Bose's QC Ultra Earbuds have a serious ace up their sleeve – and it isn’t their ANC

In-ear headphones: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds
(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

When you think of Bose, you probably think of noise cancelling – and with good reason. That’s by far and away not all that the iconic American brand can do, of course; if its latest pair of 'Ultra' debutantes – the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones and the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds – have taught us anything, it’s that these boys really can mix it up with the best when it comes to sound and design. But noise cancelling is Bose’s Big Thing, and the new Ultra Earbuds once again prove why that reputation is so well deserved. They are, in that aspect and many others, absolutely superb.

That's not, however, the main reason why I love Bose’s latest wireless earbuds. Nor is the root of my infatuation entirely ingrained in how they sound (although that is a big chunk of the reason, I’ll admit). No, what I value and admire about the Bose Ultra Earbuds above all else is how they fit inside my ears. Yep, that’s it. How’s that for an anticlimactic revelation?

Indeed, that might sound like an observation drawn straight from either the realm of the blindingly obvious or the land of the spectacularly banal, but it’s worth pointing out primarily because it’s something so many rival brands seem to get wrong. Fit matters – there’s no use ignoring the subject or suggesting that it doesn’t – but it's far from universally true that all earbuds, even those at the premium end of the market, actually stick in your ear for an extended time.

So what do the Bose QC Ultra Earbuds get right in this simplest of domains, and what could their rivals learn in the quest for that perfect fit? Much of the credit must lie with a small, barely noticeable innovation by which the Ultra Earbuds simply offer a small, semi-rigid flap of material adorning the top of the bud itself. This flap or pseudo-wing tip (Iet's call it a wing from now on) nestles happily and unobtrusively under the ridged furrow of your external ear (it’s either the antihelix or the cymba, anatomy fans), offering robust security that similarly priced competitors seldom attain. 

In-ear headphones: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds

So much security from such a small addition.  (Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Those wings really do work, too, so much so that when compared in direct competition with the Award-winning Sony WF-1000XM5 and the new Philips Fidelio T2, the Bose were by far the most comfortable and snug-fitting buds available. A vigorous morning walk from a platform of London's Liverpool Street station to the fancy new Elizabeth Line gave a decent test of the Philips’ credentials, but the chunky buds, which merely sport a standard in-ear tip, always felt as though they were in danger of coming loose and scurrying into the bowels of the Underground, destined to become a local rat’s new piece of decorative subterranean furniture. And by no means are they the only ones falling foul of this.

The Sony XM5, meanwhile, do a reasonably good job of staying in your lugholes, but they tend to give me the unnerving, nagging feeling that they’re never really sealed in as much as I’d ideally like. That’s a problem that so many of our team members seem to have, reflecting the fact that even the finest, most sonically sophisticated buds can often be less than perfect in this key area.

The Bose QC Ultra Earbuds, though, fit like a glove, albeit one that goes inside your ears rather than over your hands – so much so that you could reasonably forget that you’re wearing them at all if you, say, paused your music and forgot to start it back up again. I’ve spent a good deal of time with Beats’ Fit Pro sport earbuds, which themselves offer a more obvious in-ear wing, and the experience is much the same with the Bose as it is with the more sport-ready Beats. If anything, the softness and pliability of that very subtle little wing on the Ultra Earbuds makes them far more comfortable than the Fit Pro, and I’d be confident taking the premium buds running for miles if, a) I trusted the weather to hold, and b) they weren’t the only pair we had in the office.   

True wireless earbuds: Beats Fit Pro

Aside from their invigorating sound and general ease of use, the Beats' in-ear wing tip makes them a joy. (Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

This might all sound like giving credit for a basic innovation made to fulfil an even more basic requirement, but it matters, especially with regard to what it says about the industry at large. Bose has remembered that, while blockbuster sound and a raft of juicy features are ways of enticing consumers in, the idea of people actually wearing a pair of earbuds for a good deal of time before they fall out or feel like they're going to fall out or begin to hurt is a key ergonomic requirement. Brands are often so fixated on flashy gimmicks (begone, head tracking and touch-sensitive controls!) and, more understandably, the pursuit of great sound that they forget the fundamentals of usability and design. After all, what’s the point of having the best-sounding, best-performing and/or best-looking pair of headphones or wireless in-ears if they're never properly comfortable to use in the first place?

With its QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, Bose has thought about what the consumers want and need, rather than simply dictating to them what the brand feels they should be happy getting. By taking a little time to put the customer first, they’ve come up with something that will give the user a far better, far happier listening experience, even if it’s via something seemingly very small in an area oft-overlooked by mainstream manufacturers.

For that, Bose, I say simply: thank you.


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Harry McKerrell
Staff writer

Harry McKerrell is a staff writer at What Hi-Fi?. During his time at the publication, he has written countless news stories alongside features, advice and reviews of products ranging from floorstanding speakers and music streamers to over-ear headphones, wireless earbuds and portable DACs. He has covered launches from hi-fi and consumer tech brands, and major industry events including IFA, High End Munich and, of course, the Bristol Hi-Fi Show. When not at work he can be found playing hockey, practising the piano or trying to pet strangers' dogs.