Sometimes it seems as though wireless earbuds are taking over. What once seemed like a niche product aimed at techies who didn't know a thing about sound quality has soon become a mainstream proposition. As the technology has improved, so has the sound quality – and at the same time prices have come down. No wonder so many people are cutting the cord and going truly wireless.
Apple's AirPods Pro are some of the finest you can buy, but they now have fresh competition from hi-fi stalwart Bose. It has just announced the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, a premium pair of noise-cancelling buds that look very appealing indeed.
But can they do enough to beat Apple's best? Let's see how the two pairs compare.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds vs Apple AirPods Pro: price
The AirPods Pro are Apple's top-end wireless earbuds, and as such, they don't come cheap. They currently retail for £249 ($249, AU$399), though there's a good chance you can find an AirPods Pro deal somewhere. Students can also get them free with certain Mac or iPad purchases – see the Apple site for more info.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds come in at just £1 more expensive in the UK at £250, though in America they're $30 more, at $280. As such, this round goes to Apple. Just.
**Winner** Apple AirPods Pro
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds vs Apple AirPods Pro: battery life
One of the downsides of any wireless device is that they need to be charged up. But with a total of 24 hours of run time per charge, the AirPods Pro are one of the longer-lasting pairs around.
You don't get the full 24 hours all in one go, of course. The buds themselves have five hours of battery life; the supplied carry case provides a further 19 through multiple charges. So while you can't listen for 24 hours straight, you can go that long without needing to find a plug socket.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds don't fare quite so well. The buds have six hours of juice in them, while the case gives another 12, making for a total of 18 hours.
Both pairs boast quick-charging tech; with the AirPods Pros, a five-minute blast gives you an hour's listening, while Bose's earbuds promise two hours of music time from a 15-minute juice-up.
**Winner** Apple AirPods Pro
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds vs Apple AirPods Pro: design
Aesthetically, the two are quite different. Apple's are all white curves and glossy finishes – typically Apple, in other words. Bose's are a bit starker in their industrial design, with an ovular look and more muted colours (Triple Black or a beige-y Soapstone are your options). The AirPods Pro come only in white.
Both have silicon tips that burrow into your ears to stay put during movement, and both come with three sizes, so you should find some that fit.
Maybe it's just us, but we're a little over the signature white look of the AirPods. It's a bit iPod ad circa-2003. That, and the fact they come in more colour options, give this round to the QuietComfort Earbuds.
**Winner** Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds vs Apple AirPods Pro: features
As with anything Apple, the AirPods Pro aren't short of neat features. They have touch controls, but they're a bit tricky to get to grips with, especially on the go. There's an ‘Ear Tip Fit Test’ you can perform on your iPhone, which plays five seconds of music that’s analysed in order to identify any sound leaks. Get a green ‘Good Seal’ result and you’re ready to go, but if the Pros identify an issue you’ll be prompted to try a different-sized tip.
Apple's H1 chip makes pairing a doddle, and playback go off without a hitch.
While we haven't reviewed the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds yet, we can study their specification sheet to see what features they offer. Like the AirPods Pro, they have noise-cancellation – more on that later – plus there's Bose's Volume-optimized Active EQ technology. This works automatically to adjust the prominence of low and high frequencies so that you get a consistent performance across volume levels.
Bluetooth 5.1 promises 30-feet range, and their IPX4-rated waterproof rating ensures they'll survive a rain shower. That's the same rating as the AirPods Pro.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds vs Apple AirPods Pro: noise-cancelling
Both pairs offer active noise cancellation (ANC). But they take quite different approaches.
Each AirPod Pro has two microphones: one on the outside to detect incoming noise that can be cancelled out by anti-noise, and one on the inside that detects any noise that makes it through the seal and also analyses how your music is responding to the individual geometry of your ear. The noise-cancelling is continuously adjusted 200 times per second – which Apple claims is an industry first.
There are no degrees of noise-cancelling – it's either on or off – although there is a 'Transparency' mode, which allows in more outside noise so you can hear announcements and attempt conversation.
Bose is the grandaddy of noise-cancellation – after all, the firm invented the first pair of commercially available noise-cancelling headphones. Its over-ear models offer fantastic – and yes, class leading – noise-cancellation, and the same tech has trickled down to its in-ear models. Needless to say, we're expecting big things here too.
The QuietComfort Earbuds have eleven degrees of noise-cancellation that you can choose using the Bose Music app on your phone. For isolated voice calls as well as music playback, the right earbud's microphone array works to pick up the sound of your voice while rejecting noise around you – something we found worked extremely well in the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700.
Now we haven't tested Bose's QuietComfort Earbuds, so can't vouch for how effective the noise-cancelling is. But as we say, it works superbly in Bose's other headphones. We're very much looking forward to taking it for a test drive.
**Winner** Draw... for now
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds vs Apple AirPods Pro: sound quality
The AirPods Pro offer Apple's typically neutral tonal balance – there's no skew towards thumping bass here. They sound more spacious than their design would suggest (that'll be down to those vents Apple has incorporated). As a result, it's more like listening out in the open air, rather than having music pumped directly into your brain, as with some in-ear headphones. And that's a very good thing.
The midrange is particularly impressive. Vocals have plenty of texture and detail, while the treble has a decent amount of sparkle to it, too. It's just a shame that the sound quality suffers a little when noise-cancelling or Transparency mode are activated. It's not a massive step down, but it's there all the same.
We're yet to test the QuietComfort Earbuds, so can't pass judgement on their sound quality. But if they're anything like Bose's other wireless earbuds, we're in for a treat.
Their nearest equivalent are the Bose SoundSport Frees. These provide a good seal with your ear without feeling too invasive – it's a tricky balance that plenty of earbuds fail to nail. They offer a bold but balanced sound with a rich, weighty bass that works well across a range of genres. Fingers crossed the QuietComfort Earbuds live up to, or even surpass, this very high standard.
**Winner** Draw... for now
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds vs Apple AirPods Pro: verdict
While we can draw some early conclusions in certain areas (like design and battery life), we can't declare either a winner without testing the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. Still, it's certainly interesting sizing them up against each other on paper.
The AirPods Pro have better battery life and superb sound quality, but then the QuietComfort Earbuds have a more interesting look and more granular noise-cancelling that could well prove even more effective.
Based on Bose's track record, they should be an excellent pair of earbuds, and a real challenger not just to the AirPods Pro, but the best wireless headphones around. We can't wait to give them an audition.
Read the full review: Apple AirPods Pro