Bose fends off claims 'noise cancellation-breaking' firmware update was intended for sly sales boost

Some customers accused Bose of intentionally breaking ANC features to encourage consumers to upgrade.

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Bose has been forced to defend itself against accusations that the company intentionally hamstrung its own products in a covert attempt to bolster new headphone sales. 

The saga began with the release of firmware version 4.5.2 for the Bose Quiet Comfort 35 headphones. The 4.5.2 was intended to fix an Android security bug, improve stability, and bolster performance. 

As reported by The Register, the update -- which was automatic -- prompted a torrent of complaints that the software change had "severely" degraded the quality of the active noise cancellation (ANC) feature. 

Forum users in a 232-page thread said that the update "totally destroyed the ANC," that "ANC is broken," and while ANC on the High setting used to be "very comfortable and efficient," many users said there was no noticeable difference between Low and High settings after accepting the update. 

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One user went as far as to accuse Bose of "deliberately breaking the firmware when they have a new product that comes out," saying that "they did this same thing when they updated the QC35 to the QC35II." 

However, other users commented that they had not experienced any difference in ANC quality. 

Forum users requested a fix for the ANC issue or a way to roll back the changes. As fury mounted over the course of months, on Thursday, a Bose community manager released the results of an investigation into the issue. 

Bose's investigation included testing new headphones and those returned by customers in a range of environments. A third-party acoustics test laboratory was also hired to independently analyze the impact of firmware 4.5.2 on noise cancellation performance. 

The headphones manufacturer said that the firmware update does not impact ANC and the company was "not able to replicate the concerns of our customers," despite a large number of reports and complaints from the community. 

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The Bose team was also keen to emphasize that downgrades would never be implemented in covert sales strategies. 

"QC35 headphones are engineered to deliver world-class Noise Cancellation and we would never intentionally downgrade the performance of our products in the field," the team said. "Our firmware update strategy is focused on improving product performance, adding new features, fixing bugs and maintaining interoperability."

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Nonetheless, the report's findings may have not been enough to deal with the level of criticism the firmware update caused. As a result, Bose has chosen to allow users to rollback firmware on the Bose QC35. 

The QC35 II can now be downgraded to 4.3.6 and the QC35 series 1 to 2.5.5 via the Bose BTU website for a "limited time."

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