Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II vs Apple AirPods Pro 2: which noise-cancelling earbuds are better?

There are all manner of cheap wireless earbuds around, but what if you want a more premium performance? What if you're happy – and able – to spend more for the best experience you can get, with extras like noise-cancelling, more sound modes, tweakable EQ and all the rest? Then you've come to the right place.

The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II and Apple AirPods Pro 2 are two of the best pairs of wireless earbuds we've ever tested. They're both sequels, which has allowed both brands to build on their already excellent original pairs. And they both have some of the best noise-cancelling features going.

But which should you buy? Strap yourselves in, we're pitting these two five-star buds head to head to see which will emerge victorious. Let's go.

Bose QC Earbuds II vs AirPods Pro 2: price

Bose QC Earbuds II vs AirPods Pro 2: design

(Image credit: Future)

The Bose and Apple are two of the best wireless earbuds going, and as such, these flagship models don't come cheap. 

The AirPods Pro 2 launched at £249 / $249 / AU$399 and, the odd deal aside, generally hover around that level. But they're positively affordable compared to the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II, which launched at £280 / $299 / AU$429. That makes the Bose among the priciest wireless earbuds – if not the priciest – we've seen.

They have come down since, though they are still around £10 / $10 / AU$40 more than their Apple rivals. Not a huge amount in it then, but in this economic climate, every penny counts.

**Winner: Apple AirPods Pro 2**

Bose QC Earbuds II vs AirPods Pro 2: design

Bose QC Earbuds II vs AirPods Pro 2: price

(Image credit: Bose)

Bose and Apple have gone for very different styles. The QuietComfort Earbuds II look a bit more industrial to our eye, while the curvaceous AirPods Pro 2 are more elegant. Which you prefer is a matter of personal preference – the Bose come in two finishes (Triple Black and Soapstone), for example, while the Apple are only available in white.

The important thing is that both are comfortable and stay securely in your ear. Which will be welcome news to anyone who finds that the standard AirPods don't fit – their one-size-fits-all approach can be a little hit and miss. But there's no such issue with the AirPods Pro 2 – they come with four sizes of ear tips, which is one more than the original AirPods Pro (the XS size is new).

The QuietComfort Earbuds II only come with three sizes of ear tips, but they do have a choice of three stability bands which add a bit more grip to the fit. We found them to be more comfortable than the original QuietComfort Earbuds, which had one-piece wingtips rather than the new customisable bands.

Both the Apple and Bose pairs opt for touch controls on the buds themselves, and both are intuitive and responsive – and that goes for their respective mobile apps too.

**Winner: Draw**

Bose QC Earbuds II vs AirPods Pro 2: features

Noise-cancelling headphones: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II

(Image credit: Bose)

In terms of features, AirPods are always a game of two halves. If you're an Apple user, great – you get the full suite of features, provided you're running a device with the latest version of the iOS operating system. And if you're not? You miss out on a lot, like full spatial audio with dynamic head tracking, audio sharing, Siri and more. 

The AirPods Pro 2 do have an impressive feature set. Highlights? Adaptive Transparency, which reduces sudden loud and harsh noises when using Transparency Mode to keep aware of your surroundings. And spatial audio is as effective as ever and can now be personalised to your own ears and head shape. Admittedly, we still find it a little limited in its use case, particularly stereo – and how often do you want to stay immersed in a movie when turning your head away from the screen?

Bose's feature list is a bit shorter. There's no wireless charging, no equivalent to spatial audio, and no multipoint connectivity for connecting wirelessly to multiple devices over Bluetooth (the AirPods Pro 2 lack multipoint too, but can switch seamlessly between iCloud devices). But Bose has one point in its favour – they work the same whether you're using Android or iOS. For Android users, or anyone who wants to use their earbuds across the two platforms, that's pretty major.

Neither supports hi-res audio codecs like aptX HD or Sony's LDAC, but they do handle basic SBC and AAC over Bluetooth. This is a little disappointing, considering they're both premium pairs – although it doesn't seem to have impacted absolute sound quality as you'll read below.

Now what about battery life? Both pairs give you six hours of use from the buds, but the AirPods Pro 2 last longer when you add the case into the equation – this provides an extra 24 hours of runtime, while the QuietComfort Earbuds 2's case only gives you another 18.

So it's a victory for the AirPods Pro 2 in this round, with the rather large caveat that you get the most of them when paired with an Apple device.

**Winner: Apple AirPods Pro 2**

Bose QC Earbuds II vs AirPods Pro 2: noise-cancelling

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II

(Image credit: Future)

Apple has improved the noise-cancelling properties of the AirPods Pro 2 over their predecessors', but they still can't quite match the QuietComfort Earbuds II in this department.

The AirPods Pro 2's noise cancelling is noticeably better than the original Pro's, with the newer model blocking out twice as much background noise. The re-positioning of the acoustic vents provides a comfortable, airy effect, which is less 'cocooned in silence' than the Bose, while still letting you enjoy your music without outside distractions. 

One feature sorely lacking is the ability to adjust the noise-cancelling. It's either on or off. While Transparency mode (and Adaptive Transparency, as mentioned earlier), do give more flexibility in how you listen, it's nowhere near as advanced as Bose's system.

This gives you custom ANC modes depending on your situation. Quiet Mode blocks out all background noise, while Aware Mode is basically the same as Apple's Transparency. It even has a mode similar to Adaptive Transparency (called ActiveSense) which takes the edge off loud noises when in Aware Mode. But where it gets really clever is by adjusting the level of ANC depending on your surroundings, so if you're somewhere quiet listening to a quiet piece of music, you won't hear ANC's background hiss.

Bose's system is just more effective than Apple's too, silencing the outside world like it's been covered in a blanket of snow. Bliss.

**Winner: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II**

Bose QC Earbuds II vs AirPods Pro 2: sound

Apple AirPods Pro 2

(Image credit: Future)

In-ear AirPods have never been the best-sounding earbuds you can buy, but the AirPods Pro 2 pull Apple level with the competition. They're the first Apple earbuds to earn five stars from us, and for good reason – they retain Apple's signature clarity and tonal neutrality while adding more weight, detail and dynamic subtlety.

That's all thanks to the new low-distortion, high-excursion audio driver, transducer and high dynamic range amplifier which reside within each earbud. They join forces with the H2 chip's advanced audio algorithms to create a richer, more powerful sound that results in an engaging, entertaining performance.

There’s a superb sense of drive. The AirPods Pro 2 are rhythmically agile and nimble, songs flow with an easy fluidity, and they communicate both high-energy tracks and more contemplative fare with ease. 

But the Bose are just a cut above. They sound wonderfully balanced and don’t impose their own character on the music. No aspect of their performance sticks out – highs don’t sound brash or bright nor do low frequencies sound leaden-footed or laggy.

They display an impressive level of detail, with plenty of texture and subtle nuance. There’s impressive speed and agility on display too, which, when combined with the earbuds’ dynamic abilities, just makes for a dramatic and captivating performance.

So, in terms of sound quality, the QuietComfort Earbuds just pip the AirPods Pro 2. They sound that bit subtler, more evenly composed, and the sonic character is better balanced across the different ANC modes.

**Winner: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II**

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II vs Apple AirPods Pro 2: verdict

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II vs Apple AirPods Pro 2

(Image credit: Future)

It's a close one. The AirPods Pro 2 win on price and features, but the QuietComfort Earbuds II take the all-important noise-cancelling and sound quality rounds. In terms of design, it's a dead heat.

Overall, we prefer the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II (which is why we gave them a 2022 What Hi-Fi? Award for the best wireless earbuds over £200), but not by much. They're just that bit more capable and advanced than Apple's pair, especially if ANC is of the greatest importance, while the price is broadly equal. But which will be right for you depends on your situation – if you love your standard AirPods but want to upgrade, you might be better off spending your money with Apple.

Whichever you choose, you're guaranteed a fantastic listening experience.

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Joe has been writing about tech for 17 years, first on staff at T3 magazine, then in a freelance capacity for Stuff, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Men's Health, GQ, The Mirror, Trusted Reviews, TechRadar and many more (including What Hi-Fi?). His specialities include all things mobile, headphones and speakers that he can't justifying spending money on.