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Bose's new noise-canceling headphones are the best business travelers can buy

Key Points
  • The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 replace the QuietComfort 35 IIs as the company’s flagship headphones.
  • They offer noise-cancellation that matches Sony in a more comfortable and premium design.
  • Sony still offers better sound quality and battery life, but these are great for business travelers or people who work with their headphones on.
Bose NC700 headphones
CNBC | Mack Hogan

Bose had long been the king of noise-canceling headphones with products like the QuietComfort 35 and QuietComfort 35 II. That was until Sony dropped the WH-1000XM3 headphones last year and started eating Bose's lunch.

Now, Bose is back with a new model to reclaim the crown. Though the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 (NC700 for short) may not best the Sonys in every regard, they're the best headphones for frequent business travelers.

The Good

Bose NC700 headphones
CNBC | Mack Hogan

For the first time in a long time, Bose has completely redesigned its flagship noise-canceling headphones. Gone are the exposed screws and hinges on the QuietComfort 35 IIs. Instead, the NC700s offer a seamless metal-framed headband with a soft, rubberized underside to cradle your noggin. It's a more premium design, befitting the more premium $400 price tag.

Last year, I complained that the Sony WH-1000XM3s were bulky and looked silly on my head. Bose's NC700s seamless frame is significantly more svelte, without the blockiness of the Sonys. They're obviously still bulkier than a pair of AirPods, but the NC700s don't look dorky.

Bose ditched the three-button arrangement for music and call control. Instead, there is a small touchpad on the right earcup for handling volume, play, pause, skip, rewind, answer and hang up.

The touchpad is more responsive than the one on Sony's XM3s. Also, some users of the Sony headphones reported serious problems with the touchpad in the cold. Bose, which is headquartered near Boston, says its headphones should handle cold weather without an issue.

Bose NC700 headphones with Microsoft and older Bose in the back.
CNBC | Mack Hogan

The NC700s now have a dedicated voice assistant button and a separate button to change the level of noise-canceling, an improvement over the QC35 IIs which had one button that could be assigned to either function. You can also hold the noise-canceling button to enable conversation mode, which pauses music and pipes in external sound so you can listen for a boarding announcement or gate change. Overall, these headphones are some of the best designed and most easy to use.

None of that matters, though, if the noise-canceling tech isn't good. Fortunately for Bose, I found them to be just as good as the Sony headphones at blocking outside noise. Though there are some situations where one pair pulls ahead, both the Sony and Bose headphones are so good that it's not something that should affect your decision. No other headphones I've tested have come close to Bose or Sony in terms of noise canceling.

But if the NC700s are merely tied for first in noise-canceling, they're an easy favorite for comfort. While heavier than the older QC35s, the NC700s combine extremely plush leatherette earcups with a headband that offers incredible adjustment. For a long flight, I'd much rather wear these than the Sony XM3s.

Bose NC700 headphones
CNBC | Mack Hogan

I'd also pick the Bose for phone calls. The company has added two extra microphones to help filter out background noise and it shows. The NC700s do a much better job of isolating my voice than the Sony XM3s, Apple AirPods or any other pair of headphones I've used.

Finally, one huge selling point of the Bose NC700s over the Sony XM3s is the ability to pair multiple devices at once. So if you're watching a video on your laptop and your phone rings, you can pick up the call without having to disconnect from your laptop. Once you get used to that, it's really hard to use a pair a headphones that requires you to constantly reconnect your devices.

The Bad

Bose NC700 headphones
CNBC | Mack Hogan

All-day comfort and class-leading headset functionality make the NC700s a great choice for business travelers and people who use their headphones at work, but the Sonys still have a leg up for some users.

First, Bose headphones are well known for having a distinctive sound signature. The NC700s are no different, emphasizing voices and mid-range tones without the energetic high tones or punchy bass of the Sony XM3s. Unlike the Sonys, you can't customize the sound as of this writing. Bose says that you'll soon be able to adjust the equalizer, but for now the Sonys deliver more lively and impressive sound.

Bose NC700 headphones
CNBC | Mack Hogan

While the NC700s deliver 20 hours of listening, the Sonys are good for an insane 30 hours of jamming. We don't find this to be a particularly big distinction, as both options can easily get you through two long workdays or the longest flight in the world. If packing space is at a premium on your next flight, the NC700s do not fold up for easy carrying like the QC35 IIs or Sony XM3s, which is a bummer.

Finally, the NC700s are expensive. The going rate for noise-canceling headphones for the past few years has been $350. The Sony XM3s, Bose QC35 IIs, Microsoft Surface headphones and more were all priced there. Now, facing better competition than ever before, Bose has raised the price of its flagship pair of headphones to $400.

Final Thoughts

Bose NC700 headphones with Microsoft's Surface headphones and an older pair of Bose.
CNBC | Mack Hogan

The Sony WH-1000XM3s cost $350 and deliver better sound quality, more customizability and better battery life. They've also been around long enough that they're frequently discounted to $300 or less. For budget-conscious shoppers, they're still the best pick.

However, if you're someone who uses their headphones often and wants to maximize comfort and ease of use, the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700 are the best option. They offer fantastic noise-canceling, incredible comfort and a seamless user experience.

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