I’ve brought my QC35’s out of their brief retirement to the closet, so that I could wear them while I wrote this article.
It seemed thematically appropriate.
I’ve found something stupid and crazy and I want to tell you about it.
Bose’s pretty darn great QC35 came out in June of last year. It was basically a surprise launch, with almost no lag time between announcement and release. It was exciting and good! People had waited years for Bose to commit fully to the wireless headphone world with their flagship ANC product, and they delivered.
But for some customers…they’ve started to unmake that promise. Allegedly. In theory.
Just a quick internet search for the phrase “QC35 Firmware” will soon propel you to the Bose community forums, where you can read many threads like this one. To save you from reading through that, I will summarize:
A large contingent of online Bose fans has come to believe that Bose has been downgrading the QC35 through firmware updates.
They feel that the bass is not as good-sounding. They feel that the noise-cancelling has gotten noticeably worse, and that it no longer blocks out sound that it used to block out. They believe that sound lag got worse in a recent update…and that one turned out to be actually true, and quickly patched.
The first two are not true. Not by my estimation. I’ve used the QC35’s for countless hours on a variety of different firmware updates, and I’ve noticed no major changes in its sonic performance. Detecting changes over time is very tough to do, because our brains don’t remember how something sounds for very long. That’s why testing headphones subjectively requires constant instant back-and-forth AB testing and an intimate knowledge of the music you’re listening to. It’s also why objective measurements done via computers can be handy.
Bose has performed both of these types of tests based on the claims in their forums, instead of dismissing the claims as laughable nonsense as I am doing. They’ve even gone the extra step just this week and called for users to send in their affected pairs to try and see what’s up.
I won’t be surprised if those tests find nothing whatsoever to back up the claims.
Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t some defective pairs out there. I’ve encountered stuff like that myself, and that’s to be expected in consumer electronics. But folks who have rolled back to the earlier firmware claim to STILL have these supposed issues…and I’m not sure how that’s possible.
I wish the folks writing these posts would take a step back and think about the claims they’re making, and I am amazed and impressed by the patience and diligence Bose is handling this all with.
“But Alex, just because you haven’t noticed these problems, that doesn’t mean they aren’t real!”
Perhaps. That’s entirely possible, certainly. But like I said, audio memory is fickle and subjective.
Which of the following scenarios is more likely?
SCENARIO ONE (The Conspiracy)
Bose has knowingly decided to progressively downgrade the sound and ANC quality of their flagship headphones over time, through firmware updates. The software they’ve written is so good at doing this that some part of the downgrade sticks around even after you’ve rolled back to an earlier version. They must be changing the hardware through the firmware, or something.
They’re doing this despite being the market leader in ANC headphones, with a brand name synonymous with the technology. They’re doing this despite facing the toughest competition they’ve ever seen. They’re doing this despite the QC35 being their flagship model that costs more and has to perform better than earlier models.
SCENARIO TWO (The Likely Answer)
People have purchased and fallen in love with the pretty great QC35. The ANC is amazing, and the punchy bass in the sound impresses right out of the gate.
Over time, their brains adjust to both of these new novelties. Neither one impresses quite the same way as it did at first, because that’s just what our brains do. We love new things. We don’t love old things as much when they’re just the same all the time. And so, even though the headphones have performed just as excellently over time, they’ve lost their luster.
The ANC is so good that suddenly people’s expectations are raised. They expect that it can block out everything even without music playing, which it can’t. They expect it to block out high frequency noise, which it can’t. They expect their brains not to adjust to the sound and find it less initially exciting, but no one can avoid this.
In spite of firmware updates actually improving the connectivity, audio lag, and performance of the QuietComfort35's, they’re no longer exciting like they were at first. When a $350 headphone is no longer exciting, buyer’s remorse begins to creep in. When there’s a slightly better model out there on the market, buyer’s remorse begins to creep in. When one or two defective models are incorrectly identified as being hobbled by firmware…
A conspiracy starts to take shape. The snowball begins to roll down the hill.
I’m sorry to be so pedantic about all this, but the notion that a major company would slowly downgrade their flagship product is bafflingly stupid and illogical to me. Bose puts out patch notes. They’ve stated that they’ve done the appropriate tests and found no differences. They’ve offered to replace pairs for unhappy people, and even to test some to find out what’s going on.
What more can we realistically expect from them?
And yet, the rage burns on. And the only thing people are burning is themselves, and their own love of a product they once adored.
The Bose QC35 is a great headphone. To my knowledge, and to Bose’s knowledge, it has no firmware problems. Those are the only knowledges I can definitively speak to based on the info I have.
My pair performs just as well now on the latest firmware as it always has. I like them.
Don’t discount the role your brain adjusting to things plays in your enjoyment of audio. And don’t follow the crowd just because something seems like it might be right. Take a breath. Take a moment to think.
Thank you Bose, for your handling of this. It’s very classy. I sincerely hope that it gets sorted out satisfactorily for all those involved, even as I shake my head at the whole thing.