I hope the rumoured Bose QuietComfort Ultra come to market – but they must remedy one big thing

Bose QC35 II
(Image credit: Bose)

If one ‘leak’ circling the internet is to be believed, Bose looks to be developing new flagship noise-cancelling over-ear headphones under its iconic QuietComfort line. The brand shunned the 23-year-spanning range in 2019 by launching the irritatingly named Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 as its reference over-ear pair, but it seems the company is ready to do right by its QC line for its next flagships.

Little is known about these ‘leaked’ Bose QuietComfort Ultra, with the Twitter leaker (opens in new tab)himself admitting he has “very little information about the product, it appears to be in its early stages of development”. Indeed, this might not even turn out to be their name (though to give my two penneth, it is a marked improvement on the 700’s naming format and a nice alternative to the QC line’s number one too). Will they be successors to the latest QuietComfort 45, or does a departure from numbers, and the potency of the noun ‘ultra’, suggest that these could be Bose’s first attempt to produce a higher-end pair, to enter the newfound market around the £500/$600/AU$1000 mark alongside the likes of Apple's AirPods Max and Bowers & Wilkins' Px8?

Beats me. But I’ll tell you one thing: no matter what their price or name, Bose’s next flagship over-ears will need to show serious improvement over their predecessors in the sound quality department. You might now be sitting there thinking “well duh, every pair of headphones should evolve performance over the outgoing model”. And most of the time, they do. Look at the Sennheiser Momentums and Sony WH-1000 range – as far back as I can remember, generations of those models have notably advanced audio performance, keeping them at the forefront of the premium wireless headphones field. I know, as I’ve been fortunate to listen to (and, most of the time, live with) generation to generation over the years. But Bose’s hasn’t. At least, not for a while.

Bose QuietComfort Ultra

The supposed first image of Bose's next pair of noise-cancelling over-ears has appeared in the Twitter wild, courtesy of user Kuba Wojciechowski @Za_Raczke (opens in new tab) (Image credit: @Za_Raczke)

The 2017-released Bose QC35 II brought notable sonic changes over the previous QC35, but since then the company has focused more on advancing features, making design tweaks and ensuring its noise cancellation remains the best on the market – all things it has been very successful in. Audio, however, seems to have taken a backseat. Bose admitted that the sound quality of its Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 was comparable to its QC35 II (which upon hearing both pairs, I and others in the What Hi-Fi? reviews team agreed with), and even the latest QC45 have the same drivers as their predecessors. We’re not saying sound quality has stood completely still in the move for these generations, but it’s hardly come on leaps and bounds in the past six years either. And that’s why the last few Bose over-ears have received four- as opposed to five-star reviews; they simply haven’t kept up with the sonic progression their Sony and Sennheiser peers have demonstrated. It’s been disappointing, and quite frankly rather puzzling.

After all, Bose is more than capable of producing class-leading headphone audio – it’s done it many times in the past, and it is doing it presently with its flagship true wireless earbuds, the QuietComfort Earbuds II. To release a pair of headphones in 2023 called Ultra that only incrementally progresses the sonic standard of six years ago would be frustrating.

Hopefully, then, the rumoured QuietComfort Ultra can put Bose back up the pecking order, though to do that they will need to make sonic gains over the 700 and QC45 that are bigger than is typical for a single generational jump. Nail that assignment and they will undoubtedly have the all-round game to compete among the class leaders, namely the Sony WH-1000XM5, Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless and Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2. The leaked image (pictured above, right) shows a recognisable QuietComfort design language, albeit a sleeker, more modernised one that seems to borrow cues from the super-stylish 700. And as Bose partnered with Qualcomm last year, I would think a new pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones would support aptX Adaptive Bluetooth at the least. I would more comfortably place a bet on Bose changing its name than it going backwards in its (class-leading) noise-cancelling performance, too. Give them a half-decent battery life as well and the prospect of the Bose Ultra over-ears excites me... and makes me feel a little anxious for the Sony XM5.


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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 eight 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.