Despite once dominating the noise-cancelling headphones market, Bose hasn’t quite had things all its own way in recent years. Rivals such as Apple, Sennheiser and Sony have all encroached onto turf that has historically been Bose’s stomping ground.
Also, noise-cancelling technology has trickled down to much more affordable price points and consumers are getting more for their money. This could make life quite difficult for Bose’s premium noise-cancelling earbuds.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II claim to offer amazing never-before-experienced levels of active noise-cancelling (ANC), but they are also one of the most expensive pairs of wireless earbuds we’ve ever tested. There really isn’t going to be any room for error if they want to be considered among the best-in-class, especially with the new Sony WF-1000XM5 knocking at their door, so let’s see if they can deliver.
Before we delve in, however, it is worth noting that Bose has, somewhat surprisingly considering the QC Earbuds II's relatively short lifespan, recently announced sequels called the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds that bring spatial audio to the table. The verdict is out on this brand-new pair, but the Earbuds II here will likely remain on shelves for some time to come.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II were the company’s flagship wireless earbuds and therefore have a price tag to match. They cost £280 / $299 / AU$429 when they launched in September 2022, but can now often be picked up for slightly less. This still places them firmly at the premium end of the market.
Their closest rivals include the new Sony WF-1000XM5 (£259 / $299 / AU$419), the now outgoing Sony WF-1000XM4 which launched at £250 / $280 / AU$450 back in June 2021 but are available for much less now, and the Apple AirPods Pro 2 (£249 / AU$399 / $249). The new QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds cost £299 / $299.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II follow on from the hugely successful (and five-star) Bose QuietComfort Earbuds which launched back in 2020. And there’s been a big design shake-up for the new pair.
They’re around a third smaller than the original QC Earbuds. But we’re pleased to report comfort levels, in our eyes at least, haven't been affected. Our review team found them more comfortable than the bulkier Sony XM4 and a tad bit more secure than the newer, smaller Sony XM5 model.
The new ear tips are very soft, pliable and don’t burrow in like some rivals, while the new ‘stability bands’ (which replace the old rubber wings) provide plenty of grip without irritating over long listens. With the original QuietComfort Earbuds, the ear tips and wings were all one piece and took a little more manipulating to get into place.
Bluetooth version 5.3
Codec support SBC, AAC
Battery life 6 hours (BT + ANC), 24 hours (including charging case)
Finishes Triple Black, Soapstone, Midnight Blue, Eclipse Grey.
Weight 6.2g (each)
Now they’ve been split in two so you can adjust them individually. You do only get three sizes of ear tips and three stability bands (both small, medium and large) as standard, which seems a little mean, but we still manage to get a great fit. Bose has done an excellent job of refining and updating the design into a more discreet package. Not sure if the fit is quite right? You can run an ear tip fit test from the Bose Music app which will let you know if your seals are compromised.
Not only are the new QuietComfort Earbuds smaller than the originals, the new design now incorporates more of a distinctive stem which also hosts touch controls. We found they take a bit of time to get used to, especially when it comes to swiping up and down to change the volume.
The first couple of goes, we just succeeded in tapping them to pause the music. However, refining our technique to include brushing the small ridge at the top of the stem seemed to make things more consistent. The usual combination of single, double and triple taps for basic controls is consistent enough, as is the tap and hold required for cycling through your shortcuts, whether they’re different noise-cancelling modes or the voice assistant on your smartphone.
There are now four finishes available to buy: Triple Black, Soapstone, Midnight Blue and Eclipse Grey.
Every time the earbuds are taken out of their case and placed in your ear, you’ll hear a short sweeping tone. This isn’t just confirmation they’re powered up – it’s actually a test tone for Bose's CustomTune sound calibration tech. When the sound is made, a mic inside each earbud measures your ear canal’s acoustic response. The audio and ANC performance is then altered to suit and is also continuously tweaked in the background as the headphones monitor what’s happening around you.
Bose claims a battery life of up to six hours, with three extra charges coming courtesy of the charging case. It can fully juice the QC Earbuds II in one hour, with a 20-minute charge delivering around two hours of playtime. The case charges by USB but we’re slightly surprised to report that there’s no wireless charging such as is offered by close rivals and some cheaper models too. Elsewhere, the Bose earbuds offer Bluetooth 5.3 capability and an IPX4 rating for water and sweat resistance.
One feature missing that we’d have loved to see here is multipoint connectivity – this allows you to be connected to two Bluetooth sources simultaneously and can help to improve the overall user experience. It’s a feature we see more in over-ear designs, but it would be nice to see it make a regular appearance in wireless in-ear headphones, especially premium pairs. There’s also still no support for high-quality wireless audio codecs such as LDAC or aptX HD, which is oddly on par with the AirPods Pro 2 (but lacking behind rivals like Sony XM5).
The Bose Music app is definitely worth firing up, though, to get a guided tour of all the features of the QC Earbuds II. You’ll also need to head here to customise the touch controls and add any noise-cancelling presets that you want to be able to access on the fly. You can have four lined up at any one time and can customise their labels and the intensity of noise-cancelling, depending on what activity you’ll be doing.
Bose doesn’t mince its words over the ANC prowess of the QuietComfort Earbuds II, claiming it’s “the world’s best noise cancellation from any headphone – banded or in-ear”. A bold claim, we think you’ll agree.
There are four microphones in each earbud – one on the inside and three on the outside. They “sense, measure and send unwanted noise to a proprietary electronic chip loaded with an exclusive algorithm”. The chip produces a signal to cancel out the noise in “less than a fraction of a millisecond”.
And our verdict? It’s good. Really good. And easily up there with the best we’ve ever heard from any premium wireless earbuds. We take them for a spin in a crowded pub and, whether it’s the loud conversations on the table next to us or background music being pumped out of ceiling speakers, the noise doesn’t even get a look in with the Bose. If you’re a frequent flier who doesn’t want to take big, bulky over-ears away with you but want excellent noise-cancelling, then the QC Earbuds II could be worth a space in your carry-on luggage.
The Bose's ‘Aware’ listening mode really impresses too. It’s automatically one of your shortcuts which can be accessed by pressing and holding one of the stems. The setting allows you to hear your music and surroundings simultaneously – think of it as a transparency mode that other noise-cancelling headphones also offer. For the QC Earbuds II, it includes what Bose calls its ActiveSense technology, which can automatically adjust the amount of ANC so your music isn’t drowned out by particularly loud noises.
And it’s fascinating to hear it in action. We try it out in the pub and it’s impressive how much control the earbuds can exert on outside noise while still allowing you to get the general essence of the track in your ears. It sounds much more natural and balanced than when you try to achieve similar results with lesser ANC earbuds.
If you want to chat, Auto Transparency allows you to take out an earbud and hold a conversation. The ANC level of the other bud drops to its lowest level so things don’t sound unbalanced when you’re trying to speak. It’s not a deal-breaking feature but a neat touch nevertheless.
Call quality is fine for general day-to-day use, but we wouldn’t call the Bose best-in-class. During testing, our voice came through relatively clear in normal conditions, although we struggled to be heard over big gusts of wind. We found the Sony WF-1000XM5 did a slightly better job of quieting background noise when the outdoor levels of noise really picked up. If call quality is a major concern, then in our experience you’re going to get better audio from a pair of noise-cancelling over-ear headphones.
We’d be disappointed if Bose had upped the price, its noise-cancelling and not upped its audio game. Thankfully, the good news continues. The earbuds ooze sophistication and refinement and deliver everything you’d expect from a pair of expensive wireless earbuds.
They’re wonderfully balanced and don’t impose their own character on the music. You can just slip them in, press play on your favourite tunes and let them get on with the job of playing music. Similar to the fit, you’re just not aware of their presence. No aspect of their performance sticks out – highs don’t sound brash or bright nor do low frequencies sound leaden-footed or laggy.
We start our testing with some classic noughties hip-hop in the shape of Eminem’s Stan. Even the opening seconds of rainfall in the background showcase the Bose’s excellent handling of subtle detail and texture. The rain sounds convincing and helps create the mood and platform for Eminem’s expressive (and slightly disturbing) vocals. It gels effortlessly with the crystal clear strings and the deep, dynamic bassline that prods and probes through to the track’s dramatic ending. The earbuds plot the song's deliberate, lagging rhythm with ease.
We switch to Beethoven’s Symphony No.5 In C Minor and the Bose earbuds deliver a spritely performance. The strings are painted with an impressive level of detail as they drive the track along. You feel you can almost touch the instruments, such is the Bose’s ability to bring textures and subtle nuances to life. There’s impressive speed and agility on display too, which, when combined with the earbuds’ dynamic abilities, just makes for a dramatic and captivating performance.
It's an interesting comparison against the new Sony XM5 flagship buds, which offer a more analytical presentation compared to Bose's fuller, more dynamic and fun presentation. The XM5 are the go-to if next-level attention to detail and breathtaking clarity are your priorities, though.
Bose’s flagship wireless earbuds were never going to be cheap, but the question was whether they’d be competitive in an area of the market where rivals have never been more capable. The fact that the company has not only managed to implement a successful redesign, but also push the envelope for noise-cancelling and sound quality in such a highly competitive category simultaneously is truly impressive.
If funds allow, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II deserve to be heard. That is, unless their successors, the new QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, take things to an even higher level. Bose certainly seems to be operating at the peak of its premium wireless earbud powers.
- Sound 5
- Features 4
- Comfort 5
Read our Sony WF-1000XM5 review
Also consider the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3
Sony WF-1000XM5 vs Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II: which premium pair should you buy?
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