I have been testing the Bose NC700 over-ear headphones for a week now after having read many internet reviews. Having purchased the headphones, those reviews lazily covering spec-sheet specifications became as relevant as dissecting running-shoe specs. Not just how and why the specs matter is different for every person. Feet are as different as ears, and how one interprets sound is a highly subjective matter.
To Each His Own Sound
Some people are just not very sensitive to the nuance of sound, in the same way, some people are not very discerning about what food they eat. Or their usage of sound differs, some like soft background music to soothe during work. I love my music loud, clear, and immersive to drown myself in the creativity, vibe, and rhythms of its creators. I feel the music in my heart and soul; it is more than a cacophony to me. I listen to the words and interpret what I think is the intended transfer of emotion. Music takes over for me, and it helps me to stop thinking about work or other matters.
With that sensitivity in mind, the NC700s are good headphones, better than most artificially equalized headphones on the market, noise-canceling or not, but not better than the Bose QC35s – the previous version – sound-wise.
I notice clearly how the NC700s cannot quite deliver the same punch when I play music from a playlist I composed a long time ago. A playlist consisting of a variety of music to challenge any pair of headphones or speaker set. I would urge Bose to use my playlist to test their equipment. I feel the dynamic range of the headphones has been reduced a bit compared to the QC35s, and I suspect the (variable) sampling rate has been doctored to help with the active signal processing of noise reduction.
From Audiophile To Narrator
A specific song in that playlist induced distinct clicks, not audible on the QC35s. I hear other less obvious distortions as well. Further testing also revealed a somewhat flat audible mid-tone range. Bass has become less pronounced and full, the highs are also a little topped off. The sound is less immersive and precise as on the QC35s — the audio tiring my ears out on longer listening sessions, requiring constant volume adjustments. I am certain I can pick the headphones out in a blind sound test.
Where the NC700s absolutely shine is in noise cancellation, making them the perfect headset to take calls, participate in conference calls and narrate podcasts. Update 8/15: not so good for podcasts and narrations after all. The audio from the microphone is monoaural and extremely flat, with serious hiccups in Bluetooth transmission. I am going back to the USB high-end microphone for stereo recording and much higher audio fidelity.
The advanced noise-canceling with ten adjustment levels set to maximum drowns out almost every sound around you. Wind-noise reduction is much better than QC35s. Driving with them, although not recommended, is a shocking experience making you realize how much sound the brain uses to adjust on the fly. Standing in front of the microwave to warm up lunch, I could not hear the blowing sound or beeps any microwave is known to blast out. It is a weird experience at times, but the experience of not hearing external sounds becomes clear also to the receiving end of the call. People on the other end of the line experience total clarity of your voice. The serenity in almost every location, inside or outside, is uncanny.
Perfect is the USB-C charging capability. The fit is great with a slight tendency to slide forward on a tilted head, more than the QC35s. The gesture controls on the right earpad for changing volume, playback, pause, skip, and rewind takes some getting used to but work well. The buttons on the side are inadvertently pressed when picking up or putting down the headphones; they reside in the exact location where one would hold them, kicking off the assistant I try to avoid at all cost. Twenty hours of battery life is more than enough to bridge a few days of use. Bluetooth setup and switching are not without hassle, especially when multiple devices are connected to the headphones. The little white light signaling the headphones are operating are deceptively bright in a dark room.
I still have not figured out how to rotate to through more than two devices to connect to the device I need to be on, a capability much more accessible on the QC35s. Here, again, it shows how Bose is not a technology but an audio company. They’ll get there in a few years. Until then expect some hokey user interface experiences.
The Bose Music app, which is a prerequisite to receiving the latest firmware, is a complete waste of time and space, except for the ability to adjust noise-canceling in a more granular fashion. You will use it once and never again. Even the initial pairing through it was a nightmare, and I eventually reconnected Bluetooth using Apple’s procedure, avoiding the Bose app altogether.
I like the NC700s and use them for every serious business call and will soon use them for narrations and podcast interviews. For the purest music delivery, I have already been eyeing my old but reliable QC35s, but keeping them around feels like cheating. I cannot wait until Bose combines the best of both headphones, and I will then undoubtedly smirk about the silly name and yet another dumb app Bose will force us to use.