Friday, February 09, 2018

Bose QuietComfort QC35 Review

The want for better flight experience
Being privileged to be travelling a fair bit in my current job meant I spent quick some time in transit and in planes. Over the past 3 years, I have covered close to 300k km and has made friends with many airport and planes. It has also come to a point where all I look forward to in the plane were decent in-flight entertainment (IFE) and sound cancelling headphone to drown out the signature low hums of the plane and (oh no) babies or toddlers crying. Even in Business class, the Noise Cancelling (NC) headset that comes with all business class, are sub par when it comes to comfort and functionality.
Euro269 for QC25, bought at Schipol Airport under Capi Shop
The Beginning - QC25
At end of 2015, my wife got me a QC25 - the successor of QC15 (which is still in use by Emirates business class), a step better in terms of comfort and NC than the QC15. My IFE was never the same anymore and the comfort I get wearing a headphone up to 17 hours in flight - has never been more enjoyable. The unit was bought in Schipol Airport as my sister-in-law was returning back from Amsterdam.
Triple Black Limited Edition
About 18-months into using QC25, it developed a problem that was identified by Bose International to be effecting the first batch (and mine was in that batch). Basically one side (often the right, where the electronics of the unit sits) will not function and that makes the headphone not usable. I had the toughest time trying to get in touch with Atlas AV Malaysia (as the authorised distributor, sales & services, and service centre) to look into my problem and offer a solution. Bose elsewhere has given a one-to-one replacement. I was entitled for this under the warranty, but was upset how Atlas managed my case. Lucky for me, the place the QC25 was bought, which was Capi Electronic actually honored my defect and offered the refund - all Euro269 plus the cost of me sending the QC25 to them in Netherlands! That my friend, was First Class Customer Experience and Services. 
Bose sucks, why not Sony?
The QC25 was then superseded by the new wireless unit marketed as QC35. Bluetooth enabled for your daily listening while commuting in trains (where low hums and human chatter are completely blocked off). At the same time, as my trust for Bose as a brand in Malaysia (via Atlas) was so low, I was looking for alternative. Sony came out with their newest WH1000XM2, which succeed WH1000X. Sony XM2 came with NC able to match Bose industry standard NC. Users gave thumbs up on the music quality where Bose lacked in the low frequencies/bass. Both were priced very closely, meaning it is also Sony's most expensive Headphone ever. What made me chose QC35 over XM2 was the fact that QC35 was a few notch more comfortable for me. 
SR1499 for QC35
I wore the XM2 at outlets for a duration of one or two songs (and Bohemian Rhapsody always one of them) and felt uncomfortable as the ear-muff was small and presses against my ears - heating them up. Then the metal band over XM2 was too tight, giving me a slight pressure across the side of my head. But wearing the QC25, I could wear them for hours - and QC35 is just QC25 with better technology. Plus, I am not sure how Sony after sales will be, or how easily the replacement ear-piece and headband can be found for cheap (via my online stores). Bose on the other hand, I know Atlas sucks - but I have the assurance that Bose outside of Malaysia were good. Evidence was two shops I went in Dubai in my recent travel and when I related my experience, both offered me a replacement - but of course, my unit already sent to Capi for refund. Even at the Dubai airport, i was offered a one-for-one replacement, no question asked! 
The most disappointing for me was still the fact that Bose Malaysia under Atlas Malaysia has much to learn  when it comes to after sales services. For the record, it took me no less than 12 emails, over 20 days to get a response, that too after I put it up a complain on Bose International Facebook and at Atlas Malaysia Facebook page. It then took two weeks before they offer me a WHITE QC25... no thank you. By then, already processing my refund.
Based on the combination of comfort and after sales - Bose won me over again. Then it was the question of QC35, or QC35ii?
Do You Need Google Assistant?
The biggest differences between QC35 and QC35ii was the additional button on the left cup that triggers Google Assistant or Siri. You will need to ask yourself if you will use this for about additional RM100 (USD30) vs QC35. One may argue it also helps you to select the level of NC (off-Low-High). For me, if i want the headphone to be NC, it will be NC all the while unless the battery runs flat. And both QC35 and QC35ii connects on the Bose App, which controls the level of NC from the phone as well.
It's always HIGH for me
I was also told that the QC35ii does not have the (much needed) dual-prong airplane adapter needed in most planes IFE, and the QC35 comes with it as standard.
The built quality of this on QC25 was much better I would say
Bose QC35 - Review, finally
Now that you know how I came to the decision to get the Bose vs Sony, factoring the comfort level of Bose headphones, the industry standard NC, even though the less than good experience with the Malaysia distributor. I paid SR1399 after a SR100 discount at the airport, and with the refund of Euro269 (SR1237), it is a small top up for me. What worked even better was the Duty Free at Dubai airport accept my Emirates points and I managed to exchange SR1000 from 60,000 EK points... allowing me to purchase the QC35 and a Bose Soundlink Mini II with additional RM300 to save...
SR699, almost half the price compared to Malaysia...
So, i literally got the QC35 and the Soundlink Mini II, free. (We all love Free, isn't it?)
Out of the box, the QC35 box was smaller than the QC25, which the airport was still selling at SR1399 (no discount), which was the same price as the QC35. It is a no brainer why QC35 was the choice. Also, Dubai airport has limited QC35ii (at SR 1599 no discount) - but not in demand as Saudi sort of blocks Google (like China, just not as strict), making Google Assistant not possible to be used.
The QC35 came charged at 60% out of the box.
The box came with a soft case, cable, dual-prong airline adapter and micro-usb cable for charging. The Manual and warranty card came as standard, as expected.
The QC35 came folded the same way as the QC25 (that i used to have). The biggest differences is the cable of QC35 is thinner. I will have to be extra careful or just get a replacement if the cable snap. That is one point for Bose to consider perhaps in the newer QuietComfort.
The pairing of the QC35 was via the Bose app. It can be downloaded on both android and iPhone store. It was easy to pair and there wasn't any instances the connection was dropped in my few weeks of using.
Even a cool function to "name" your QC35
The app also allow up to two QC35 to be linked on the same "music" and allow up to two devices (phone/tablets/ipad) to be linked. Pretty "perfect" I would say ;-)
Sound, how about the sound?
I am comparing this against QC25 and it is a big differences. Many that has judged Bose with less than great sound may had been referring to QC25 as benchmark. Even on Bluetooth where purist may say the signal transmitted will be "dirty". Personally, I was impressed with the sound quality coming out from QC35 when I listen to Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody and Metallica "Enter Sandman". Unless you are hardcore EDM folks or listen to Electronica a lot, you may end up being more critical as the bass may not be at the level you want - for that, an amp and a 12inch woofer in a boombox strap to your head may provide you the SPL (sound pressure level) you will need. The NC on QC35, made the songs sound like music, not "noise".
Verdict - vs other brands
It is a very expensive decision, mine just made easier as it was considered as a gift, and an upgrade due to the refund and the air-miles exchange. Otherwise, I may just decide to use those provided by the airline - and cringe every time. If you been using a NC headphones, you will appreciate what a NC headphones will do in making your commuting and travelling more bearable. If you really want to get one, put in consideration of comfort first, then the ease to get spare parts - as these leather ear-muff will need replacing within 18months, or based on your usage. Even the headband, which are made from good leather, will need replacing. 
Ain't she pretty?
I compare this Bose with Sony, as it is the closest you will get both price wise and feature wise. I have tested Senheineser BT450, and a few others NC earphones in the market over the past 3-months and the closest competitor was still the Sony MH1000XM2. There are many features, that sometimes, you wonder if it really mattered. Sony has a cool feature where you place your hand over the right cup and the NC will be switched off, and you can have a conversation. However, I do find it rude if someone has their headphones on while I am talking to them, never mind you are now seen cupping your hand over one side as if you do not want to listen - but it may be a conversation starter. Also, I found a flaw where if you were to rest the right side on something that covers the cup, the NC goes off, not ideal when you are sleeping in the plane, and your head tilt in such way to off the NC... No way to override that I was told. 
On spare parts, particularly the ear pads, I been asking around the Sony reseller, none of them can tell me how much the replacement pads will cost - but for Bose, they stock them and the pads for QC25-35ii are the same. Then, if you search for OEM resellers from China, it is easier (and way cheaper) to get Bose replacement and almost impossible to obtain Sony's replacement. 
Lastly, with all things being equal, Customer Service experience in Malaysia will never differ far - and for that, I look at International warranty where Bose may just edge Sony with it. 
My choice was clear - it was after all, really experiencing the flights without NC headphones, and having to search for a replacement worthy to challenge Bose, that made me come back to Bose.