Which Bose headphones should you buy?

Which Bose headphones should you buy?
(Image credit: Bose)

If you are looking for a pair of the best noise-cancelling headphones, whether your heart is set on in-ear earbuds or over-ear headphones, chances are that a Bose pair features somewhere on your shortlist. Probably somewhere near the top.

And why wouldn't they? With the company's celebrated noise-cancelling technology and sleek, smart design language, not to mention a reputation for premium quality built on decades of consumer electronics manufacturing, Bose headphones are some of the most compelling wireless options out there – despite the likes of Sony, Sennheiser, Technics and Bowers & Wilkins knocking at their door. 

In 1989, Bose introduced its Series I Aviation Headset as the first commercially available active noise-reduction headphones, powered either by NiCad batteries or the aircraft's cockpit, intended to, as the name suggests, help pilots land planes. Since then, the company has become synonymous with active noise-cancellation technology and has been a big driver in moulding the market into what we see (and hear) today.

The current core products in Bose's headphone lineup are the QuietComfort 45 and more premium Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 over-ears, as well as the flagship QuietComfort Earbuds II, older (original) QuietComfort Earbuds and fitness-friendly Sport Earbuds.

These models are all fine-tuned by Bose engineers, and all well-reviewed on What Hi-Fi? for that matter, but there are huge differences across the range and there's far more to it than price differences and whether they go over or into your ears.

Your particular needs and priorities – and, who knows, the headphones' Amazon Prime Day deals prices – will determine which ones (if any) you should buy, so in order to work out which Bose headphone model is best for you, let us run you through the features and perks of each...

Should you buy the Bose QuietComfort 45?

Noise cancelling headphones: Bose QuietComfort 45

(Image credit: Bose)

Bose's latest wireless QuietComfort over-ears, the QuietComfort 45 (stylised to 'QC45'), succeeded the (now discontinued) QuietComfort 35 II in 2022.

First off, anyone hoping for a complete revamp of their 2019-released predecessors (which are themselves minor updates on the 2016-launched QC35), brace yourselves: the QC45 are virtually indistinguishable from their predecessor – visually, at least. 

Look closely, however, and you’ll find a USB-C charging port instead of the now archaic micro USB. The underside padded portion of the headband is now smooth rather than suede-like, and there are small vents in the ear cups and the earpads are no longer pleated. You also get a battery life boost – 24 hours up from 20 hours, with a five-minute quick-charge returning two-and-a-half hours of playback – as well as Bluetooth 5.1 for multi-point pairing. Lastly, there are more microphones (six, four of which are beamforming) which should mean a solid step up when it comes to nixing noise.

So, does it? In a word, yes. True to its QuietComfort heritage, the noise cancellation here is some of the most effective we've tested. In fact, if you simply want extraneous noise nixed in the office, we give the Bose QC45 the edge over the competition. There is a 'but', though. Unlike the Bose 700 (below), you get a choice of either 'Quiet' or 'Aware' modes here; there are no options to get creative and tweak the levels of noise-cancellation any further.

Should you buy the Bose QuietComfort 45? 

If solid, unwavering active noise cancellation is paramount, put the QC45 on your shortlist. If you'd also benefit from having multiple levels of noise cancellation, keep reading. Or if you would prefer a more tailored or robustly featured set of headphones that boast EQ optimisation, mic-muting or auto-off wearer detection, or are looking for the best sound-per-pound performance your money can buy, you may be better looking elsewhere – to the class-leading Sony WH-1000XM5 or older, more affordable Sony WH-1000XM4, for example.

Are they the best noise-cancelling wireless headphones for their price? 

If in your world, noise-cancellation is king and you love the unique Bose look, then yes – they quite possibly could be in your eyes. That said, we would encourage you to check out the similarly priced Bose 700 below before you make your choice. If your priority lies in best-in-class sound, however, you will be better served by the sonic leaders of the pack, the Sony WH-1000XM5, older Sony XM4 or Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless.

Should you buy the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700?

Bose 700

(Image credit: Future)

Bose's most premium noise-cancelling over-ear offering presents a very appealing alternative to the QC45 – especially if you like the modern aesthetic and varying levels of noise-cancellation, and the price discrepancy isn't very big.

When we first tested the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the eye-watering price tag of £350 / $399 / AU$599 was something of a drawback. That was way back in 2019, though. Now, you'll often find them for a little (and sometimes quite a lot) less than that launch price, putting them squarely into competition with the QC45.

The main difference (a comprehensive versus is here: Bose QuietComfort 45 vs Bose 700) lies with the 700's noise-cancellation and overall user experience, which are more robustly featured than their younger QC45 sibling and can be better tailored to your liking in the Bose Music app. 

The 700 feature an eight-microphone system (six to cancel noise, two for voice pick-up) and 11 increments (from 0-10) of noise-cancellation intensity to choose from, allowing you to transition from full isolation to full transparency, and the ability to hold a button to enjoy a conversation? You also get touch-controls, if you particularly enjoy swiping up on the ear cup for volume (rather than pushing a physical button; a helpful Conversation Mode, which temporarily filters surrounding noise in to save you from taking the headphones off your head during a brief conversation or train announcement; and auto-off wearer detection which automatically pauses music when they detect being removed from your head. 

That doesn't necessarily mean the noise-nixing here is better, though – in our tests, for solid 'I don't want to hear a thing' noise-cancellation, we found the QuietComfort 45 just edged it. Is this your top priority? There's your answer. Would you like the option to alter how much of the outside world you'd like to hear? Focus on the 700. 

Should you buy Bose Noise Cancelling 700? 

If you enjoy in-app customisation, from EQ levels to how much noise you want to hear plus auto-off wearer detection, and you prefer the more modern aesthetic compared to the QC45, these flagship over-ears represent Bose's most fully-featured noise-cancelling cans available. They don't sound hugely different from the QC45 (which have a slightly fuller sound and are more driven), though, so again our recommended alternative – and first choice in terms of sound quality – would be the Sony XM5.

Are they the best noise-cancelling wireless headphones for their price? 

Indeed, the Sony XM5 and XM4 lay claim to that particular accolade for their more insightful, musical performance. That said, when you consider that Bose's flagship cans boast the most sophisticated ANC system around and are pretty handsome compared to the competition, there's still a lot to like here. If you see them with a big discount, you'd be right to be tempted.

Should you buy the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II?

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Historically, the vast majority of Bose's noise-cancelling headphones have been on- and over-ear designs, but in 2020 the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds took the legendary brand into the relatively new world of true wireless earbuds. We liked them a lot, awarding them five stars for their energetic, balanced sound and – true to Bose – brilliant noise-cancelling. If you can pick them up at a good discount, strongly consider doing so.

But if your budget ambitions are higher, know that the QC Earbuds have now been replaced by a new flagship model. The suitably named QuietComfort Earbuds II arrived in 2022 and are comfortably a step above in both sound and ANC performance – and have the price tag to reflect that.

The Earbuds II are smaller, lighter and fit better in our ears thanks to the addition of adjustable stability bands, too.

Bose has designed these earbuds to offer “the world’s best noise cancellation from any headphone" – and it delivers. You can pick different modes for different scenarios through the Bose Music app, and use a sliding scale to adjust to a custom ANC level that suits you best.

Experiment with the different levels and you’ll hear the QC Earbuds II do their thing, cutting out huge swathes of background noise when on the maximum setting. Conversely, if you want more of the outside world to seep in, the headphones adapt perfectly. It sounds much more natural and balanced than when you try to achieve similar results with lesser ANC earbuds.

That excellent noise-cancelling also allows the Bose’s superb sound quality to shine through unmolested. The QuietComfort Earbuds II prove great all-rounders: they ooze sophistication and refinement, and have excellent handling of subtle detail and texture. They’re wonderfully balanced and don’t impose their own character on the music, either.

That Bose has pushed the envelope for noise-cancelling and sound quality simultaneously, in this ultra-competitive market, is truly impressive. The bottom line? They’re the best ANC buds around, and the ones to beat for any rival at this level. 

Should you buy Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II? 

If you want the very best active noise-cancelling in true wireless earbuds form, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are currently unbeatable.

Provided your budget can stretch that high (they're pricier than any other we've come across) and you're happy with their less-than-class-leading battery life of six hours in the earbuds and 24 hours including the case, they're no-brainers.

Are they the best noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds for the money? 

Simply put, yes. The excellent Sony WF-1000XM4 and Apple AirPods Pro 2 are contenders at this level and come very close, but while the Bose is the most expensive pair by far, it does outstrip both rivals with better ANC performance and a clearer, subtler and more engaging sound.

Should you buy the Bose Sport Earbuds?

Bose Sport Earbuds

(Image credit: Bose)

Though the source of the inspiration is clear, the design and build of the Bose Sport Earbuds are more fitness-friendly than the QuietComfort Earbuds. 

The Sport Earbuds arrived just after the original QuietComfort Earbuds, so how much of their sibling's five-star brilliance was Bose able to transplant into these cheaper, sportier siblings? Some elements have been sacrificed and tweaked to hit that humbler price point: there's no active noise-cancellation, battery life takes a minor hit (down from 24 hours to 15), and unlike with the QuietComfort, there is no Qi wireless charging support for the case here. Instead, the earbuds are smaller and a little rounder for a more secure, unobtrusive fit and there is IPX4 waterproofing.

The Bose Sport Earbuds are a good pair of wireless earbuds, but we’d stop short of calling them great. That said, their musical, powerful balance is easy to get along with and they will work well for sporty types who don’t really want the bass-heavy sound that many sports headphones like to shove into people's ears.

Should you buy Bose Sport Earbuds?

If you want a secure-fitting pair of true wireless earbuds first and foremost for exercise, the Sport Earbuds are a decent shout. They aren't perfect – there are holes in the spec sheet (one weird omission is that you can't skip back to the beginning of a track, something almost all rival products offer) – and you'll be sacrificing the best sound quality available at this price in non-sporty models. But as far as sport earbuds go, these Bose deserve to wear the category's name.

Are they the best true wireless sports earbuds for the money? 

They are certainly up there, though the JayBird Vista 2 and JBL Reflect Flow Pro are two five-star sporty rivals we believe are better-value propositions for their more affordable price tags.

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Becky Roberts

Becky is the managing editor of What Hi-Fi? and, since her recent move to Melbourne, also the editor of Australian Hi-Fi magazine. During her 10 years in the hi-fi industry, she has been fortunate enough to travel the world to report on the biggest and most exciting brands in hi-fi and consumer tech (and has had the jetlag and hangovers to remember them by). In her spare time, Becky can often be found running, watching Liverpool FC and horror movies, and hunting for gluten-free cake.

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