only imparts a premium look and feel to the device, but also more comfortable while wearing it for a prolonged period of time or while it’s resting on your neck.
The ear cup supports protrude out and end like an arching pillar, which we think looks bolder and better. The overall design of the ear cups has also changed as they are now slightly bigger in shape to fit your ears better. The memory foam earpads offer notable clamping force, which makes for excellent passive noise isolation but it might be uncomfortable for some when listening to music for a longer period of time. It took a few hours before I had to take a break from the Bose NC 700. However, a colleague of mine was able to use it for eight hours straight, without any discomfort whatsoever.
Both the earcups on the Bose NC700 feature pill-shaped buttons, which are tactile, easy to locate and deliver good feedback. The left earcup has only one button that can be used to toggle between three pre-set noise cancellation levels, which can also be manually changed from the Bose Connect app. Long press this button to enter Conversation Mode, which feels like there’s no headphones on as the music is paused and ambient sounds are enhanced. There are two buttons on the right earcup, one for enabling Bluetooth and pairing, while the other one is a dedicated button for invoking the smart assistant on your phone.
With the NC 700, Bose finally introduces gesture controls, which are incorporated on the right half of the right earcup. One can simply swipe up or down on the right half of the earcup on the Bose logo to increase or decrease the volume and swipe right or left to change tracks. Single tap will play/pause the current track and press and hold for a voice notification that informs about remaining battery life. The gestures work flawlessly but there’s a small hitch in the new design and the gesture implementation.
While the design is notable, it’s not all roses. Due to the new design, the earcups face inwards when the headphones rest on your neck. We noticed that multiple times, the headphone would automatically commence playing songs due to ghost touches. While not a big deal, this surely can be a bit annoying when you are talking to someone and hear tracks or faint dialogues, even when you’ve paused media playback.
Battery life, dual-pairing and App interface
While Bose claims a battery life of up to 20 hours on a single charge on the NC700 we squeezed out around 21 hours with noise cancellation set at maximum. Since the headphones feature a Type-C port, charging them is not much of a hassle, although fully charging it can easily take about a couple of hours. If we are nitpicking, the battery life on the Bose NC700 could have been a little better. The new headphones can be connected to two devices at once and Bose has almost nailed dual-pairing this time.
We connected the headphone to a laptop and a smartphone to find that the smartphone takes precedence while receiving a call. As soon as media playback on the phone ceases, the audio source is switched to the laptop. The switch is not seamless though as it can take about four seconds, which is enough to skip some dialogues while watching a movie. However, dual-pairing on the Bose NC700 is one of the best implementations of the feature we have come across yet, and we expect it to get better with software updates over time.
While not mandatory, the Bose NC700 can be paired with the Bose Music app for enhanced functionality. Connecting the headphones with the app is a breeze and once paired, you can access a host of options like granular control over noise cancellation, switching between different sources and more. One notable feature that Bose has added is Self Voice, which enables you to hear your own voice on a call. This is really helpful to not end up screaming because of not hearing your own voice when you have headphones on. However, one feature that continues to be missing is the ability to tweak the overall sound profile using a built-in EQ.
The Bose NC700 is an excellent pair of headphones when we talk about overall audio performance. Although the Active Noise Cancellation could be better, it works well in most scenarios. Add to it the new and upgraded design and additional options that you get with the app, there’s no denying that the Bose NC700 is Bose’s best headphones yet. If you need top of the line consumer-grade audio, the Bose NC700 won’t let you down. However, if you prefer better noise cancellation, don’t mind a warmer sound signature and need additional sound customisation options the Sony WH-1000MX3 from last year is still a great option.