Two of the best noise-cancelling headphones you could buy, the Bose QuietComfort 35 (Rs29,990) and Sony WH-1000X (29,363), now have successors ready for a duel. They are called the Bose QuietComfort 35 II and the Sony WH-1000XM2.

Wearing them

The Bose QuietComfort 35 II has a neutral design, and won’t seem out of place around the ears of a youth heading to college or an investment banker. It comes in black and grey colour options, though black looks sleeker. It has a matte finish with a mix of high-quality plastic, some metal inserts and luxurious alcantara fabric cushioning on the head band. The QuietComfort 35 II tips the scales at just 240g.

Sony has also carried forward a lot of what made the WH-1000X’s design quite successful. The WH-1000XM2 comes in black and gold colours. We did notice that the leather padding on the headband didn’t have an entirely flush installation, something that does rankle in an expensive headphone. The WH-1000XM2 tips the scales at 275g.

When both headphones are worn for long durations, the softer padding of the QuietComfort 35 II offers a tad more breathability.

The 3.5mm headphone cable that Sony bundles is thicker and potentially more resilient to abuse. Sony’s slightly stiffer carry case too will offer better protection against heavy objects that may weigh on it in your backpack; the QuietComfort 35 II case is not as stiff, and that could lead to headphone-padding damage.

Checklist check

The Sony WH-1000XM2 definitely offers more on the features list, such as fast battery charging and a touch panel on one earcup. The highlight, however, is the adaptive noise cancellation—this Ambient Sound feature can be enabled in Sony’s Headphones Connect app (free on Android and iOS). It runs on what Sony calls the Sense Engine and uses the phone’s location data and accelerometer information to determine whether you’re stationary or not. With noise cancellation fully active, no outside disturbance will make its way to your ears, but very slight tweaks to the isolation will allow you to hear anything spoken in the immediate vicinity.

These very fine options do seem a bit complicated at first.

These headphones also have an atmospheric pressure optimizing feature which modifies the noise-cancelling level if you are at a higher than usual altitude, such as in an aircraft—though we haven’t experienced it.

Bose also lets users define the amount of noise cancellation they want through the Connect app (free for Android and iOS). In comparison, the QuietComfort 35 II is all about simplicity—and it works. The Google Assistant, integrated in it, is controlled via a button on the left earcup.

Hearing the music

One really pleasant change, compared to some other Sony headphones, is that the WH-1000XM2’s sound doesn’t start off with a bass bias, and that neutrality serves it well when it’s competing with the neutral Bose sound. Bass does not overshadow other frequencies, yet it’s impressively powerful. The overall dynamism of the WH-1000XM2’s sound that the 40mm audio drivers are able to replicate is excellent. There is a tad more clarity to the vocals and the higher frequencies if you compare it with the older WH-1000X.

The QuietComfort 35 II’s warm sound signature means bass is adequately powerful, the mid-range frequencies are well handled, and vocals are crisp. The more relaxed sound works brilliantly for most genres of music, except some uptempo genres such as trance, which sound better on the comparatively more vibrant WH-1000XM2. The lowest frequency that the WH-1000XM2 can reproduce is 4Hz, while the lowest the QuietComfort 35 II can go is 10Hz—the former has the slight advantage of stronger bass, as it can produce more lower frequencies.

The WH-1000XM2 can handle 24bit/48kHz audio—this makes it hi-res audio compatible.

With noise cancellation active and volume at 40%, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II’s battery lasts around 22 hours. In the same usage scenario, the Sony WH-1000XM2 lasted 29 hours.

Verdict

The Bose QuietComfort 35 II and the Sony WH-1000XM2, carrying on a battle started by their predecessors, are two of the best noise-cancelling headphones you can buy. Your choice will depend, then, on your sound signature preference and whether you need features such as high-res audio playback. The Bose QuietComfort 35 II is ideal for relaxed listening for long hours, while the Sony WH-1000XM2 is better for lively music.

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