It seems like everyone has a pair of Apple AirPods Pro these days, but plenty of competitors have risen up out of the shadows. The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are based on their over-ear counterpart, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II, and they offer many of the draws of the AirPods Pro. Let’s explore whether one of these competing ANC true wireless earbuds is a better buy.
Which pair of earbuds have a better design?
The Apple AirPods Pro and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds take very different design approaches. The AirPods Pro have stems and come with a variety of silicone ear tip sizes. This combination means they are comfortable and stable in your ears. The QuietComfort Earbuds are shaped like a large rectangular pill and they’re a bit bulky. They have Bose’s StayHear Max wing tips, which are comfortable and maintain a stable fit. Both the Apple and Bose buds in question have an IPX4 rating so they are great for wearing during workouts.
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The AirPods Pro have a lot of useful touch-activated features. If you want to activate Transparency Mode, which is like the opposite of active noise cancelling, play or pause music, or skip songs, you can do so all through squeezing or tapping the AirPod stem. The QuietComfort Earbuds also have touch controls and an Transparency mode.
Do the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds or Apple AirPods Pro have better connection?
Connecting the AirPods Pro to an Apple device is very easy, thanks to the embedded H1 chip. Once you open the AirPods Pro case a card on your iPhone will pop up prompting you to connect the device. The card also displays information such as your AirPods Pro battery life. After establishing this connection, your AirPods Pro will be connected to all devices attached to your iCloud account. Pairing the AirPods Pro with an Android or Windows PC is a little more complicated, but not any more than any other brand of Bluetooth earbuds; just put the AirPods Pro into Bluetooth pairing mode and select them from the Bluetooth menu of your device.
The AirPods Pro use Bluetooth 5.0 and support the SBC and AAC codecs. Their connection quality is generally good, but some users have reported issues. Updating the firmware version usually fixes these issues, but if you’re still experiencing problems you’ll need to contact Apple’s customer support. Unfortunately, firmware updates are only available to iPhone users, and they occur automatically when the iPhone updates.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds don’t care whether you have an iPhone or an Android device—they connect the same way. They use Bluetooth 5.1, which means they are slightly more energy efficient than the AirPods Pro with Bluetooth 5.0, though this doesn’t matter so much if you’re using an iPhone with the AirPods Pro because the H1 chip does wonders for energy efficiency. Just like the AirPods, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds support the SBC and AAC codecs, which means Android users won’t have a reliable high-quality codec, given AAC’s spotty integration with non-Apple platforms.
The AirPods Pro have plenty of software features, so long as you have an iPhone
The AirPods Pro are somewhat known for their expansive array of software features, most of which are only available to iPhone users. Its Spatial Audio feature mimics the experience of movie theatre surround sound. This feature is pretty advanced, as it can differentiate between you moving your head and the car or airplane you’re in making a turn, and adjusts the sound experience accordingly. Additional features include an ear tip fit test via your iPhone’s Settings app, automatic device switching via iCloud connection, and a battery optimization feature that helps protect the long-term health of the buds’ battery.
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The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds don’t have a lot of crazy specialized features like the AirPods Pro, but they have classic premium features like automatic ear detection, selecting varying levels of noise cancelling, and quick charging. The Apple AirPods Pro also have all these features, except they are only have three active noise cancelling settings: On, Off, and Transparency Mode. If you download the Bose Music app for the QuietComfort Earbuds, you can seamlessly switch between source devices.
You can't create a custom EQ through either headset's proprietary mobile software application.
Neither the QuietComfort Earbuds nor the AirPods Pro allow for customized EQ settings, but the Bose earbuds do have a feature called Active EQ which adjusts the earbuds’ sound signature based on your surroundings. Similarly, the AirPods Pro have Adaptive EQ which adjusts the sound signature based on the shape of your ears.
How does the active noise cancelling compare?
Both the Apple AirPods Pro and the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds provide active noise cancelling aimed at people in noisy environments looking to cut down on impact of distractions around them. The AirPods Pro can’t quite keep up with the very best on the market, but their active noise cancelling is still a formidable effort. It won’t leave you in a cone of silence, but they’ll definitely cut down on the droning sounds of engines and traffic in your commute—paired with the rubber ear tips, you’re looking at some very solid isolation (especially compared to the regular AirPods).
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds also sport active noise cancelling, however we ran into a testing snag during our review, so we don’t yet have a chart to show you. SoundGuys recently leveled up our testing hardware, and as soon as that’s ready to go, we’ll have new charts, and more in-depth results for the QuietComfort Earbuds noise cancelling performance. For now, suffice it to say that it works well.
Ten levels of noise cancelling performance is a very useful feature on the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds that allows you to tailor the amount of audio pass through in any given environment. At the highest level, the ANC successfully blocks out loud droning sounds just as well as anything else on the market.
Remember, active noise cancelling is most useful for predictable low end sound like the rumble of traffic, or the droning sound of an airplane. For isolation from more dynamic high end sound, a rubber tip with a good seal is the best defense against unwanted noise. Both the Apple AirPods Pro and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds offer this.
The battery life of each pair of earbuds is comparable
True wireless earbuds are notorious for having poor battery life, and neither the Apple AirPods Pro nor Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are exceptions to this. The AirPods Pro last 5 hours, 6 minutes on a single charge and the QuietComfort Earbuds last 5 hours, 29 minutes. Luckily, the AirPods Pro case holds 24 hours of additional charge and support quick charging, and the QuietComfort Earbuds case holds 12 hours of additional charge and also supports quick charging. The QuietComfort Earbuds charge via USB-C, and the AirPods Pro charge via a cable that is Lightning-USB on the front end and USB-C on the tail end, which is very inconvenient—this is likely the only cable of this design you’ll have, so you’ll need to bring it everywhere.
True wireless earbuds tend to also have long-term battery problems because the constant partial depletion and over-charging that occurs in the cases can wear out the battery over time. Apple has tried to combat this issue by including a battery optimization feature on the AirPods Pro, which prevents the battery from charging to 100% except for when you tend to use them for longer listening periods. The AirPods technology learns your usage patterns to plan this out, but you can disable the feature if you don’t want it.
How do these two compare in terms of sound quality?
The AirPods Pro and QuietComfort Earbuds take similar approaches to sound quality but the amplification is taken to varying degrees of intensity. The AirPods Pro, however, adjust their sound based on the shape of the wearer’s ear, so their sound signature is more likely to be uniform across different users than the QuietComfort Earbuds. The AirPods Pro mildly emphasize the bass frequencies and high frequencies, which helps boost the low notes without reducing vocal or instrumental clarity too much, and vocals do come through very well. However, if you’re listening to sub-bass synths, you might find they’re lacking.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds emphasize bass frequencies quite a bit, but the midrange frequencies are quite deemphasized, which means bass tones often mask midrange tones, where the fundamental frequencies of human vocals lie. However, the upper-midrange boost adds clarity to harmonic detail. The Bose Active EQ automatically boosts the low and high frequencies, and it unfortunately cannot be disabled or adjusted.
Learn more: What is frequency response?
Do the microphones sound any good?
The AirPods Pro do a very good job at relaying vocal frequencies through their microphone, so regardless of the pitch of your voice, you shouldn’t have a hard time coming through clearly. They also employ a speech-detecting accelerometer that, combined with the beam-forming microphones, effectively reduces background noise, so your voice is clear whether you’re talking inside or on a busy street.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds have a decent microphone, too, though its tone is a bit harsher than the AirPods Pro microphone. The QuietComfort Earbuds mic also sometimes clips audio, which means slight distortion occurs. The microphone does a very good job at rejecting environmental noise, though, so it’s great for talking on the phone, no matter where you are.
Apple AirPods Pro microphone demo:
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds microphone demo:
After listening to the above, please let us know your preference for each sample. Then you can see how the rest of the world thinks!
Should you buy the Apple AirPods Pro or the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds?
If you’re already neck-deep in the Apple ecosystem, you should probably get the AirPods Pro over the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. Switching between listening to music from your MacBook and answering calls on your iPhone will be very easy thanks to the H1 chip, and you’ll receive the benefits of battery optimization, firmware updates, and Spatial Audio. If you have an Android phone you’ll still have access to the AirPods Pro superb active noise cancelling, but your access to its features pretty much ends there.
If you decide to go for the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds instead, you’ll benefit from a more stable, workout-oriented fit in your ears, Active EQ, and Bluetooth 5.1, as well as its very effective active noise cancelling. Which pair of earbuds’ sound you prefer largely depends on your tastes, but if you’re looking for strong bass, go with the Bose earbuds, and if you mostly care about vocals, go with the AirPods Pro. If you have a Samsung smartphone, consider the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro instead.