Bose QuietComfort Headphones vs QuietComfort Ultra Headphones: what are the differences?

Bose QuietComfort vs Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones
(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Following a few years of waiting, Bose has updated its wireless noise-cancelling over-ear headphone range with the introduction of the new QuietComfort and QuietComfort Ultra Headphones.

These new models replace the previous QuietComfort 45 and Noise Cancelling 700 Headphones models respectively, and come packed with a range of new features including upgraded noise cancelling capabilities.

So far, we've tested the flagship QuietComfort Ultra Headphones, giving the pair the full five stars in our review. Finding it tough to decide which headphones would be the best for you? We’ll be going over all the key differences to help you choose. 

Bose QuietComfort Headphones vs QuietComfort Ultra Headphones: price

The Bose QuietComfort Headphones currently cost £350 / $350 / AU$549, which is slightly higher than the previous Bose QuietComfort 45 model at launch, which we tested at £320 / $329 / AU$499.

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones cost £450 / $429 / AU$649 at the moment. We saw the price drop slightly to just under £400 during Black Friday 2023 and we will probably see further discounts happen later this year. 

This launch price is higher than Sony’s WH-1000XM5 headphones, which launched at £380 / $399 / AU$550, but lower than Apple’s AirPods Max, which hit shelves at £549 / $549 / AU$899. The Ultra Headphones are also more expensive than Bose’s previous flagship pair, the Noise Cancelling 700 Headphones, which we tested at £350 / $399 / AU$599. 

Bose QuietComfort Headphones vs QuietComfort Ultra Headphones: design

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Continuing in QuietComfort fashion, both new models of headphones are foldable. This is welcome news to Noise Cancelling 700 Headphones users, who were not afforded this luxury previously. 

Both models are available in Black and White Smoke shades, while the standard QuietComfort Headphones are also available in a limited edition Cypress Green colour. Both also come with a useful protective carrying case. 

The QuietComfort Ultra headphones appear to have more cushioning along the length of the headband compared to the standard model. The earcups also look a little bit thicker and potentially more comfortable, though we need to get both models in for testing before we can confirm this.

Another key technical difference is the capacitive touch strip featured on the Ultra Headphones which is used to control volume and customisable controls. This is absent on the standard QuietComfort Headphones and is instead replaced by standard tactile buttons. 

Bose QuietComfort Headphones vs QuietComfort Ultra Headphones: features

Bose QuietComfort Headphones

(Image credit: Bose)

The two new models of QuietComfort Headphones have quite a lot of overall similarities and both boast a range of useful features. 

In terms of similarities, both pairs feature active noise-cancelling technologies, which we’ll cover in more detail in the following section. 

Alongside this, both pairs come with a protective carrying case, are compatible with the Bose Music App, and offer 24 hours of battery life during standard use. The Ultra Headphones are stated to offer 18 hours when ‘Immersive Audio’ is engaged, we’ll be sure to test out these figures for ourselves during our review. 

Aside from the capacitive touch strip featured on the Ultra Headphones, the other major difference is the inclusion of an ‘Immersive Audio’ mode, which is missing from the standard QuietComfort Headphones. This feature is Bose’s take on spatial audio and presents sound in a 3D environment. 

The Immersive Audio feature comes with two different modes, ‘Motion’ and ‘Still’. In the ‘Still’ setting, audio is meant to sound as if it is “coming from two stereo speakers in front of you that stay where they are when you move your head”. “Motion” mode is stated to make audio sound like “it's coming from two stereo speakers in front of you that follow the movements of your head”.

In terms of wireless connectivity, the QuietComfort Headphones feature Bluetooth 5.1 support while the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are Bluetooth 5.3. 

Bose QuietComfort Headphones vs QuietComfort Ultra Headphones: noise cancelling 

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Being the inventors of active noise cancelling technology, it’s no surprise that everyone wants to know how Bose’s new headphones fare in this regard. 

Bose states that its new headphones achieve noise cancellation via two methods - passive sealing of the earcups combined with proprietary active electronics. This active circuitry makes use of microphones placed both inside and outside both earcups to cancel out unwanted external noise. 

During our full review of the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones, we were very impressed with the noise-cancelling capabilities. We described how it dramatically reduced background rumbles while out walking, and the sound of the London Underground during our daily commutes. We even went as far as saying that the ANC is better than that of the Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e and the Sony WH-1000X5 in this department.

Both models of new Bose headphones feature Quiet and Aware modes within their ANC settings. Quiet mode offers full noise cancellation, ideal for blocking out unwanted distractions, while the Aware setting is said to allow full transparency so you can hear your surroundings while still enjoying audio in stereo sound. 

The Ultra Headphones also feature an additional ActiveSense feature which applies to the Aware ANC mode. This mode only activates ANC when a loud or sudden noise occurs nearby, allowing you to hear your surroundings while also being able to block out any unexpected bursts of noise.

At the moment, we know that the Ultra headphones offer class-leading noise-cancelling. We haven't tested the QuietComfort model yet, but given Bose's track record, we hope that they too offer high-quality ANC.

Bose QuietComfort Headphones vs QuietComfort Ultra Headphones: sound

So far, we've spent quite a lot of time with the Ultra Headphones while reviewing them, however, we haven't spent any time with the standard QuietComfort Headphones just yet.

We gave the Ultra headphones an overall five stars in the review, also awarding five stars for sound in particular. We found that the headphones stand up sonically to their rivals and impressed us as a hugely entertaining pair of headphones. They're precise, punchy, and convey every genre of music with enthusiasm.

These headphones offer Immersive Audio settings for a '3D audio' experience, however, our general feeling was that while it works well for some tracks, it can also sound off with others. When testing Motion mode, we heard delay and phase issues as the processing tries to track your head movements and found even with gentle side-to-side head movements, the shifts in the imaging are distracting.

We didn't miss either mode when switching back to the standard setting and it's worth remembering that engaging Immersive Audio also cuts six hours off the total battery life of the headphones.

Moving on to the standard QuietComfort headphones. While we haven’t yet given them a try, we can take a look at the model they supersede in the QuietComfort 45 Headphones. We gave these headphones a solid four-star review, praising their comfort, battery life, and effective ANC. 

We certainly enjoyed the sound of the QuietComfort 45s, however noted that they fell short of the then-class-leading Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones which provided greater dynamic impact.

Given the increased price tag of the new QuietComfort Headphones over the QuietComfort 45 Headphones, we’re hoping for an upgrade to the overall sonic presentation.

Bose QuietComfort Headphones vs QuietComfort Ultra Headphones: early verdict

At this stage, we've tested the Quiet Comfort Ultra headphones and awarded them top marks, particularly for their great sound and noise-cancelling abilities. 

It’s hard to give a definitive answer as to which pair of headphones offer the best performance per pound until we try them both out, but if the standard QuietComfort headphones are anything like their Ultra counterparts, then they shouldn't disappoint. 

There are some features, such as the capacitive touch strip and Immersive Audio, which are unique to the Ultra Headphones, while both models offer Bose’s signature comfort, noise-cancelling technology, and 24-hour battery life.

In the meantime, read our full QuietComfort Ultra review and keep your eyes peeled for more information and opinions on the QuietComfort headphones. 


Hands-on: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones review

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Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones vs Apple AirPods Max: what are the differences?

Staff Writer

Ainsley Walker is a staff writer at What Hi-Fi?. He studied music journalism at university before working in a variety of roles including as a freelance journalist and teacher. Growing up in a family of hi-fi enthusiasts, this naturally influenced his interest in the topic. Outside of work, Ainsley can be found producing music, tinkering with retro tech, or cheering on Luton Town.