Bose Lets Users Downgrade QC35 Firmware After Months of Complaints

Illustration for article titled Bose Lets Users Downgrade QC35 Firmware After Months of Complaints
Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)

After Bose released updated firmware for its QC35 II headphones last year, users complained on the company’s forums that the headphone’s active noise cancellation had gotten a worse. Now, the number of complaints has ballooned to fill more than 200 pages in the forum, and even though Bose says its software isn’t the problem, the company is allowing users to downgrade their headphone’s firmware.

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Issues first cropped up last summer after Bose released firmware version 4.5.2 for its QC35 and QC35 II headphones. While it seems not every user was affected or noticed a change, others complained the update caused a drastic decrease in the effectiveness of Bose’s ANC tech, with some QC35 II owners even saying that “the ANC on high level is now the same as in LOW. I can not hear any difference when i toggle between them now. The same amount of sounds go through to my ears.”

Late last week, Bose posted a response detailing the issue and what it has done to identify and investigate it. Bose says that after thorough testing, the company is “confident that firmware 4.5.2 did not affect the noise cancelling feature.”

Bose says it reached this conclusion by testing a number of headphones using different firmware, inspecting headphones returned to company, and even sending acoustic engineers out to perform five in-home visits. In the end, Bose found that eight of the 10 devices it tested in-depth were functioning properly. In a number of cases where a user complained about ANC not working properly, Bose discovered that things like third-party earcups or earcups not being snapped in properly, apparently causing the perception of weak ANC performance.

Bose says that in one only case did its engineers find a pair of QC35 IIs where there was little difference between setting ANC to high or low, which ended up being caused by mechanical damage, most likely from general wear and tear as the owner “noted that they did not use the case to store and transport their headphones while commuting every day.”

While Bose says it “could not attribute any noise reduction performance loss to the QC35 4.5.2 firmware,” it says it did learn some things from its investigation and came up with a few solutions on how to address certain issues.

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First, to better educate QC35 owners on how to properly use and maintain their headphones, Bose created a new package of instructional videos and documents. Second, it’s updated its messaging around updates to more clearly explain the difference between updating firmware versus updating Voice Prompts.

Finally, Bose will also now allow users to downgrade the QC35 and QC53 II’s firmware via the Bose BTU site, which is an option that was previously unavailable.

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So while it seems the firmware was not the real cause of degraded ANC performance in the QC35s, at least some good did come out of a nearly yearlong investigation.

Senior reporter at Gizmodo, formerly Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag. Was an archery instructor and a penguin trainer before that.

DISCUSSION

Hi Bose,

It’s been a while. 4-ish years ago when I was in a crowded airport about to jump on a 9 hour flight full of screaming babies and ennui, I bought a set of your QC35s for the eye-watering price of $350 American Dollars. From the first moment I put them on, they were a revelation. The noise cancelling was great, I used to wear them at work to mentally escape that open-office hell; and when I finished that first cup of coffee and felt the rumblings of that mid-morning shit, they came into the bathroom with me so I could pretend I was alone while I sat in that beige stall.

A year and change after that, my trusty earphones started to sound sort of like shit, and inexplicably, the power switch just wouldn’t work. The ear cups looked like they had been repeatedly walked on by 100,000 screaming toddlers. Eventually, after repeated interactions. Your customer service department replaced my top of the line headphones with the QC35II, which was cool.

But in the end, I bought a set of Jabra 65t Elites and never put my QC35s on again. Partially because the sound cancellation, although (mostly) passive, was almost as good, as was the sound, the footprint was better, and they could be had at nearly half the price. But mostly, because your entire customer service experience, despite the new headphone outcome, was excruciating. It was full of dodging responsibility, then a thorough guilt-trip; it was the dumbest thing I could have imagined.

After 2 years with your product, and spending other audio money since, it’s become clear to me that you all are just a marketing company that used to have a good product, before tech kept moving while you rested on your laurels, feeling entitled.

Your statement here, only reinforces that perspective. After a ton of your customers complained with legitimate problems (probably. your firmware updates usually made things worse), your response was to test headphones, and find ANY way to blame third parties for any errors discovered. Anything to spin it as not your fault.

Get your head out of your ass Bose. Make good products again, instead of cutting short term costs with shitty service and sub-par products while you slowly bleed market-share.

Sincerely,

Never coming back.