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Bose denies firmware fried ANC on QC35 headphones but will allow downgrades

What do you do when hundreds of your customers are willing to swear on the Bible that your firmware update royally messed up their favorite feature, even though your own tests prove otherwise? If you’re Bose, and the feature in question is active noise cancellation on one of your bestselling headphones — the QC35 series — you apparently reverse a long-standing policy and let those customers downgrade their firmware.

That’s the TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) version of what has been a bizarre chapter in Bose’s relationship with its highly loyal customers, a chapter that started in June 2019 when the company issued its 4.5.2 firmware update to owners of its QC35 noise-canceling headphones. Not long after the update was applied, Bose’s forum began to fill with reports that ANC performance had degraded significantly. “I get bothered by background sounds I would never even hear and there is little difference between the LOW and HIGH ANC setting,” one customer wrote.

In the years prior to this update, Bose had indeed encountered concerns with QC35 ANC performance following previous firmware updates — something it details at length in a report evaluating the 4.5.2 issue. However, that same report notes that the most recent firmware update did not touch the portions of the code that are responsible for ANC, making customer complaints about degraded performance a mystery.

Adding some fuel to the customers’ complaints was an independent test conducted by which appeared to reinforce what people had been saying, even if the degradation Rtings noticed was not particularly significant. Some customers started wondering aloud if Bose might be deliberately damaging its own products to make its new products look better.

Bose began a full investigation that ran the gamut from internal testing using Bose’s own headphones to in-home customer visits where Bose engineers sat with people as they compared their headphones to two sets of control devices, one set prior to the 4.5.2 update and one after.

The result: Bose claims that even though some customers’ headphones did demonstrate reduced overall noise reduction performance, none were caused by the firmware update. So, case closed, right?

Well, sorta. Despite disavowing any wrongdoing on its part, Bose is still letting customers do whatever they feel is best for them by temporarily easing a restriction on firmware downgrades.

“Today, we’re reintroducing the ability to downgrade firmware QC35 II to 4.3.6 and QC35 series 1 to 2.5.5 via the Bose BTU site for a limited time. Further communication regarding the availability of the downgrade option will be posted to the community at a later date, but if you wish to take advantage of this downgrade option, we advise you to do so as soon as possible.”

If you think your QC35 headphones have been negatively impacted by the firmware, at least now you have a chance to prove it to yourself one way or another.

Bose isn’t the only ANC headphone company to be saddled with claims of faulty firmware. In January, customers claimed that a firmware update has impacted both the ANC and sound performance of Apple’s highly popular AirPods Pro.

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Simon Cohen
Contributing Editor, A/V
Simon Cohen covers a variety of consumer technologies, but has a special interest in audio and video products, like…
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