Bose shouts down claims that it borked noise cancellation firmware to sell more headphones

But reverses its policy on downgrades anyway to quieten critics

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Bose's QCII noise canceling headphones

Bose has hit back at critics who say that the firm's latest headphone firmware intentionally broke its active noise cancellation feature.

The issues began when Bose released version 4.5.2 of the firmware for the Quiet Comfort 35 (QC35) headphone range last June. Users began reporting that headphone's active noise cancelling (ANC) feature had become less effective. And as the QC35 cost over US$350, users started to make a fair bit of noise about the issue.

Among their beefs, the firmware eroded the difference between low-level and high-level ANC. "I created an account just to post that the 4.5.2 firmware update has totally destroyed the ANC on my pair of QC35 II too," one user wrote on a 232-page thread on company's community forums. "Very disappointed with Bose as I only purchased these headphones in April and they are basically useless to me now on my commute and in the noisy open office."

Users also criticised Bose for updating the firmware automatically and not allowing users who experienced issues to flash back to previous versions. In response to that criticism, Bose said that downgrading firmware can "create unexpected behavior in a product and negatively impact or reduce functionality".

Some owners went so far as to suggest that the firmware was a cynical ploy to spur sales.

"They did this same thing when they updated the QC35 to the QC35II," one customer wrote in Bose's forums. "It is very clear that they are deliberately breaking the firmware when they have a new product that comes out."

"This company is the worst type of scam. I will never buy Bose headphones again... it's not worth it."

But not all users could hear the difference. "Took a leap of faith and did the update," another user posted. "As soon I completed the update, I reset the headphones and all seems to be working fine, ANC included."

As a result of the new update, review website Rtings.com lowered their score of the QC headphones, noting that the new firmware "made the ANC slightly worse than before." One users has even started an online petition, which garnered almost a thousand signatures, calling for Bose to take action.

The company responded back at the criticism last week by publishing the results of an internal investigation into the issue.

After pulling apart and testing some customer-returned units, then subjecting them to a battery of tests, a team of Bose engineers found that the units "did not reveal any issues with noise cancellation performance".

The team also confirmed that no direct or indirect changes were made to the firmware's noise cancelling feature.

As to accusations that they had tampered with the software to make their old hardware obsolete, the team said they "would never intentionally downgrade the performance of our products in the field".

The investigation also included interviews with forum users who were experiencing noise cancellation issues. During the visits, the engineering team found that two of the five customer's headphones performed worse than the tester models. But further investigation found that this lowered performance was not the result of the firmware update, but of ear cushions not being snapped on properly.

The company also noted that one of the users had replaced their ear cushions with third-party models, which also affected performance. Once the parts were replaced and fitted properly, performance returned to normal.

"After evaluating customer returns from forum members and through in-home visits, we concluded that some customers' headphones did demonstrate overall noise reduction performance. However, our full engineering analysis determined that the degradation in all cases was the result of hardware related issues with ear cushions, aftermarket parts, or mechanical integrity. Once again, the firmware update 4.5.2 was not found to be the cause of any degradation in overall noise reduction performance," the team concluded.

Bose has nonetheless released previous firmware versions and made it possible to downgrade. That option will only be available for a "limited time". Further information will be released in the coming weeks. ®

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