Carrying the torch for Bose's enduringly popular QuietComfort noise-cancelling headphone range brings with it certain preconceptions – and not just in terms of class-leading ANC performance. This is, after all, a line that has largely impressed across the board for the best part of two decades.
So how does the latest and supposedly greatest pair, the long-awaited QuietComfort 45 (stylised to Bose QC45), stack up for durability, usability and sound quality – as well as the anticipated upgrade when it comes to blocking extraneous noise? Let’s get cracking to find out...
Bose made its name taking its proprietary noise-cancelling technology from specialist cans worn by pilots and distilling it so that it could be added to mass-produced consumer headphones. As such, it prices its own products squarely in the premium space – the QC45 cost £320 ($329, AU$499). That said, that's nowhere near as dear as the Apple AirPods Max (£549, $549, AU$899).
Priced as they are, Bose's main competitor is the Sony WH-1000XM4 (£350, $350, AU$550), which it has just about managed to undercut in terms of the launch price.
Interestingly, Bose has not posited the new QC45 as its flagship noise-cancelling over-ears – that mantle remains with the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, which arrived in 2019 and marked the company's first noise-cancelling over-ear departure from its QuietComfort range. They hit the shelves at £350 ($399, AU$599) but can now be found for around the same price as the new QC45, or even a smidgeon less.
Anyone hoping for a complete revamp of the 2019-released QC35 II (which are themselves minor updates on the 2016 QC35), brace yourselves: the QC45 are virtually indistinguishable from their predecessor – visually, at least.
In a game of spot-the-difference between the two, look closely and you’ll find a USB-C charging port instead of the now archaic micro USB. The underside padded portion of the headband is now smooth rather than suede-like, too, and the earpads are no longer pleated.
There are also some very minor tweaks to the earcups. They now have vents, in a bid to add depth and fullness without increasing their size, and Bose has apparently reinforced the headband with glass-filled nylon to protect them when dropped and to help maintain their shape. The plastic also feels marginally more streamlined with smaller gaps between casework elements, but you have to look really closely to spot any of this.
The subtlety of the updates here are hardly surprising considering the incremental upgrades Bose has made historically between headphone iterations (and those Sony has made between its XM3 and XM4, for instance) and it’ll come as welcome news to QC35 II owners that their cans certainly won’t look dated against the newer model – if it ain’t broke, etc. Nevertheless, for anyone who wanted to see what Bose’s design team might produce if given free rein to tear up the QuietComfort rule book and start again, the wait continues.
Battery life 24 hours
Dimensions (hwd) 18.4cm x 15.24cm x 7.62cm
App Bose Music
Quick charge Yes, via USB-C
The location of the physical buttons – four buttons on the right ear cup for power, volume and playback; one on the left for switching between the two noise-cancelling and transparency modes – remain. In fact, even the drivers in the QC45 are unchanged from the QC35 II.
As with previous Bose noise-cancelling headphones, the QC45 are built with travel in mind; their double-hinge feature means they can be folded up for easy storage in the included carry case. Again – and as anyone familiar with the QC35 II will know – the design here is comfortable, with generous padding on the earcups alongside enough clamping force to stay secure.
So what, aside from USB-C quick-charge, justifies the update? Well, you now get a total of six mics with four beamforming (instead of four, with two beamforming, in the QC35 II), which should mean a solid step up in terms of noise-cancellation.
You also now get a battery life boost: 24 hours up from 20 hours, with a five-minute quick-charge returning 2.5 hours of playback. During our testing, we found those battery claims to be true, too.
Thanks to Bluetooth 5.1, the Bose QuietComfort 45 now offer true multi-point pairing. In the Bose Music app, we head to the source tab and, once paired, toggle both our iPhone and MacBook Pro on simultaneously. Now, we can listen to music on our phone and jump on a Zoom call or catch a YouTube tutorial on our laptop, and the audio switches automatically. When you switch the headphones on, a voice announces which devices you’re connected to – a neat touch that, while not a unique feature in headphones, feels especially well implemented here.
It’s worth noting that the Bose QC45 support the AAC Bluetooth codec, but not aptX or aptX HD for higher-resolution audio streaming from compatible sources. This isn’t the end of the world – the Sony WH-1000XM4 don’t support aptX either – but it is a noteworthy omission at this premium level.
In terms of call quality, those extra external microphones promise improved voice pickup that actually isolates and focuses on your voice, aided by Bose’s noise-rejecting algorithm to filter out extraneous sounds. We answer calls on a busy high street and find Bose true to its word: callers report that our voice is clear and virtually devoid of any passing car noise – quite remarkable.
When considering the new Bose QC45 as a sonic proposition, however, the big draw is surely the performance when it comes to cancelling extraneous noise. Are they better than the immediate competition here? We take to the pavement and hit ‘Quiet’ in the Bose Music app, deploying noise-cancellation. Particularly in the midrange, where voices are most apparent, we find the answer is ‘yes’, the level of noise-reduction is improved. Passing cars are all but gone. If you’re waiting for the ‘but’, here it comes: there’s no scope to tweak the levels of noise cancellation or the new ‘Aware’ mode, which filters in ambient sounds such as traffic or passers-by so you can hear your surroundings when you need to.
The sound profiles are preset in what Bose calls its 'Active EQ', and there are no options to tweak them further than ‘on’ one profile or the other. Anyone hoping to turn their profiles off entirely, or for the 11 levels of noise-cancellation found in the more robustly-featured Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, take note – you won’t get that here. You cannot currently optimise the treble, bass or midrange of the QC45 either, although EQ customisation could be added following a firmware update.
If you simply want extraneous noise nixed in the office, we give the new Bose QC45 the edge over the Sony WH-1000XM4. That’s quite a statement – and for many, that will be enough. However, you’ll have to forego a whole host of extra features offered by the XM4 for the privilege, such as wearer detection and auto-pause, Speak to Chat (Sony’s over-ears can pause playback when they detect your voice), EQ optimisation and Sony’s adaptive sound control (which can detect whether you’re sitting at home, walking, running or on public transport) for starters.
Truth be told, the settings tab in the Bose Music app for the QC45 is a rather basic affair. The only truly customisable option under the Preferences tab is ‘Self Voice’, which adjusts how much of your own voice you’d like to hear on a call. It works well, but it completes a fairly meagre feature set at this premium level.
Features and noise-cancellation profiles aside, a set of wireless headphones always lives and dies by the strength of its sound quality. And we're pleased to report that the Bose QC45 don't sign their own death warrant here.
We cue up Safari by J Balvin, Pharrell Williams, BIA and Sky on Tidal, and the energetic reggaeton track is delivered with excitement and zeal across the frequencies. It never suffers from bloatedness through a grippy bassline.
Our playlist continues to Daddy Yankee’s Gasolina and the leading edges of notes through the track’s driving bassline are present, full and impactful. That said, in Belly Danza by Don Omar and Beenie Man (an exceptional track that sees reggaeton meet dancehall and Cuba meet Jamaica in a raucous, head-nodding, Spanish-English vocal-heavy rap), we become aware of a shortfall concerning timing. We’ve got the various hype men and Cuban salsa riffs, and we’ve got the element of bite and resonance through Beenie Man’s considered juicy lower registers, but it’s a slightly confusing mix rather than a cohesive, foot-tapping one.
Switching to Billy Joel’s Piano Man, the keys are sparkling and three-dimensional through the treble and the bass injection adds weight and detail to the harmonica. Played through the class-leading Sony WH-1000XM4, however, the soft drums in our left ear and the glorious mandolin in our right are just two of the musical strands that are better held in check. Although there’s still space for Joel’s emotive vocal in the QC45's presentation, we find the Sonys offer a greater sense of dynamic build through the vocals.
Stream Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road and the pensive, quiet harmonica and keys appear more sensitively and build with greater dynamic impact through the rise and fall of each ever-louder note of the intro through WH-1000XM4, too. It may sound a relatively small issue, but the incremental build offered by the Bose QC45 does come off slightly crude in direct comparison.
If you want a set of wireless over-ear headphones you can put on, deploy noise-cancelling on your commute or at your desk and largely extinguish the outside world for up to 24 hours, the Bose QC 45 has the edge over most of the competition at the price. And for many, that will be the end of the story.
Sonically, your money can buy better. And if you want a more tailored noise-cancelling experience, an auto-pause function when you remove them, or sound EQ adjustment, you might be better shopping elsewhere.
We understand the inclination to stick to a winning design recipe, and that attitude has produced another very likeable pair of QuietComfort headphones. However, given the five-year wait for a significant revamp in the QC range, it's fair to say we had hoped for more.
- Sound 4
- Features 4
- Build 4
The best noise cancelling headphones you can buy
Read our review of the Bose Noise Cancelling 700 headphones
Read our review of the Bose QC35 II
Read our review of the Sony WH-1000XM4