For years, Bose has ruled the active noise cancellation (ANC) market with its QuietComfort series of headphones. The Massachusetts-based manufacturer essentially wrote the book on noise cancellation and has always seemed a step ahead of the competition. The new $399.95 Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are the first model from the company to exist outside of the QuietComfort/QuietControl lineup. They offer a more streamlined, modern look, built-in support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, an improved mic system for clearer communication on calls, and the best noise cancellation we’ve tested. All that adds up to an Editors’ Choice for noise-cancelling headphones.
Available in black or silver, the stylish, minimalist Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 feature a graceful headband connecting the generously cushioned circumaural (over-ear) earcups. The fit is quite comfortable even over long listening sessions, and the faux-leather earpads block out plenty of ambient noise passively even without ANC turned on. The outer surfaces on the earcups and headband have a sleek eggshell-like finish.
The right earcup’s outer panel houses a touch-sensitive control pad, power/pairing buttons, a voice assistant button, and a status LED. Double-tapping the control pad plays and pauses music, swiping your finger up or down changes the volume, and swiping forward or backward skips tracks. Tapping and holding on the panel gives you a battery life prompt, or you can customize this action to instead enable or disable the wake word for voice assistants. For calls, tapping once answers, tapping and holding declines, and pressing the voice assistant button while on a call mutes the mic. This is one of the more intuitive and useful control pads we’ve operated on wireless headphones, and is easy to learn and operate.
The left earcup houses the ANC button, as well as a connection for the included headphone cable. The audio cable can be used with the headphones for passive listening with the power turned off. When the headphones are on and the cable is connected, Bluetooth functions automatically turn off. The difference between the audio performance in passive and active wired modes is dramatic, and some users may prefer the passive sound signature’s lighter emphasis on bass. Unplugging the cable when the power is on will trigger auto-pairing with your mobile device. The cable lacks an inline remote or mic, which is a bummer, since wired mode disables the on-ear controls.
The included charging cable connects to a USB-C port on the bottom of the right earcup, and the other end of the cable is a standard USB-A plug to use with any compatible port or charger (though no charger is included). The Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 also ship with an impressively flat zip-up travel case that the headphones fold flat into, with an interior compartment for the included cables.
Bose estimates battery life to be up to 20 hours, but your results will vary drastically based on your volume levels and your use of ANC and other extra features.
App and Voice Assistants
The Bose Music app (for Android and iOS) walks you through the process of pairing the headphones, naming them, and selecting the music services you want to access through the app (Amazon, Deezer, and Pandora are a few options). Once this is done, you can then set up the voice assistant of your choosing.
Setting up Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant is a simple process, but you need the corresponding app for each service (Amazon Alexa or Google Home) on your phone for it to function. The voice assistant button on the right earcup defaults to Siri on an iPhone, but will summon your voice assistant of choice once setup in the app is complete. Furthermore, you can set Alexa to always be listening for its wake word if you wish, so you don’t even need to tap the button (Google Assistant currently doesn’t work with a wake word yet, though Bose says this functionality is coming). The mics are exceptionally sensitive, and you can control Amazon Music hands-free with vocal commands, just like with a smart speaker.
The app also provides ANC control, letting you dial in noise cancellation levels between level 0 (none) and 10 (maximum). The ANC button on the left earcup can cycle through your “favorite” ANC settings—it defaults to 0, 5, and 10 out of the box, but you can assign any three values in the app to cycle through when the button is pressed. Pressing the ANC button on the left earcup and holding it puts the headphones in conversation mode, which automatically switches the level to 0, allowing you to hear your surroundings clearly.
You can disable voice prompts, change the language of prompts, and set some more granular variables like adjusting how much of your own voice you can hear on phone calls through the app. A detailed battery life status is also listed on the main screen.
Bose plans to introduce augmented reality apps that work with its products, so there’s a Bose AR button in the app. This feature is currently a bit underwhelming, limited to a handful of apps that are essentially interactive maps or discovery tools for things to do near your location. It has potential to be cool, but we are still in the early phases of this feature.
What’s missing in the app? EQ. Bose says this will be included in a future update, but it isn’t there now.
Noise Cancellation and Mics
Bose avoids one pitfall common with wireless ANC headphones: There’s very little difference in audio performance across the various noise cancellation modes. The ANC has little to no impact on how the headphones sound, which often isn’t the case. There’s also no added hiss, which isn’t true of plenty of competing ANC models.
As mentioned, the ANC has varying degrees of intensity, which is blended with ambient mics that pick up the outside world so you can hear your surroundings when you want to. We’ll discuss level 0 in a moment, but first let’s talk about maximum ANC, level 10: It’s probably the most effective noise cancellation I have heard to date. It blocks out much of my typing as I write this, along with nearly any hint of the relatively loud AC whir in my office. It also removes wide swaths of the low-frequency rumble you hear on planes and trains, and drastically reduces nearby chatter.
Dialing back to level 5 is actually quite useful—you still block out plenty of noise, but now you can hear some of your surroundings without them being a distraction. My guess is that people will use these headphones in the levels between 5 and 10, because sometimes maximum ANC can seem almost too quiet, especially if you’re not playing music.
Level 0 is what other ANC manufacturers often call ambient listening or hear-through mode, but here it’s far more natural than any other ambient mode we’ve tested. The mics pick up your surroundings quite well and the levels are adjusted to match reality to an impressive degree. This means there’s very little difference between what your surroundings sound like with the headphones on and in ANC level 0, and what they sound like without the headphones at all. The other impressive feat here is the lack of delay—most ambient modes include a very slight slapback delay that is noticeable when you are typing (the clicks arrive later than they are happening) or chatting with someone. So level 0 is an impressive new height for ambient listening.
This does mean, however, that there is never any true ANC off mode for the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. Mode 0 uses the ambient mics, and modes 1-9 are varying degrees of the ANC mixed in with those mics. By level 10, the ambient mics are obviously not in the mix. Regardless, either the ambient mics or the ANC are always active, and the only way to disable them completely is to actually turn the headphones off and use them in passive mode, dramatically affecting the audio performance.
Bose developed a mic array system that focuses on your voice and rejecting ambient noise nearby, which not only makes for clearer phone calls, but also results in more efficient digital assistant voice communication. It also offers excellent intelligibility for calls—using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 8, we could understand every word we recorded clearly and crisply. There are still hints of Bluetooth audio artifacts fuzzing up the edges, but background noise is no longer an issue, even in windy or noisy environments.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 deliver powerful low-frequency depth while also sculpting the highs to balance things out. At top, unwise listening levels, the bass doesn’t distort. This isn’t a sound signature for purists, but bass lovers will be pleased.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700’s general sound signature. The drums on this track sound almost thunderous—they aren’t quite over the top, but they have more bass presence than is strictly accurate. Thankfully, the bass is balanced out with crisp high-mid and high-frequency presence, keeping things clear and defined rather than muddled by the low and low-mid richness.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop receives plenty of high-mid presence, allowing its attack to retain its punch, while the vinyl crackle and hiss that is usually relegated to background status takes a step forward in the mix. But the loop also sounds beefed up in the lows, and the sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with plenty of added depth. The vocal performances on this track are delivered cleanly and clearly, but with a bit of added sibilance at times.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, tend to pack a little too much bass punch. It doesn’t sound ridiculous, but the lows are pushed forward notably in the mix, while the higher register brass, strings, and vocals retain their crisp, bright presence despite the bass boosting.
At $399.95, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 live up to the expectations set by the QuietComfort series and add to the experience with excellent mic clarity, enhanced voice assistant functionality, and more granular ANC control. They’re expensive, but worth it, and they easily earn our Editors’ Choice for their best-in-class noise cancellation.
For $50 less, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II remain some of the best ANC headphones on the market, and your top option next to the 700. Other than price, the primary differences between the QC 35 II and the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are a completely different physical build, the lack of adjustable ANC, a different mic system, and the need to press a button in order to use your phone’s voice assistant. If these differences aren’t a big deal to you, by all means go ahead and save the $50.
And if your primary concern is audo performance, with strong noise cancellation coming in a close second, Sony’s $348 WH-1000XM3 headphones are an excellent option with plenty of bass depth and high-frequency clarity, along with an EQ function to please audiophiles looking for a more balanced sound signature. If these prices are all out of your budget, meanwhile, the more affordable Marshall Mid ANC headphones deliver solid audio for $279.99, though their noise cancellation isn’t in the same league as these other models.