Our top choice for best noise cancellation Bluetooth over-ear headphones is the Bose QuietComfort 35 (QC35) Series II. These are great for flying, co-working offices, or just listening to music / movies at home. Our runner up is the Sony Noise Cancelling Headphones model WH1000XM3. Both are just under $350.
QC35 Series II
The Bose QuietComfort 35 (QC35) Series II , about $350, are available in 3-colors: Standard Black, Silver and Rose Gold. What we most like about these is you can comfortably wear them for hours and hours.The headset weighs just over half a pound (8.3 ounces), so it’s actually rather light. This means you don’t really feel it on your head, and you don’t get neck strain.
The ear-cups are probably one of the best we’ve tested. They fit over the entire ear, which provides a passive noise-blocking. The materials are soft, with a good amount of padding. And these are replaceable (about $10 to $15 for a new pair) in case they get damaged or torn.
Aside from the comfort, the audio is incredible. And we expect no less from Bose! The headphones provide a nicely balanced sound profile from very low volumes to as high as we could tolerate. Let’s get into the audio, since that’s what’s really important for headphones.
The ear-cup padding, and total ear coverage provides the first level of “passive” noise-cancellation. This does a great job of simply blocking out the external sounds around you.
But Bose takes this further with their ANC (Active Noise Cancellation). One thing we particularly like about the Series-II is the ability to select between 3-levels of ANC: Off, Low and High.
ANC helps create a noise free listening experience by compensating for constant low frequency types of noise, like airplane engine or car tires. With over-ear headphones, a microphone on the outside of each ear-cup can be used to cancel those noises inside the ear-cup where you are hearing.
Bose does use 2 microphones, compared with some other headsets that just use one.
Overall, Bose engineers have done an excellent job with their ANC. Like all active cancellations, it’s necessary to produce a signal which is opposite to the “noise” in order to cancel it out. With many noise cancelling earbuds and headsets, you may hear a white-noise type sound all the time, your audio volume gets loud or a combination.
With Bose, there is only the sense of some sound pressure inside the ear-cup. This is barely noticeable on the “Low” ANC setting, and seems like your ears quickly tune it out. In extremely noisy environments, you’ll need the “High” ANC setting which means the QC35 has to work harder to cancel the external sounds.
On the “High” setting, some users say they the pressure can be a little bothersome after a few hours. However, taking off the headset (or simply turning off the ANC) for about 15 minutes appears to reset your ears and resolve the pressure complaint.
Keep in mind that this is an issue for all ANC implementations, and Bose does the best job we’ve experienced at minimizing any adverse effects.
The QC35-II has both Bluetooth and NFC pairing. We found it quick and easy to pair headphones to any of our devices, including iPhone, iPad, Laptop and home theater system. Basically, anything we had that could send an audio signal over Bluetooth worked. We liked the voice prompts walking you through the process.
The Near Field Communications (NFC) feature worked well for really fast pairing. Note that the NFC isn’t for transmitting audio, it’s just to simplify the Bluetooth pairing process. With your audio device (e.g., smartphone) enabling both NFC and Bluetooth, you just tap the right ear-cup to the device to enable the pairing.
When powered on, the headphones try to reconnect with the two most recently connected devices. Make sure the devices are within range, powered on with Bluetooth enabled.
Yes, the QC35-Series II can simultaneously pair with two devices, which means you can connect to your smartphone and your laptop at the same time. So while you are working (or watching a movie) on one device, you can easily answer a call coming in on the other.
These can also pair directly with media streaming sticks so you can enjoy TV without disturbing anyone around you.
The left ear-cup has a standard 2.5mm audio input jack for wired audio. This is great for older devices which still supported audio outputs, simple music players like iPods without wireless, or airplane audio.
One complaint is that with the Series-II, Bose no longer includes the 2.5mm to 3.5mm adapter plug, sometimes referred to as the “airplane adapter”. Since there are still some airplanes which use a 3.5mm audio jack, you’ll need to either buy the adapter or another cable.
We recommend just getting a second 2.5mm to 3.5mm cable, since many of us tend to lose those little adapter plugs, especially on airplanes! Here’s a good one for under $10,
Audio Cable 2.5mm To 3.5mm Auxiliary Cord , 4-feet, about $9, from Lasmex – we like the 3.5mm end has a 105° Oblique Angle (e.g. it’s got a nice bend to it), while the 2.5mm is straight and it’s an “Amazon Choice”. The angle vs. straight means we can always figure out which end goes where – the straight is for the Bose.
Battery life is a top-3 item on our list, just below comfort and audio quality. After all, it doesn’t really matter how great a wireless headset is if it’s always tethered to the charger!
Fortunately, the QC35-II has a rechargeable lithium-ion battery which gives you up to 20 hours of wireless play time. You can double that to up to 40 hours in wired mode with the audio cable and Bluetooth turned off (make sure to turn it off so it’s not trying to connect to anything).
Bose doesn’t include a charging adapter, but does provide an 8-inch USB charging cable. Frankly, we really don’t need a manufacturer to send us another plug-in USB charger since we can use any of the other ones from our phones, ebooks or the dedicated wall-outlet.
We like that the headset announces its battery strength and paired devices when you turn them on. And there is a LED indicator light for battery level.
We like the buttons are large enough to be useful, but no so large as to be inconvenient. That’s a tough spot to hit, but we think Bose got it right.
Also on the right headphone, on the side for easy thumbing are the 3-buttons in a row for volume-up, pause, and volume-down. There is also a blue LED for Bluetooth Connection, and a green/red LED for low-battery. You’ll also find the USB charging port on the right headphone.
But wait … while “pause” may be the most common use for the center “Multi-Function Button”, it can do so much more. Here’s the function list for this useful button:
Media playback functions – Action
Play/pause – Press the Multi-function button once
Skip forward – Quickly press the Multi-function button twice
Fast forward – Quickly press the Multi-function button twice and hold the second press
Skip backward – Quickly press the Multi-function button three times
Rewind – Quickly press the Multi-function button three times and hold the third press
Call functions- Action
Answer or end a call – Press the Multi-function button once
Decline an incoming call – Press and hold the Multi-function button for two seconds
Answer a second incoming call and put the current call on hold – While on a call, press the Multi-function button once
Decline a second incoming call and stay on the current call – While on a call, press and hold the Multi-function button for two seconds
Switch between two calls – With two active calls, press the Multi-function button twice
Create a conference call – With two active calls, press and hold the Multi-function button for three seconds
Activate voice control – Press and hold the Multi-function button
On the left headphone, there is a button for “Google Assistant”, Siri. Optionally, this button can be used to control the 3-level Adaptive Noise Cancellation (ANC). We found this to be a better use of the button, rather than needing to use the App. Press the button to cycle through the ANC levels – “off”, “low”, “high”.
The left headphone also has the 2.5mm jack for a wired connection.
You can make hands free voice calls. There are 2 high-pickup microphones, one on each ear-cup, to accurate capture your voice. The noise-rejecting dual-microphone system works well for clear sound and voice pick-up.
But sometimes it does pick up other conversations around you. So these are best used in a relatively noise-free environment.
Of course, you’ll hear the call great thanks to the passive and active noise cancellation. But it sometimes sounds strange when having a conversation with the headset on since the outside world is really muted.
Bose Connect App
Use the Bose Connect app to adjust the level of noise cancellation, unlock Bose AR (see below), enable music sharing, manage Bluetooth connections, and access software updates.
Some users feel the lack of an audio adjustment or equalizer function in the app is an issue. Personally, I’m happy with the Bose AI which almost instantly determines what type of music, or audio, I’m listening to and does it’s own equalization. It’s done very well for all the typical genres tested: classical, rock, rap, easy listening, country, EDM, techo-pop and movie audio tracks (even making the voices crisp).
There are more features coming every few months with each new app update, so it’s always good to keep checking what is available.
Bose AR (Augmented Reality)
The Bose AR functionality is a unique, audio-only feature that lets you play games based on just sound, no visuals needed. It’s still very new, and Bose is developing new applications for their AR. Currently, it’s only available for iPhone and iPad, with Android devices support still in development.
VentureBeat has a nice write-up on one of the first Bose AR games based on catapulting cows at French knights in a nod to Monty Python’s Holy Grail.
Here is how Bose describes it: “Bose AR is a first-of-its-kind audio augmented reality platform, combining the power of next-gen Bose audio products with innovative mobile apps. Together, they can create astonishing real-world experiences and fundamentally new ways to travel, exercise, learn, play, and more. Meanwhile, you can go through life heads up, hands free, and ears amazed.”
It’s kind of fun, and we’ll be looking forward to what else they come up with.
In addition to accessing Siri with a button, the Series-II are Amazon Alexa-enabled for voice access to music, information, and more. Sorry, no Microsoft Cortana planned as yet.
The headset is 3.2 x 6.7 x 7.1 inches, and weighs in at 8.3 ounces.
Ordering / More Information
Here are links to Amazon where you can get more information and order the products we’ve discussed:
Audio Cable 2.5mm To 3.5mm Auxiliary Cord , 4-feet, about $9, from Lasmex – we like the 3.5mm end has a 105° Oblique Angle, while the 2.5mm is straight and it’s an “Amazon Choice”.
Dual 3.5mm Male to 3.5mm Female Airplane Audio Jack Adapter , about $6 for 3-pack – it’s been awhile since we come across one of these in the airplane seat armrest, mostly on older short-haul planes in Europe. But it’s always good to be prepared!
Bose QuietComfort 35 (QC35) Series II , about $350, most comfortable over-ear headset with 3-level noise cancellation.
QC35 Series I versus Series II
The original QC35 was was a favorite when it first came out, and it’s still a great product. For anyone considering saving about $50 and buying the Series I, here is a quick update on what’s changed from the QC35 Series I to Series II.
The Series-I may be a little harder to find, but check out the Costco Bose Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones (Item 1229939 / Model 759944), about $300, which appears to be that model.
Most notably, the Series I, does not have the “assistant” button on the left ear side or voice commands for “Alexa”. While neither of these may be a deal-breaker, we miss the ability to have a physical button to control the Active Noise Cancellation. You’ll need to use the App on the Series-I for ANC controls.
The trade-off is you get the 3.5mm airplane adapter.
Otherwise, the Series-I is very similar to the Series-II in terms of comfort, Noise Cancellation, Wireless (yes, both Bluetooth and NFC), battery life (20 hours wireless / 40 hours wired), etc.
Our alternative over-ear headset comes from Sony. The Sony Noise Cancelling Headphones, model WH1000XM3, is similarly price at about $350. These come in Black or Silver. We have a full review of the WH1000XM3, and will just get to the main features and counterpoints to the Bose QC35 here.
Where the Sony really stands out is with superior battery life. You get up to 30 hours of battery life on a single charge. With the “fast charge” capability, you can get 5 hours of playback on a 10 minute charge, which is perfect if you are in a rush.
Sony comes with Amazon Alexa voice controls.
Audio quality is really nice. Sony proprietary HD noise canceling is done with their “Qn1 processor”.
A feature we like is the “Smart Listening” mode, which adjusts the ambient sound to your activity to give you the best noise cancellation. It’s similar to what you find in new car audio systems that adjust for road and wind noise, so the volume stays at a relative same level.
What is truly different about the Sony is the controls. Rather than buttons, Sony uses touch sensitivity on the right ear-cup:
swipe up/down for changing volume
swipe left/right for playlist skip back/forward
tap center to pause/play
What’s really interesting is the “Quick Attention Mode”, which is very useful on a airplane when talking to a flight attendant, or in a co-working space. You can communicate without taking your headphones off.
Place your hand over the right ear cup to turn the volume down and deactivate noise canceling for instant conversation. Your headset audio is basically paused so that you can talk. Just tap the ear-cup when you want to resume.
Sony does have a full equalizer and custom settings in the app, so true audiophiles can configure their sound to their specific hearing.
And for those that really care, the Sony comes with the airplane adapter plug, along with a 4-foot 2.5mm cable to attach to.
Our only major issue is that the Sony weighs in around 1 pound, nearly twice as heavy as Bose QC35.
Dimension are 2.9 x 7.3 x 10.4 inches are generally larger compared with Bose at 3.2 x 6.7 x 7.1 inches
The Bose QC35 Series-II hits all of our must-haves for a top of the line Bluetooth headset, and provides great audio with a comfortable fit. All this is as expected when paying a premium $350 for over-ear wireless sound.
The Sony WH1000XM3 is a similarly price alternative that many people would also like.
Check out both on Amazon using these links, and pick out the one that you’ll get you the most noise free enjoyment on your travels (be it by plane, train or bus), in your work-space or just enjoying music and movies:
Bose QuietComfort 35 (QC35) Series II , about $350
Sony Noise Cancelling Headphones, model WH1000XM3, about $350
Audio Cable 2.5mm To 3.5mm Auxiliary Cord , 4-feet, about $9
Dual 3.5mm Male to 3.5mm Female Airplane Audio Jack Adapter , about $6 for 3-pack
While you can use these for calls with the built-in microphone, you should consider a dedicated wireless headset with a boom mic for conference calls, zoom sessions and Skype-ing. Our guide to The Best Wireless Headsets can get you started.
Readers, please let us know below which you like best or even if you have other alternatives!