Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 hands-on review

Go ahead, make the call. New Bose headphones shut out background noise

The Bose Noise Cancelling 700 are the perfect headphones for calls
The Bose Noise Cancelling 700 are the perfect headphones for calls
The Bose Noise Cancelling 700 are the perfect headphones for calls

Highs

  • Stunning audio clarity during phone calls
  • Works well with voice assistants
  • Comfortable and stylish
  • 20-hour battery life

Lows

  • No aptX or aptX HD support

Calls and voice assistant interactions can be a garbled mess if the person (or AI) on the other end is having to listen through the noisy coffee shop or street corner you’re standing on. Bose’s new Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 (NCH 700) solve this problem. With a unique 8-microphone array, they’re a must-have for people who make a lot of phone calls.

How they work

We think of noise-canceling headphones as tools to remove sound from our environments so we can relax or focus, but Bose is going a step further and utilizing its sound reduction technology to help the person on the other end during two-way communication — including when you’re talking to voice assistants like Siri, Google Assistant, or Alexa.

There are 8 microphones in the NCH 700, six of which are used to reject noise. The last two use beam-forming tech to pick up whatever sound that comes out of your mouth. Two of the six used to reject noise also act like noise defense systems, searching for loud sounds around you to track and suppress. The mics continue to work as you move around your head to ensure loud noises near you are always muffled.

The end result is stunning for the person on the other end of phone calls, or for voice assistants trying to understand what you’re saying. They will be able to hear you clearly, without all the sounds in your environment.

I saw a demo of this working, where a Bose employee sat in a Starbucks across the street with both the QC35 II and the NCH 700 connected via Bluetooth; his coworker placed a call. Listening in on the speaker from an iPhone, the QC35 II picked up all the ambient sounds in the coffee shop, making it difficult to hear the person on the call. He then swapped to the NCH 700, and the difference was night and day. Initially, I thought the call had dropped because all I heard was pin-drop silence — but then he talked. I could still hear some ambient sounds and chatter when he spoke, but they were significantly suppressed, and his voice was far clearer and easier to understand.

Another demo tested Siri’s ability to understand someone using the QC35 II versus the NCH 700, with plenty of ambient sounds added in the background. The latter hit 100 percent accuracy in understanding voice commands, but the QC35 II only picked up one or two commands (they also picked up various conversations happening around the room). Impressive is an understatement.

Transparency and noise canceling

The Bose NCH 700’s noise cancelation ranges from 10 to zero, with 10 being the highest setting to block the outside world. Bose calls this zero level “Transparency”, which will use the microphones to deliver all the ambient sounds around you straight to your ears. That’s ideal for when you want to stay alert to your surroundings, like when using public transit or at the airport. It’s even better than just turning the headphones off (but leaving it on your ears), as the headphones have awesome passive sound isolation, and can block out sound a little too well, even with noise canceling off.

At the highest setting, it’s near impossible to hear anything going on.

Several headphones now have a way to let you hear the outside world, but they can sometimes sound digitized, almost like you’re listening to an internet radio station of the real world. The NCH 700’s transparency feature isn’t quite like that. It sounds incredibly natural; I initially thought I was just listening to the outside world before being told I was hearing sound processed through the headphones.

At the highest setting (10), it’s near impossible to hear anything going on — especially when playing music. With music off, I was able to hear a muffled version of the ambient noise that was being played around me, but it was only after taking the headphones off and hearing just how loud the ambient sounds were that I appreciated how well the NCH 700 performed.

Design, comfort, and controls

As with most noise-canceling headphone models, the NCH 700 look minimal and clean, without a lot of flourishes. The headband is a single piece of stainless steel, and the adjustment mechanism works seamlessly. They’re lightweight, but don’t feel cheap. The padding on the ears and on the headband is super soft and makes the headphone feels like a cushion, but we’ll need to wear it for a longer period of time to truly test overall comfort.

As far as controls, there are three buttons in total: One is for controlling Bluetooth, and allows you to connect the NCH 700 to up to two devices. It also doubles as the power switch. The headphones can also automatically turn off if you don’t use them for a set amount of time (customizable in the companion app). The second button on the right ear cup is for talking to voice assistants. If you’re connected to an iPhone, you can talk to Sir. On an Android phone, it’s Google Assistant. If you have the Alexa app installed, you can also choose to set it to Amazon’s assistant. It’s worth noting that only Alexa has a built-in wake word that doesn’t require the use of the button — just say, “Hey Alexa.”

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The third button is on the left ear cup, and it’s used to control the noise canceling level. You can tap it three times to cycle through High, Medium, or Low noise cancellation, and you can customize these levels through the app. Double tap the button and you’ll turn on “Conversation Mode”, which pauses music and triggers transparency mode.

So how do you control music playback? Half of the right ear cup is a capacitive sensor. Swipe forward and back on it to change tracks; swipe up or down to control volume; double tap to play or pause music, or accept a phone call; and press and hold it to reject a call. You can also double tap the voice assistant button in a call to mute your mic, which is ideal if you’re in a conference call.

Audio quality and battery life

So how does it sound? I didn’t get too much time to spend testing the audio quality, but the few tracks I listened to sounded well-balanced, with clear highs. Bass didn’t sound as strong as I expected it to, but the quality sounded rich. That may be surprising, as the NCH 700 doesn’t support higher quality aptX and aptX HD codecs. We’ll be listening to the headphones for a longer period of time to bring you our full analysis on audio quality for our upcoming full review.

As for battery life, Bose claims these cans will last up to 20 hours — that’s with continuous music streaming and noise canceling, which is about ten hours less than is offered by competitors like the Sony WH-1000x M3, and a full 16 hours less than the Jabra Elite Active 85H. You can charge it back up via the USB-C port.

Price and availability

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are available for pre-order now, and sales officially start June 30. At $399, they are pricey, which is why you’ll want to buy the cheaper Bose QuietComfort 35 II (QC35 II) if you’re just looking for premier noise-canceling features for listening to music.  Looking for something different? Check out our various recommendations in our best headphones guide.

Even at a premium price, if you frequently take calls in loud spaces, there’s a good chance not only you will love the NCH 700 — so will the person (or voice assistant) on the other end of the line.

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