When Bose launches a new pair of QuietComfort headphones, the tech world sits up and takes notice. After all, it’s a sub-brand that has become synonymous with sensational noise-cancellers over the years.
Historically, the vast majority of its noise-cancelling headphones have been on- and over-ear designs, but the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds take the legendary line 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 Pros, Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2s and Sony WF-1000XM3s. Needless to say, we have big hopes for these wireless earbuds, but can Bose deliver?
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. This means there’s plenty of tech to pack into the QuietComfort Earbuds, and that has led to a pair of buds that are pretty stocky in appearance.
The earpieces don’t protrude massively from your ears, but the general look is bigger than the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live and Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2s – these are more akin to the Sony WF-1000XM3s. The main body of the headphone is at least curved, so it blends in a bit easier to the side of your head.
Bluetooth version 5.1
Battery life 6 hours (18 with charging case)
Voice control Siri, Google Assistant
Our review pair is in the creamy Soapstone finish, but there is also a Triple Black option. Even some premium wireless earbuds can feel a bit cheap in the hand, but not these Boses. The smooth outer surfaces of the earpieces feel tactile, while the glossy plastic used for the driver enclosure is robust. The winged eartips boast a smooth, matte finish, too, helping heighten the impression of quality.
There’s a choice of small, medium and large tips – this seems a little stingy, but the edges of the tips are so generous in size, it makes it easy to get a good seal. You don’t need to drive them in like tent pegs to feel the isolation, which is great for comfort levels. We’re also fans of how simple it is to swap the tips around. Just slide them on and off the earbuds and you can have a new pair fitted in seconds.
The Boses feel lightweight enough and we have no issues listening for a few hours at a time. For the average commute or exercise session (the QuietComforts are both sweat and weather-resistant) they are great to live with.
Battery life is a claimed six hours from a single charge, with the charging case supplying an extra two charges, making 18 hours in total. That’s a decent reserve, but by no means class-leading. The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2s, by contrast, boast seven hours per charge plus 21 extra hours from their case.
A 15-minute quick-charge should give you a couple of hours if you’re caught short, and there’s the option of using the supplied USB-C cable or any Qi-certified wireless charging mat to get the job done.
The charging case is a chunky affair too, but at least it feels solid and built to last. You need to press a button on the front to gain entry, which is unusual for a pair of wireless earbuds, as most just tend to settle for a magnetic lid. A row of LEDs on the front of the case shows you how much battery life is left inside.
When first using the QuietComfort Earbuds, open the case and have the Bose Music app (for Android and iOS) to hand. You’ll be prompted to pair and guided through all the key features.
By default, you touch and hold your finger on the touchpad of the right earbud to access voice assistants or decline a call. Double-tap to play/pause and answer. Touch and hold your finger on the left earbud to skip a track or check the battery level.
You can customise some features and controls based on what you use the most often, and thanks to a recent update, they can also control volume through swiping up or down along the surface of the right earbud.
The headphones use four microphones to help with call quality and they work together well to keep your voice sounding solid and clear. But do the QuietComfort Earbuds deliver Bose’s trademark, excellent noise-cancelling? In a word, yes.
Bose has designed these in-ears to be as flexible as possible, so you can set them up to cancel noise based on your personal preferences. In the Bose music app, you’re presented with a noise-cancelling sliding scale which ranges from zero (no noise-cancelling) to 10 (maximum noise-cancelling). Through the app you can assign three different positions – say 0, 5 and 10 – as ‘Favourites’ and cycle through them by double tapping the left earpiece.
The QuietComfort Earbuds more than live up to their billing. 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. We kick things off with a spot of uplifting drum and bass in Delta Heavy’s White Flag VIP and from the very first beat we are captivated.
The sense of enthusiasm and excitement conveyed by the Bose buds is highly infectious. There’s power, poise and a fantastic sense of dynamism. Bass notes sound full-bodied, go deep and the QuietComfort Earbuds squeeze out lots of detail.
The quiet background allows the vocal to stand proud, before the chorus launches this track into the stratosphere. The deep, throbbing bassline oozes texture. We’d describe the Bose sound as one full of natural warmth and richness, but the music never sounds smothered – even with the noise-cancelling in its highest setting.
The QuietComfort Earbuds aren’t just a one trick pony either. Yes, they can be the life of the party when the track warrants it, but they’re also versatile enough to allow the emotion and more subtle elements of a track to leave their mark.
Play Dave’s BRIT Awards 2020 performance of Black and the Boses convey the drama and emotion of the occasion perfectly. Dave’s vocal sounds pained and poignant while the accompanying strings and piano are natural and believable. There’s a richness to the sound which you’re immediately drawn to, and lyrics flow effortlessly as the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds keenly extract every last ounce of detail.
The current class-leading Sennheiser True Momentum Wireless 2s have a slight edge in terms of outright dynamics and timing, however the Bose headphones boast superior noise-cancelling, which could be enough to swing things in their favour.
It’s not often Bose is late to a headphone party, but with Apple, Beats, Sennheiser and Sony already offering premium wireless, noise-cancelling earbuds, the pressure was on Bose to produce something competitive right from the off – and it’s fair to say it hasn't disappointed.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are great all-rounders, capable of impressive musicality and topped off with excellent noise cancelling. They’re more than a match for any rival at this level.
- Sound 5
- Comfort 5
- Build 5
Read our guide to the best wireless in-ear headphones
Read our Apple AirPods Pro review
Read our Sony WF-1000XM3 review