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Which Bose headphones should you buy: QuietComfort 45, QC 35 II, Earbuds?

Noise cancelling headphones: Bose QuietComfort 45
(Image credit: Bose)

If you're considering a set of noise-cancelling headphones, whether your heart is set on wireless earbuds or over-ear headphones, chances are that Bose options feature heavily on your shortlist. And why wouldn't they? With competitive sound, app support, solid build quality, voice control options, simple set-up and of course that celebrated noise-cancelling tech, Bose headphones are some of the most compelling wireless options out there – despite the likes of Sony, Sennheiser, Technics and Bowers & Wilkins knocking at the door. 

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

The current core products in Bose's headphone lineup – the new QuietComfort 45, QuietComfort Earbuds, SoundSport Free, Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, SoundSport Wireless, Sport Earbuds and QuietComfort 35 II – are all fine-tuned by Bose engineers, 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 will determine which ones (if any) you should buy, so in order to work out which Bose headphone model is best for you, we'll run you through the features and perks of each...

Should you buy the Bose QuietComfort 45?

Bose QuietComfort 45

(Image credit: Bose)

How do Bose's latest and supposedly greatest wireless QuietComfort over-ears, the long-awaited QuietComfort 45 (stylised to Bose QC45), stack up for durability, usability and sound quality – as well as the anticipated upgrade when it comes to noise cancellation?

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

Look closely 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, 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 2.5 hours of playback, Bluetooth 5.1 for multi-point pairing and a total of six mics with four beamforming (instead of four, with two beamforming, in the QC35 II), which should mean a solid step up when it comes to nixing noise. 

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

Should you buy Bose QuietComfort 45? 

If solid, unwavering noise-cancellation is paramount, put the QC45 on your short-list. 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 be, you may be better looking elsewhere – to the class-leading Sony WH-1000XM4, for example.

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

If in your world, noise-cancellation is king, quite possibly – although we'd encourage you to check out the newer, similarly priced Bose 700 before you make your choice. If your priorities lie in best-in-class sound, however, you may be better served by a better all-rounder in the Sony WH-1000XM4.

Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort 45

Should you buy the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700?

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

(Image credit: Bose)

Bose's most premium noise-cancelling over-ear offering offers a very appealing alternative to the QC45 – especially if you like the modern aesthetic and varying levels of noise-cancellation.

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

The main difference (they are all fully broken down 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 to save you taking the headphones off your head, which filters surrounding noise in at the touch of a button, and auto-off wearer detection. 

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.

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

Again, the Sony WH-1000XM4 lay claim to that particular accolade for their more insightful, musical performance. That said, when you consider that Bose's flagship cans boast the best ANC around and now undercut its newest QuietComfort 45 release for price, there's a lot to like here.

Read the full review: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

Should you buy the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds?

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

(Image credit: Bose)

Historically, the vast majority of Bose's noise-cancelling headphones have been on- and over-ear designs, but the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds take the legendary brand into the relatively new world of true wireless earbuds. Here, they go toe to toe with some huge, established rivals, such as the Apple AirPods Pro and Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2.

Bose has launched noise-cancelling in-ear headphones and true wireless headphones before, but this is the first time it has combined the two technologies. They're quite stocky in design, but as long as your ears aren't too small to accommodate them, there's much to celebrate here.

Bose has designed these in-ears to be as flexible when it comes to noise-cancelling as possible. In the Bose Music app, you’re presented with a noise-cancelling sliding scale, which, similar to the Noise Cancelling 700, ranges from zero (no noise-cancelling) to 10 (maximum noise-cancelling). Through the app, you can assign three different positions as ‘Favourites’, too.

Experiment with the different levels and you’ll hear the QuietComforts 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. Take an earbud out to have a conversation and the Bose buds don’t just pause playback, they automatically cut the noise-cancelling in the earbud left in your ear so you can hear more clearly.

That excellent noise-cancelling also allows the Bose’s superb sound quality to shine through unmolested. The QuietComfort Earbuds prove great all-rounders, capable of impressive musicality topped off with excellent noise-cancelling. The bottom line? They’re more than a match for any rival at this level. 

Should you buy Bose QuietComfort Earbuds? 

If it has to be Bose's noise-cancelling and it has to be a true wireless in-ear design, you can do no better than Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. Provided your ears aren't especially small and you can live with the acceptable rather than class-leading six-hour battery life (with two further charges in the case, delivering 18 hours in total), these buds are up there with the best of them.

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

The QuietComfort Earbuds were pipped to the post by the excellent Sony WF-1000XM4 at our recent 2021 What Hi-Fi? Awards. In direct comparison, the Sonys boast even more features, longer battery life and an extra ounce of clarity sonically, but we have to say, it is a closely run race. 

Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

Should you buy the Bose SoundSport Free?

Bose SoundSport Free

(Image credit: Bose)

These 2017-released true wireless earbuds have stood the test of time thanks to a few neat software updates. They are built with sporty types in mind and offer both sweat- and water-resistance. To achieve a truly run-worthy fit, the SoundSport Free earbuds are neatly held in place by Bose’s StayHear tips which feature little wings that rest against the inside of your ear for extra stability – and it's as solid a solution as you're likely to find. 

Not a fan of touch-sensitive tap controls on earbuds? You're in luck: unusually for such a design, on the right earpiece there’s a full array of controls for playing music from your smartphone and while some rivals only offer basic track skipping and play/pause functions, the Soundsport Free earbuds offer these plus the ability to change volume. There's also Bose Connect app support and the Find My Buds feature if one does slip out. 

The fly in the ointment? You're not getting noise cancellation, but if you're out running (especially near traffic), we wouldn't encourage it anyway. What you are getting is five-star sound within a sports-focused design – no mean feat. The Bose SoundSport Free earphones deliver a solid and unwavering presentation which works well across a wide range of music genres.

Should you buy Bose SoundSport Free? 

There are some tempting deals to be had on these earbuds and if you prioritise a true wireless design that's arguably the most secure and run-worthy we've ever come across, coupled with five-star sound, yes. If you have your heart set on noise-cancellation, however, you'll need to keep searching. 

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

Bose has managed to deliver a great-sounding set of true wireless earbuds while ensuring they stay put on a long-distance run, an achievement few other brands have managed. If you want a newer sports-focused product (this model charges via the older microUSB rather than USB-C) we might direct you to the not quite as sonically impressive JayBird Vista 2, which boast better battery life and ANC to boot.

Read the full review: Bose SoundSport Free

Should you buy the Bose SoundSport Wireless?

Bose SoundSport Wireless

(Image credit: Bose)

What if you like the idea of doing away with the physical connection to your phone when running but would prefer the keep the wire between the two buds (it only goes behind your head anyway) for security? You may have found your ideal match in Bose's SoundSport Wireless (but not true wireless) earbuds, long-time favourites in this now-rarer neck of the woods.

The remote on the neckband is light, the earpieces are secure (despite their slightly larger size, Bose's sports-worthy tips and flexible wings mean they won't budge) and while the battery life is only six hours, the sound easily betters most true wireless in-ears at this price-point. You also get Bose Connect app support and, if you update your headphones’ software to include the integrated Tile support, you'll never have to spend hours looking for them. 

The Bose sound is perfect for this kind of earphone too – the sort of powerful, punchy bass that might get you running that bit faster. And even if you don't care about the IPX4 rating and the sporty angle, these remain some of the best wireless headphones you'll find for the money.

Should you buy Bose SoundSport Wireless? 

The 'traditional' wireless sports headphone is something of a dying breed – especially when fashioned for performance at all costs, rather than cost-effectiveness. In Bose's SoundSport Wireless, you're emphatically getting the former, and you'll likely find a good deal if you scroll down a little.

Are they the best wireless sports earbuds for the money? 

In this niche category, quite possibly. If you own an iPhone and want an inexpensive neckband design that boasts a few iOS perks over the Bose experience, we might point you towards the newer Beats Flex – but you'll have to forego a sports-focused fit and an extra ounce of clarity through the treble. 

Read the full review: Bose SoundSport Wireless

Should you buy the Bose Sport Earbuds?

Bose Sport Earbuds

(Image credit: Bose)

The design and build of the Bose Sport Earbuds is a sort of mash-up between the newer QuietComfort Earbuds and older SoundSport Free you can see above.

The big question is: how much of the QuietComfort Earbuds' five-star brilliance has Bose been able to transplant into these cheaper 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, and unlike with the QuietComfort, there is no Qi wireless charging support for the case here.

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 a bass-heavy sound.

Should you buy Bose Sport Earbuds?

If you like the QuietComfort Earbuds' design (which is much more subtle than the SoundSport Free), want USB-C charging and don't want to pay QuietComfort money, the Sport Earbuds remain a decent shout. But 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. 

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

If you want a design as close to the QuietComfort Earbuds as possible but don't care for noise-cancelling, perhaps – but those are quite particular requests. For the rest of us, sporty rivals such as the JayBird Vista 2 and Bose SoundSport Free can offer better features and sonic sophistication at the level.

Read the full review: Bose Sport Earbuds

Should you buy the Bose QuietComfort 35 II?

Bose QuietComfort 35 II

(Image credit: Bose)

The popular, likable QuietComfort 35 II have recently been superseded by the Bose QuietComfort 45 at the top of this list. But if owning a slightly older pair of noise-cancelling headphones doesn't bother you, there are deals to be had here – and visually (unless your colleagues are able to spot the older micro-USB port and pleated earpads) very few people will be able to tell which model you're wearing. 

These 2019-released headphones are a minor update on the QuietComfort 35 which came out in 2016, but Bose typically implements change gradually – if it ain't broke, etc. What you do need to know is that you get a total of six mics with four beamforming in the newer QC45 and 'only' four, with two beamforming, in the QC35 II. This means that call quality and noise-cancellation in the newer product is better.

That said, Bose wrote the book on nixing noise and the ANC here is no slouch. It is also presented in a sturdy, durable set of cans that feature actual buttons rather than touch-controls. If that's what you want, keep your eyes peeled for deals. At the time of writing, Bose has sold out of this particular model, but they're still available at various other online retailers. 

Should you buy Bose QuietComfort 35 II? 

It is not the newest model to hit shelves, but thanks to its rock-solid build and competitive noise-cancellation, the QC35 II have stood the test of time. The QuietComfort 35 II remain hugely effective in a Ronseal kind of way: the noise-cancelling keeps everything around you quiet, and they're exceptionally comfortable. For many a regular long-hauler, this, coupled with a reasonable price tag will be all the reason they need. Want the best in 2021 noise-cancellation? Look to the newer QC 45, Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. Want a step up sonically? See the Sony WH-1000XM4

Are they the best wireless noise-cancelling headphones for the money? 

In a word, no. You can spend more for better – both in Bose's camp and those of Sony, Sennheiser and Bowers & Wilkins. But the beauty of a slightly older model that has recently been superseded is that there are deals to be had. A quick search reveals deals galore, and we'd wager that their price is only going one way... 

Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort 35 II

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Becky has been a full-time staff writer at What Hi-Fi? since March 2019. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, she freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 20-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance is of course tethered to a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo, This is Cabaret and The Stage. When not writing, she dances, spins in the air, drinks coffee, watches football or surfs in Cornwall with her other half – a football writer whose talent knows no bounds.