Bose’s QuietComfort Ultra Headphones have been a long time coming. For context, the last time we saw a flagship pair of wireless headphones from the brand was all the way back in 2019 and the launch of the strangely named Noise-Cancelling Headphones 700.
It’s certainly unusual for a brand as big in the space as Bose to go so long without injecting a new top-end QuietComfort model into the market. Sony, for example, has been more consistent in its launches which has given it the chance to really stamp its authority at this end of the market.
Can Bose’s new top-of-the-range model make up for lost time?
It’s fair to say a lot has happened in the world since the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 launched back in June 2019 for £350 / $399 / AU$599. So, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones sit at a higher price point.
They cost £450 / $429 / AU$649. This elevates them well above the class-leading Sony WH-1000XM5 (£380 / $399 / AU$550), especially when you take into account online discounts, and the likes of the five-star Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e £379 / $399 / AU$599. There’s an even bigger gap between the Bose and Sennheiser’s flagship ANC over-ears, the Momentum 4 Wireless £300 / $349.95 / AU$549.95.
The Bose still sit below the Apple AirPods Max, which are priced at £549 / $549 / AU$899.
Build & comfort
Like a lot of modern designs, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones fold flat, but they’re still hinged which means they (and the supplied carry case) take up less space and are easier to just throw in a bag if you’re in a hurry. That’s something you can’t say about the WH-1000XM5 or Apple AirPods Max.
The Ultra Headphones look like a premium pair of over-ears and the use of metal for the arms and yokes combined with the pleather on the headband and earcups make for an attractive combination. The headphones come in either a Black or White Smoke finish.
The Bose feel a bit more premium than the likes of the Sony WH-1000XM5, but they aren’t on a par with the stylish and robust Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e which really impress at this level
Bluetooth SBC, AAC, aptX Adaptive
Battery life 24hrs
Transparency mode? Yes
Built-in mic and controls? Yes
Finishes x 3 (Black, White Smoke, Sandstone)
The grip pressure on the Bose is well-judged, though, and the clamping force is slightly stronger than the Sonys, which we think some users will prefer. The all-round cushioning on the earpads is still good enough to make for a comfortable listening experience – they offer a good seal and a level of isolation.
On the right earcup there’s a button for power/Bluetooth pairing, a clever capacitive touch strip for volume and accessing shortcuts, and a multifunctional button which can be used for various tasks, including switching listening modes, answering calls and controlling playback.
The capacitive strip (or ridge) is quite short and tucked away but we found it nice and responsive when sliding our thumb to move the volume up and down.
The left earcup has an LED indicator, 2.5mm jack, and USB-C charging port (unfortunately, you can’t listen over a wired USB connection). Bose claims battery life is up to 24 hours with Immersive Audio turned off and 18 hours with it turned on and these figures seem to be matched during testing, although they do still lag behind the Sony XM5’s 30 hours.
The big news for the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones is the debut of Bose’s Immersive Audio tech, which is basically its take on spatial audio. The general idea is to get the sound out of your head so it feels less like you’re listening to headphones and more like you’re listening to an image served up by a traditional pair of speakers.
You’ve got two modes of Immersive Audio to switch between: Still and Motion. Still is recommended for when you’re stationary and you want your music to be in a fixed position. Motion “allows the audio to move with you, so it’s always out in front of you – great for staying immersed on the go,” according to Bose. More of our thoughts on this later.
The Ultras also include Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Sound Technology suite which gives them aptX Adaptive support and the latency and stability benefits the tech brings. It’s also good to see multipoint Bluetooth connectivity is part of the feature set too, so you can be connected to a couple of different sources simultaneously. We found it worked well during testing, switching between an iPhone 12 and MacBook Pro.
Bose’s CustomTune calibration automatically optimises the noise-cancelling from the headphones to match your surroundings, while Bose Aware Mode with ActiveSense automatically adjusts the amount of ANC you’re hearing automatically, so your music isn’t drowned out by particularly loud noises.
There’s a very good level of customisation on offer too, so you can set your own noise-cancelling presets and tweak the amount of outside noise you want to let through, depending on how you want to use them.
With a lot of attention being placed on their Immersive Audio feature, it’s good to see Bose hasn’t taken its eye off the main USP of any headphone in its QuietComfort range, i.e. noise-cancelling. The QC Ultra Headphones don’t let us down during testing, dramatically reducing background rumbles while out walking, and the sound of the London Underground during our daily commute. The ANC is better than that of the Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e and we think the Bose actually have the edge over the Sony WH-1000X5 in this department, which is no mean feat.
Interestingly, one of the same quirks we experienced with the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds rears its head again with these over-ears. During testing it happened on a train journey when the clunk of the doors closing together was emphasised instead of being subdued.
Bose claims to have improved call quality in the QC Ultra Headphones, with more advanced microphones in a beamform-array that reduce the impact of external noise. There are five microphones in each earpiece now, compared to four in the old 700 model.
During testing we found the Bose performed perfectly well, although comparing them directly to the Sony XM5, we found the Sony still had the edge – our voices sounded slightly clearer when taking calls, and we also think they do a better job of cancelling out background noise whilst having a conversation.
We’ve already had experience with Bose’s Immersive Audio tech when testing its QuietComfort Ultra in-ears. We weren’t hugely convinced then and our opinion isn’t changed by the over-ears.
Once again, though, the general feeling was it works well for some tracks (and sounds better through the over-ears than the earbuds) but can also sound off with others. Robyn’s Dancing On My Own is presented with a wonderfully spacious and immersive soundfield but Kanye West’s Bound 2, in our opinion, sounds overly processed and we found it hard to gel with.
Also, as was the case with the Ultra Earbuds, in the Motion mode we can still hear delay and phase issues as the processing tries to track your head movements. Even with gentle side-to-side head movements, the shifts in the imaging are distracting.
Did we miss spatial audio when switching back to the standard setting? Not really. And, you have to remember that Immersive Audio also slices six hours off the total battery life of the headphones.
Whether you take spatial audio or leave it, you’ll be wanting to know how the Bose stack up against the very best sonically, and we have to say, we’re impressed.
Out of the box, the QC Ultra do sound a little uptight and forward so definitely give them plenty of time to bed in. Once they do loosen up, though, you’re in for a sonic treat.
What strikes you from the off is they’re a hugely entertaining pair of headphones. Their enthusiasm crosses over to every genre of music as their precise, punchy delivery is mirrored by your feet tapping away in agreement.
We start our testing with the 2007 remaster of Joy Division’s Disorder and the Bose are quick out of the blocks with speedy and precisely struck drum beats followed by a constant flurry from the bass guitar that runs the whole length of the track. Every note is tightly defined and they have no problem painting texture and giving them shape.
Switch over to Mombassa from the Inception soundtrack and we immediately start to panic. Not because there’s anything wrong with the sound, but because the headphones immediately capture the drama and danger that this track tries to convey.
Highs and lows are painted with a sense of richness and refinement which we think will be hugely appealing to potential buyers. Drums attack hard and fast and there's a real sense of dynamism as the track shifts up through the gears as the intensity and frequency increase.
The Bose also show their versatility with tracks that demand greater care. Play U2’s With Or Without You and the headphones paint a very intimate and atmospheric picture. The timing is spot on and the headphones lay bare the emotion in Bono’s vocal, and the delicacy of the cymbals and tambourine that flutter in the background.
The Bose key rival, the Sony WH-1000XM5 sound quite different. Their character is slightly leaner with a more natural balance. Adam Clayton’s bassline has a bit more weight and treads a finer line when listening through the Bose compared to the Sony. The Sonys deliver greater transparency but at the expense of richness and body. It’s one of those that will come down to personal preference.
Bose is back with a bang. Yes, Immersive Audio is hit and miss, and the QuietComfort Headphones are expensive compared to other flagship pairs (which have been on the market considerably longer and thus have an advantage).
But build quality is solid, Bose’s noise-cancelling has gone to a new level and sonically, they have you coming back for more. We haven’t heard a pair of Bose over-ears sound as entertaining or refined for quite some time.
- Sound 5
- Features 5
- Build 4
Read our review of the Sony WH-1000XM5
Also consider the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless
Read our Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e review