Bose QC 35 II noise-cancelling headphone review: A great value, with personality options in spades

With its place at the top of the Bose line supplanted by the sleeker Bose Noise Cancelling 700, and increasingly competitive rivals nipping at its heels, Bose has been cutting away at the retail price of its QC 35 II, the bread-and-butter entry in its over-the-ear noise-cancelling headphone lineup.

I spotted a pre-Black Friday sale on the Bose website that knocks the price of these cans down from $350 to $200 if you by order Sunday, November 8 (they’re currently $199 on Amazon). Drop another $50 and you can customize several elements—including the exterior of the ear cups and the inside of the headband—with various finishes. This adds a bit of wait time to your order, as you might expect, but I found it to be great fun. More on that later. Late reading this? The same sale price will be in effect from November 22-to December 1. Bose also offers a gamer-oriented variant—the Quiet Comfort 35 II Gaming Headset—that comes with a boom mic and a PC desktop controller.

This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best headphones, where you’ll find reviews of competing products, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping for this type of product.

It’s bargain-hunting season

Bargain hunting comes to me naturally. As I kid, I remember my father would only ever buy a car at the end of the model year, when the dealer was anxious to clear out the “leftover” inventory. When it came to sound gear, dad would counsel me to either look for a last year’s model or else “the second from the top” in a line of receivers, turntables, or speakers, arguing that the first “step down” piece shared virtually all the same features and performance-tuning components as the line’s standard-bearer—minus only an extra input, maybe fitted in a smaller enclosure, or lacking the words “Elite Series” on the cabinet.

bose qc 35 ii image 3b Jonathan Takiff / IDG

These ‘phones look pretty good on me, if I do say so myself.

With the QC 35 II, a case can be made that these headphones are just as good if not better than the NC 700 also in my review collection. Yes, those newer, pricier headphones boast cleaner styling, they have more “sensing” microphones to shush unwanted noise and clarify your voice when making phone calls in a public setting, and the NC 700s also offer more finite gradations of noise cancelling: 10 levels versus just two (plus “off”) on the QC 35 II.

Sound presentation is neutral, natural, and quite fine on both models, although higher frequencies are extended a tad more on the NC 700. Neither Bose model will bust your ear drums with bombastic bass, but that’s a good thing, as far as I’m concerned. I was thrilled almost to tears by the QC 35 II’s sweet sonorities, even-tempered balance, and depth of presentation on my favorite Keith Jarrett (+ Euro group) originals album My Song beaming in Qobuz “CD-quality” resolution (and then AAC) from an iPhone 12 Pro. So sad to learn this amazing pianist/composer/improvisor has suffered two incapacitating strokes.

Later, I earned a surprisingly big-screen impression of the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit even watching on an 11-inch iPad. The Bluetooth-connected QC 35 IIs whipped up a 3D-ish sound field in my head, marked with crystal-clear dialogue, weirdly effective directional audio cues, sometimes thunderous orchestral scoring, and snappy throwback hits from the 1960s (think Kinks, George Fame, Shocking Blue). Who knew a story about a brilliant (and troubled) young female chess wiz could provide such rousing and riveting fun?

The new Tom Petty Wildflowers & The Rest collection digging deeper into his dark, twang-rock divorce sessions likewise held my attention for several hours with no fatigue. With windy string charts and balmy bossa nova rhythms, fragile chanteuse Melody Gardot’s new Sunset in the Blue album buffeted my brain like a billowy cloud. C’est Magnifique! And while I ain’t the biggest hip-hop fan, I could appreciate the clarity of expression, musical invention, and bubbly bass depths plumed on a Tidal mix of hip-hop hits from the likes of Jeezy and Yo Gotti (Vroom, Vroom) and Anderson.Paak (a sparkle-plenty Jewelz).

bose qc 35 ii image 2a Jonathan Takiff / IDG

This reviewer went for a Euro-mod color combination, with parts assembled to order in matte copper, sage and two tones of gray.

Both Bose headphones support the standard SBC and better AAC Bluetooth codecs, the latter the top act on iOS products. Neither model can handle the higher-res LDAC, LDHC, aptX, or aptX HD mobile codecs, which might disappoint Android users and folks who own some models of high-end digital audio players. That said, I detected negligible sonic differences during A/B listening tests with the aforementioned Keith Jarrett set wirelessly and then wired with a 3.5mm cable to a Sony CD portable.