Bose's QuietComfort sub-brand has become synonymous with sensational noise-cancelling headphones over the years.
Historically, the vast majority of its noise-cancelling headphones have been on- and over-ear designs, but the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are true wireless earbuds. There's no shortage of competition in this arena, though, and they go toe to toe with some huge rivals, such as the Apple AirPods Pro 2 and Sony WF-1000XM4, not to mention their own 2022-released sequels, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II.
Given our experience with its other QuietComfort models, we naturally have big hopes for these wireless earbuds, but can Bose deliver?
- New vs old comparison: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II vs QuietComfort Earbuds
The Bose QC Earbuds launched in October 2020 at £249 / $280 / AU$399, putting them in the firing line of the similarly priced, premium competition at that time – namely the Sony WF-1000XM4 and AirPods Pro. And they held their own.
Newer, improved rivals have come and gone since then – we now have the formidable AirPods Pro 2, Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 and even the Bose's award-winning successors – but a fall in the original QuietComfort Earbuds' asking price, to somewhere in the ballpark of £180 / $200 / AU$250, means their appeal remains high.
If you can bag them at a discount in the end stages of their life, you won't regret it.
Bose had launched noise-cancelling in-ear headphones and true wireless headphones before, but this marked the first time it combined the two technologies. This means there is plenty of technology packed into the QuietComfort Earbuds, and that has led to a pair of earbuds that are pretty stocky in appearance.
The earpieces don’t protrude massively from your ears, but the general look is bigger than the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 and Sony WF-1000XM4. 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
Finishes Soapstone, Triple Black
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 for 18 hours in total. That’s a decent reserve but by no means class-leading. The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3, by contrast, boast seven hours per charge plus 28 extra hours from their case. Bose did at least address this in the QuietComfort Earbuds II by blessing them with a more on-par total of 24 hours, but this won't help the originals last any longer!
A 15-minute 'quick charge' should give you a couple of hours if you’re caught short, though, 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 by 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). Here you can create custom modes that you can switch between depending on the activity you're doing.
You can also switch between Quiet Mode, which activates ANC, and Aware Mode, which acts as a transparency mode by allowing your surroundings to seep in while you're listening to music.
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 leaders, the Sony WF-1000XM4, have the edge in terms of outright dynamics and timing, but the QC Earbuds still put on a great show. Bose has actually since jumped ahead of Sony with its new QuietComfort Earbuds II, but they have the premium price tag that goes with it too.
With Apple, Sennheiser and Sony already offering premium wireless noise-cancelling earbuds, the pressure was on Bose to produce something competitive – and it’s fair to say it didn't disappoint with its original QuietComfort Earbuds.
They 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, especially now that they have fallen in price in light of their successor's arrival.
- Sound 5
- Comfort 5
- Build 5
See how new and old compare: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II vs QuietComfort Earbuds
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