Review: Bose 700 – a Mixed Bag

The Bose 700NC have a distinct design language.
The Bose 700NC have a distinct design language.

Bose’s flagship Bluetooth noise canceling headphones struggle to stand out amidst fierce competition.

General Usage 72.0
Audiophile Usage 65.6

Score Breakdown

For more information, click on each category.

General Usage

What We Like
  • Overall good ANC performance
  • Easy to use and reliable touch controls
  • Good microphone performance
  • Good midrange tuning for a V-shaped signature
  • Mostly inoffensive treble
  • Good imaging
  • Bose Music app allows some basic tweaks via EQ
  • Analog input sounds surprisingly decent
What We Don't Like
  • Plastic build
  • No IP rating
  • No wear detection
  • Middling battery life
  • Slightly higher clamp force might cause discomfort for larger heads
  • Max volume might not be enough for loud listeners
  • ANC performance falls behind category leaders
  • MSRP is not competitive given the lack of certain features

Where to Buy

Introduction

A couple of years ago, Bose had a commendable lead in the Active Noise Canceling (ANC) Bluetooth headphones niche, given the sheer lack of competition. Fast forward to 2022, and the scene has changed dramatically.

Sony now boasts the “best ANC” crown, while Apple is hot on their heels with their debut wireless ANC full-size headphones. Established players like Beyerdynamic and Focal also offer cutting-edge tech in the ANC department.

As such, Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700 (Bose 700 from hereon) face unique challenges. They have to retain exceptional ANC performance while providing great sound and other perks consumers have come to expect.

Do the Bose 700 rise to the occasion, or do they fall by the wayside? Let’s find out.

Packaging

Bose went for an environmentally sound approach with zero plastic, which I appreciate. The result is a bland-but-functional package.

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 come in an envrionment-friendly, recyclable package.
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 come in an envrionment-friendly, recyclable package.

In the box

  • Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700
  • 3.5mm to 3.5mm analog interconnect cable
  • USB-C to USB-A charging cable
  • Manuals
  • Carrying case

The carrying case has a nifty pouch inside to store the cables. It doesn’t offer a lot of protection, though.

The carrying case is practical and offers decent protection.
The carrying case is practical and offers decent protection.

Battery

  • Battery Life: 20 hrs
  • Charge Time (15 mins): up to 210 mins playback time

At around 20 hrs, the battery life of the Bose 700 is merely average. I needed to charge the headphones at least once a week, or twice if I had too many meetings. It also drains the battery slightly when powered off, which is frustrating.

Fortunately, the quick charge function is as good as the competition, if not better.

3 mins of charge can get you up to 3.5 hours of playback, provided you have a suitable USB-PD adapter and cable.

Various functions can be controlled via the touch panel and physical buttons.
Various functions can be controlled via the touch panel and physical buttons.

UX

  • Control Mechanism: Mechanical + Touch
  • Touch Accuracy: Good
  • Control Symmetry on both ear-cups: No
  • Mono Use: No
  • Right ear-cup hosts touch controls, including swipe gestures

Bose has completely revamped the control scheme compared to their QC series of headphones – there are both physical buttons and a touch-sensitive surface. I do wish the entire right earcup allowed touch gestures, as currently, only the half with the Bose logo allows gestures. But, overall, the gestures work well.

A short rundown of the available touch gestures:

  • Double tap: Play/pause audio, answer/end a call.
  • Tap and hold for one second: Remaining battery, decline a call.
  • Swipe forward: Skips forward the current track.
  • Swipe backward: Skips backward the current track.
  • Swipe up: Increases volume by a step.
  • Swipe down: Decreases volume by a step.

One annoyance I have is with the bottom button on the right earcup. I accidentally press it when picking the headphones up. I have to adjust my grip when holding the headphones to avoid unwanted button presses.

The area with the Bose logo can be used for gesture controls.
The area with the Bose logo can be used for gesture controls.

The right side also houses the type-C port (with fast-charging support) and the power/pair button. You must briefly press the power button to turn the headphones on or off. Holding it down starts pairing mode.

The headphones will enter pairing mode automatically if they can’t connect to any of the last three previously connected devices.
The Bluetooth pairing button also acts as power on/off button.
The Bluetooth pairing button also acts as power on/off button.

The left side ear-cup also has the ANC control button that toggles between maximum ANC, medium ANC, and no ANC. It also has a 2.5mm analog input, which sounds surprisingly decent and can be used in a pinch (low or empty battery).

The Bose 700 will function if the battery is depleted, but ANC and DSP effects are disabled.
The type-C port and the 2.5mm analog input are at the bottom.
The type-C port and the 2.5mm analog input are at the bottom.

Design

  • Profile: Over-ear
  • Material: ABS plastic
  • Fit and Comfort: Good.

The entire construction is plastic. This has two advantages: light weight and RF transparency. The earpad and headband are padded with pleather, with soft memory foam underneath.

Unfortunately, the feel in hand is less premium than the price tag would suggest.

The plastic headband is another odd decision, as a metal headband would be far more robust. Moreover, the plastic edge of the headband is somewhat sharp. Not enough to hurt you, but enough to annoy.

The swivel mechanism allows adequate rotation for a good seal.
The swivel mechanism allows adequate rotation for a good seal.

The adjustments are made by sliding the earcups up or down. There is no hard stop or clicks when adjusting the earcups. This is another pet peeve of mine, as it’s difficult to determine the exact headband position.

The headband could use metal for better structural rigidity.
The headband could use metal for better structural rigidity.

The hinge mechanism allows for a 90-degree rotation of the earcups. It also helps move the earcups across the Y-axis to better seal against the user’s face.

The PU leather earpads are comfortable but can get sweaty on summer days.
The PU leather earpads are comfortable but can get sweaty on summer days.

The earpads look and feel comfortable, but two issues arise when wearing them. First up – the clamp can exert extra pressure if you have a large head. Secondly, they can get sweaty on summer days.

Mic

  • Noise Cancellation: Outstanding
  • Voice Pick-up: Outstanding

There are eight different microphones placed around both earcups. They pick up audio in noisy environments, allowing the user to speak at a normal volume.

The aggressive noise cancellation during voice pickup results in some compression.

Another function the microphones serve is picking up the frequencies that need to be attenuated via ANC.

These mics form the basis of the Bose 700’s great noise-cancellation performance.

They manage to drown out the low hum of engine noises really well. It’s the high-pitched sounds that do not get as attenuated. On the plus side, the Bose 700 do not exhibit the “vacuum” effect of the Sony WH-1000XM5 when no music is running with ANC set to max.

The array of noise-cancelling mics around the earcups aid in filtering out low and mid frequencies.
The array of noise-cancelling mics around the earcups aid in filtering out low and mid frequencies.

Mic demo

Sound

  • Driver: Details unavailable.
  • Sound Signature: Warm
  • Bass: Good
  • Mids: Good
  • Treble: Average
  • Soundstage: Average
  • Imaging: Good
  • Dynamics: Average

The general sound signature of the Bose 700 is warm, with some recession in the lower mids and a noticeable lower-treble peak.

Some minor adjustments can be made via the app to reduce the sub-bass or some of the lower-treble, but the EQ isn’t comprehensive enough to make minute changes.

Bass

Stock tuning of the Bose 700 has a controlled bass boost, with the sub-bass boosted by +5dB over the lower midrange. The boost occurs below 300Hz, so the bass bloat does not encroach much into the mids.

Bass is not the tightest, definitely not as tight as some wired planar-magnetic headphones you can get in this price range. Bass texture is lacking, and deep, rumbling bass sounds “one-note” -ish. In fast bass sections, notes tend to smear into each other.

Distortion in the bass region is one of my pet peeves with most BT headphones and earphones. The Bose 700 combats this by limiting the max volume. Not a bad solution, but loud listeners will find the volume levels inadequate.

Mids

The upper-midrange is well-controlled and does not sound shouty or shrill.

The tonality of the mids is mostly correct, as the upper-mids peak near 2.5kHz, and there is no abrupt bump between 1-3kHz. I wish the lower mids were lifted by a few dBs between 500Hz – 1kHz, as baritone vocals sometimes lack body and presence.

Bose got the midrange tuning right, with a good balance between the low-end and vocal fundamentals.

Treble

Treble is the weakest aspect of the Bose 700, with the distracting lower-treble peak around 5kHz causing tonal aberrations.

This peak also makes the leading edge of acoustic guitars sound over-sharpened, as is noticeable on the guitar strums of Damien Rice’s Canonball.

Cymbal hits do not have their characteristic resonance, and the sense of air is absent in tracks. I tried to EQ in extra treble via the app, but it didn’t help much.

Dynamics

Due to some codec-related compression and a lack of treble extension, macrodynamic punch lacks a sense of grandeur. Microdynamics (subtle shifts in volume) are also less distinct than other top offerings.

Soundstage

The soundstage has decent depth, though the width is average. Given the context of closed-back BT headphones, the Bose 700 perform average or above average in this aspect.

Imaging

Imaging is surprisingly solid, with good left and right delineation. Ordinal imaging (top-left, bottom-right) is a weak spot, and so is center imaging. Again, this is good performance for a pair of BT headphones, even though nothing special in the larger scheme of things.

Active noise cancellation

With the ANC turned on, the sound signature of the Bose 700 barely changes. The ANC also allows listening to the headphones at lower-than-required volumes. However, the Bose 700 do not offer any Equal Loudness feature.

I recommend keeping ANC on in most cases.

Connectivity

  • Audio Codec: SBC, AAC
  • Bluetooth Version: 5.0
  • Auto-connect when: After turning on
  • Average drop-outs in an hour: 0 – 2 times
  • Multi-point connection: Yes

The connection is rock-solid, and pairing is fairly simple once the headphones are put in pairing mode. Bluetooth multi-point function works seamlessly too, as you can connect to multiple devices simultaneously and easily switch between them.

Waterproof

  • IP Rating: Not rated.

No official IP rating here, which is a bummer.

Software

  • Available on: iOS, Android
  • 4-band EQ
  • 4 preset EQs
  • Ability to save and import profiles across devices
  • Auto Pause: not available.

The lack of wear detection or auto-pause is another huge bummer.

The Bose Music app offers some basic adjustment of ANC and a four-band EQ.
The Bose Music app offers some basic adjustment of ANC and a four-band EQ.

Comparisons

Bose 700 Vs. Sony WH-1000XM5

Sony’s WH-1000XM5 are class leaders in terms of ANC performance. The Bose 700NC struggle to compete here. The build is identical, albeit I find the Sonys to have less clamp.

As for the sound, in stock form, the WH-1000XM5 sound bassier and smoother. You can easily control the amount of bass via the app and make them sound cleaner and clearer. The Bose 700 fall behind in this aspect.

The Sonys do not exhibit the lower-treble peak of the Bose 700, which can lead to some tonal aberration. Imaging is similar between them, but staging is wider and deeper on the WH-1000XM5. Dynamics are less compressed as well.

The Sony headphones also have other nifty features like wear detection, DSP effects, and better gesture control.

The extra price premium for the WH-1000XM5 over the Bose 700 is worth it.

The Sony WH-1000XM5 have superior Active Noise Cancelling than the Bose 700;
The Sony WH-1000XM5 have superior Active Noise Cancelling than the Bose 700;

Bose 700 Vs. Apple Airpods Max

Apple’s flagship Airpods are unlike any other BT headphones in the market.

Aluminium vs. plastic – I know which one I am gonna pick. From a build quality perspective, they blow the Bose 700 away. The RF antenna on the Airpods Max is etched onto the aluminum chassis, so the signal remains strong despite a metal build.

In terms of sound, it’s somewhat strange that the Airpods Max sound better when connected to iPhones/Macbooks than to an Android phone (my Pixel 4XL in this case). The mid-treble peak near 9kHz becomes more prominent on non-Apple devices, so make of that what you will.

The bass on the Airpods Max is less prominent, and they focus more on midrange clarity than outright bass punch. The treble is also more extended, though the 9kHz peak rears its head every now and then, causing fatigue.

Imaging is somewhat similar on both these headphones, even if Airpods Max tend to sound wider. None of these headphones support high-bitrate codecs. Airpods Max have official water and dust resistance, unlike the Bose 700.

ANC is better on the Airpods Max as well, along with a better implementation of the “transparency” mode (where you can hear the sound around you through the headphones).

Overall, the Airpods Max are all-around superior to the Bose 700, but the much higher price tag may be a tough pill to swallow.

The Apple Airpods Max look and feel substantially more premium than the Bose 700.
The Apple Airpods Max look and feel substantially more premium than the Bose 700.

Conclusion

Bose 700 is the very definition of a mixed bag.

They have good ANC, are comfortable, and offer decent all-around performance. The sound quality is largely inoffensive as well.

Too bad that the competition matches or exceeds Bose in every single parameter. There is not a single aspect where the Bose 700 offer class-leading performance. They are adequate, but being adequate is not good enough anymore.

Couple all that with the premium price tag, and Bose is treading dangerous waters. At or near full MSRP, I cannot recommend the Bose 700. If you can find a pair around USD$200, however, give them a shot.

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