Bose is mostly known for sound quality and advanced noise-cancellation technology. Google is known for its AI smarts and the Google Assistant.
It all comes together in the Bose QuietComfort 35 II, a set of noise-cancelling headphones powered by the Google Assistant. Bose’s signature QuietComfort line has gone through iterations, but the QC35 II, a sequel to the original QC35 ($349), is more of a refinement.
The changes amount to the addition of Google Assistant and additional control over noise cancellation. They’re still wireless, noise-cancelling headphones.
Top-notch noise cancellation and sound
The first consumer pair of QuietComfort headphones went on sale in 2000, and 18 years later the brand is still going. I went with Bose when I needed a pair of noise-canceling headphones for studying in school. Frequent flyers know the difference this tech can make, and Bose hasn’t let us down with the QuietComfort 35 II.
I put Bose up to the challenge of noise cancellation on my commute and at the office. With noise cancellation off, it didn’t take out much of the rumble out of my ride on NJ Transit into Manhattan. However, it performed better on the streets of NYC by taking the ambient and crowd noises down a bit.
Things get much quieter when you turn on noise cancellation. Even when set to Low (there’s a High setting, too), the headphones reduced most of the train sounds, allowing me to concentrate and get some work done while commuting.
Using noise cancellation on city streets probably isn’t the smartest or safest idea, but I did briefly try the Low setting while walking to work. It cut out an extraordinary amount of noise.
Bose describes the Low level of noise cancellation as ideal for windy environments. So while it will cut out continuous sounds like wind and engines, you could still hear the bustle of people walking, the subway below you, and an emergency vehicle approaching. They’re muffled, but the tech doesn’t completely cancel out these sudden sounds.
The High level is basically what all Bose headphones were set at before. On flights, it knocks out the powerful sound of a jet engine like it is nothing. With the QC35s set to High, it was mostly pure silence on the train.
Overall sound is well balanced. Even with the volume at its highest (ouch!), I couldn’t detect any distortion. Music of all genres, like rock or pop, come across clear and just as the artists intended. High tones and low tones were both crisp, and the bass wasn’t too overbearing. EDM fans might not love the balance, as the bass doesn’t necessarily get a tremendous boost.
Don’t get me wrong: The QuietComforts also pack a punch, and can play quite loud. With the volume turned up, noise cancellation can make it seem like you’re in the studio.
A new action button
The one design change is the addition of the “Action” button along the left ear cup. It faces the back of your ear and is easily findable with your hand. This is the most significant change between these and the QuietComfort 35 headphones.
So what about those smarts? I paired the QuietComforts with an iPhone X, and the setup process requires you to have the Google Assistant app in addition to the Bose Connect app. Android users get a slightly more streamlined experience since Google Assistant is just part of the operating system, not a separate app.
I initially thought the headphones would store most of the AI functionality onboard and use the wireless connectivity of your smartphone to handle more complex queries. I was wrong. When you make any queries to the Google Assistant, it’ll usually open the app on your phone to handle them.
After first pairing your headphones over Bluetooth, you then have to let the Bose app sync with the Google Assistant. That’ll start a second pairing request: “LE-bose qc35 ii” is the second connection and is how the Google Assistant speaks connects to your phone. (If you’re wondering, on iOS it uses Bluetooth LE, and on Android it connects with RFCOMM.)
This whole secondary connection can get a bit confusing, and because of the way iOS works, the Google Assistant is very limited if you’re pairing with an iPhone. Depending on how much of a chore you think the setup process is, you might be better off just using Siri, although I find Google’s AI generally gives better answers.
On Android, I found it came in handy for requesting songs, responding to messages, or being notified of calendar events. Still, a majority of the time I found myself reaching for my phone to complete the task. If you have a Google Home in your house with connected smart devices, the ability to control those is a bonus.
The Assistant will pause your music, give you the time, and let you know about notifications. If you have a specific question, you hold the Action button and ask it. Of course, when you’re interacting with the Assistant, it’ll automatically pause your music.
When new notifications arrive, like a text message, it will let you know who it’s from. This feature can be turned on or off, but when it’s in use, your music will be interrupted every time a notification comes through. Tapping the Action button will let you interact with a notification, and you can hit it again to respond, but that function is only for Android phones.
On Android, the Assistant can be quite helpful and is a true extension of the Assistant already found in your device. It can handle control of almost any music player, including Spotify, which isn’t possible on iOS.
Bose has also said that Amazon Alexa is coming to the QuietComfort 35 II and should arrive later this summer.
It’s customizable to an extent
If you decide you’d rather not use the Google Assistant, you can have the button control noise cancellation. I think existing QuietComfort users will find this button to be an ideal feature.
Via the Bose Connect app, you can switch the Action button to control noise cancellation. From here the button will function as a switch between the three levels: High, Low, and Off. Press it and the headphones let you know the level verbally: “Noise cancellation High,” ‘Noise cancellation Low,” or “Noise cancellation Off.”
You can connect a premium Apple Music subscription and TuneIn natively in the Bose Connect app. The interface for controlling music is by no means a replacement for the dedicated apps. Bose swaps out album artwork for different landscape scenes, and there are no EQ controls. Bose has opted for simple music control: Play, Pause, Next/Previous, and a volume slider.
You’re better off controlling your music with the dedicated app found on your iOS or Android device, not with Bose Connect.
A unique feature of the app is “Music Share” which allows you to stream music to two pairs of Bose headphones. It fixes the almost universal issue of sharing earbuds. However, dreams of no longer sharing earbuds get quickly shut down, as it only works with Bose headphones.
20 hours of comfortable listening
It was a pleasant surprise to get the promised 20 hours of battery life. Commuting into work for about an hour on the train, I found that the battery dropped just 10 percent, but that was with noise cancellation set to high the entire time. I did get the full 20 hours when I listened mostly on Low or Off. In short, with typical use, you will not have any issue getting through a day of heavy usage, and you can quickly add about an hour of playtime through 15 minutes of charging.
When they are not in use, Bose will let you conserve battery life with standby mode. You can set this up in the app by choosing from different time ranges. Power users who would like the headphones ready to go at a moment’s notice can shut standby off.
Bose didn’t mess with the trusted design model from previous iterations. Each ear cup can swivel and there’s a hinge as well, allowing you to fold them up for easy storage in the included traveling case. The cushions around the ear provide a comfortable experience that doesn’t apply too much pressure on your face. The improved headband cushion makes it great for extended listening times.
I am quite impressed with the Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones and think they live up to predecessors. The addition of a smart assistant is by no means a necessity, and each user will end up figuring out if it is worth it or not.
At the end of the day, the well-balanced sound and top-notch noise cancellation set these headphones apart. Whether you are a traveler, a student, a commuter, or just someone looking for a solid pair of cans that will do your music justice, the QuietComfort 35 II are an excellent choice.