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Best Bose headphones
There are a few audio companies that rise out of audio forums and become a part of our culture. For a long time when people referred to active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones, they really meant Bose headphones. For many consumers, that same thought process rings true even today. While its flagship noise cancelling headphones can’t outdo Sony’s top contender, Bose has a healthy line of headphones. Let’s focus on a few of the best Bose headphones around, starting with the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700.
Editor’s note: this list of the best Bose headphones was updated on August 26, 2022, to update formatting, make sure information, the notable mentions, and buy links are up to date, and include microphone polls for the Bose QC 35 II Gaming Headset.
Why is the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 the best Bose headphones you can buy?
If you or someone you know wants those noise cancelling Bose headphones, then the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 is your best bet. This has a slick new design that’s been upgraded in almost every way from the Bose QuietComfort 35 II and it’s arguably better overall than the newer, Bose QuietComfort 45.
Gone is the plastic build in favor of a metal headband that seems way less likely to snap. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fold but you can still rotate the ear cups 90 degrees, so you can wear the headset around your neck comfortably. The playback controls have also been updated and are now found in a touch-sensitive gesture pad on the right ear cup.
You get around 20 hours of constant playback and can recharge via USB-C, which is good news for anyone that wants their headset to last a while since USB-C has quickly taken over. Just like the QC 45, this is also compatible with Google Assistant, Alexa, and even Siri if you’re connected to an iOS device.
The noise cancelling is still good, which is exactly what you’d expect from the company. Of course, they didn’t knock either the Apple AirPods Max or Sony WH-1000XM5 out of their top spots, but it’s still better than no ANC at all. This is easily one of the best pairs of active noise cancelling headphones around and you can even choose between 10 levels of ANC depending on your situation.
The Bose QuietComfort 45 connectivity is improved upon with the updated USB-C connection, as opposed to microUSB on the QC 35 II. ANC is better than its older sibling and the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. The reason to really opt for the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 is that it just sounds better with a more reasonable, customizable frequency response and very good ANC.
The Bose QuietComfort 45 now comes with a rudimentary equalizer, so the reasons for picking it over the older QuietComfort 35 II are now limited to price. If you absolutely must save as much money as possible, the older headphones mainly fall short by having a microUSB port instead of a USB-C port. That’s it.
Now that there is a newer version out, you might be able to find the QC35 II for quite a bit cheaper, so if you’re hoping to save some cash this is the way to go. Both QuietComfort headphones fold down, making each more portable than the sleeker Noise Cancelling Headphones 700.
Want to stay aware when exercising outdoors? Get the Bose Sport Open Earbuds
If you spend a lot of time biking or running outside, you know the importance of hearing your surroundings for safety. The Bose Sport Open Earbuds lets you hear what’s happening around you, while still letting you enjoy your music, access Smart Assistant, and take phone calls.
The Sport Open Earbuds offers a secure fit and last a respectable 7 hours, 21 minutes according to our testing. The carrying case does not charge the buds, but when you get home you can use fast charging (via a proprietary charging cradle). And due to the shape of the Bose Sport Open Earbuds, a charging case would most likely be quite bulky. The microphone is not our favorite, but it will definitely work for short calls.
Due to the design prioritizing your environmental awareness, the Bose Sport Open Earbuds intentionally does not have much bass. Effective bass reproduction tends to require a tight seal, and a tight seal means more passive sound isolation. This would run counter to the purpose of the Bose Sport Open Earbuds, as a safety-oriented product.
Need portable ANC? Get the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds is the company’s first set of noise cancelling wireless earphones. Predictable low and midrange frequency noises are significantly quieted, though incidental noise (e.g., the clang of dishware), still comes through. Bose’s StayHear Max ear tips keep the buds in place, despite their relatively large housings.
This pair of earbuds features an IPX4 rating, so you can exercise in it. Then again, if you want a dedicated exercise headset, consider the Sport Earbuds instead: it’s smaller, just as durable, and more affordable. The Bose QC Earbuds has a great mic for phone calls that produces sidetone audio when in a call, so you can hear your own voice too. Most people like this because it makes you less inclined to unwittingly raise your voice.
The USB-C case supports Qi wireless charging, and can fast charge the earbuds. All you have to do is place the buds in the case for 15 minutes, and you’re allotted two hours of playback. The earbuds last 5 hours, 29 minutes on a single charge with ANC enabled, which outperforms the Apple AirPods Pro but doesn’t come close to the Sony WF-1000XM4.
Bose’s earphones use Bluetooth 5.1 and support just two Bluetooth codecs: AAC and SBC. This plays to iPhone owners’ benefits, but high-quality streaming over AAC varies greatly on Android. You need to download the Bose Music app if you want to remap the controls, access firmware updates, or switch between devices.
Want a better version of the AirPods? Check out the Bose Sport Earbuds
Bose stepped up its game with the Sport Earbuds: this pair of true wireless workout earphones is the most comfortable of its kind. The slick design means you can use this outside of the gym without looking like you’re about to deadlift double your weight. The StayHear Max ear tips work extremely well and keep the earbuds in place during very rigorous movement.
Just like Bose’s debut totally wireless earbuds, this headset features an IPX4 water-resistant rating, so you can sweat to your heart’s content while wearing it. The microphone quality isn’t perfect but it’s improved since the previous generation. Bose packed in a four-mic array, which does a fabulous job of cancelling out low-frequency background noise during calls.
Battery life is average for earbuds of this variety, and we measured just over 5 hours of playtime from a single charge. The case can fast charge the earbuds, when you’re in a pinch. All you have to do is place the buds in the case for 15 minutes, and you’re met with 120 minutes of playtime.
It uses Bluetooth 5.1, and the connection strength is good but imperfect. When Lily took the earbuds outside with her phone, the buds struggled to stay connected beyond the five-meter mark. However, when her phone was inside and she was outside, the connection didn’t start to break up until she edged toward the nine-meter mark, which is the absolute maximum end of the wireless range. This headset supports AAC and SBC, the former of which supplies consistent high-quality audio to iOS devices.
If you want to stay well under $200 USD, and need a pair of earbuds for everyday use, we recommend picking up a pair of the Bose Sport Earbuds.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II Gaming Headset is a great gaming option
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II Gaming Headset is just the beloved Bose QC 35 II with a microphone attachment slapped on. Its design is deeply rooted in the world of general consumer audio, making it the least-flashy gaming headset you can buy. Depending on your taste, this may be a negative but our resident gaming expert Sam Moore enjoyed it.
Bose includes a robust USB-A volume dial, which is intended for PC use. You can’t miss the large dial, which offers a satisfying amount of resistance as it rotates. The rubberized bottom prevents the dial from slipping across the table, one of the last things you want to happen mid-firematch. It also features a button, so you can monitor your microphone levels.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II Gaming Headset doesn’t overcomplicate things, and is meant for wired use when gaming. You can, however, use it as a standard QC 35 II Bluetooth headset when out and about in the real world. It’s kind of a two-in-one, which might make the $329 price more palatable. The boom microphone is very good, and the internal microphone (for wireless use) isn’t too shabby either. Unfortunately, you can’t buy the boom microphone separately, so you can’t just attach it to a pair of Bose QuietComfort 35 II that you already own.
The boom mic that comes with the Bose QC35 II Gaming Headset definitely sounds better than the internal microphone, but we’ll let you determine for yourself if the difference is great enough to warrant spending the extra cash.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II internal mic sample (Ideal):
How does the microphone sound to you?
Bose QuietComfort 35 II boom mic sample (Ideal):
How does the microphone sound to you?
You can’t create a custom EQ profile, which is a real shame, but it has a generally pleasing frequency response. Sub-bass notes are amplified 6dB, meaning you’ll notice a difference in loudness between bass notes and midrange notes. The difference isn’t dramatic though, so you can still perceive plenty of detail from your music.
If money isn’t much of a concern, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II Gaming Headset is the perfect companion for all of your late-night gaming sessions. It’s also a great thing to have if you spend the majority of your weekdays stuck in conference call, after conference call. If you want the regular Bose QC 35 II but think you could make use of the boom mic, this headset may be worth your time.
The best Bose headphones: Notable mentions
Of course, the options listed above aren’t all of the available Bose headphones. The ones that didn’t make the cut are all still fine, just not among the best five options they have to offer.
- Bose SoundLink Around-Ear Wireless Headphones II: This pair of cans is a very basic addition to the over-ear headphone lineup, without ANC or too many premium features. It’s not on this list because it is quite outdated.
- Bose SoundSport Free: Whether you’re going to be lifting in the gym or going for a run, you shouldn’t have any issues with this headset falling out of your ears.
What you should know about the best Bose headphones
Bose headphones are like any others in the sense that they use a set of drivers and fit on, around, or in the ear. But there are a few features that Bose headphones offer that make certain information more pertinent than with other brand lines. For one, Bose headphones are one of few lines that offer Google Assistant integration.
What is active noise cancelling and how does it work?
For commuting to school or elsewhere, noise cancelling headphones are a great choice for young people’s auditory health. Bose headphones use active noise cancelling which uses basic physics (if there’s such a thing) to get rid of unwanted noise. We have a full explainer of the details here, but the gist of it is due to something called destructive interference.
Why is isolation so important?
If you’re not listening to your music in a car, you’re probably listening in crowded buses, gyms, loud city streets, or rumbling trains with your Bose headphones on. In these less than ideal situations you’re surrounded by loud sounds. And when there are two sounds of a similar frequency, your brain will ignore the lower one and just focus on the one that’s louder. This is called auditory masking and while it sucks for music listeners today, it was great for our ancestors that had to survive in the wild and listen for predators.
Does music sound worse over Bluetooth?
You may have heard that Bluetooth sucks, and you should totally never buy wireless headphones. But is Bluetooth really that bad? Well, kind of. While Bluetooth quality and codec technology have improved greatly over the last few years, you still won’t get the same level of quality that’s attainable with wired headphones.
We tested a few of the major Bluetooth codecs (the technology responsible for transferring higher amounts of data between your headphones and source device, thus resulting in higher quality) and found that they don’t all live up to their claims. In our testing, even AAC can be a little inconsistent on Android phones—but near-perfect on iOS devices. Luckily, your old ears most likely won’t even be able to hear the frequencies that are lost during the transfer. So while it’s technically true that wired headphones sound better, you’ll need to be a very keen listener to pick up the differences in most cases.
No, Bluetooth is not dangerous. There are plenty of conspiracies floating around on the internet but even though Bluetooth is a relatively new technology the science behind it is decades old. Just read for yourself.
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Frequently asked questions about Bose headphones
The Sony WH-1000XM5 is another great pair of noise cancelling headphones with a consumer-friendly frequency response that you can EQ from the Sony Headphones Connect app (iOS/Android). It outperforms Bose’s headphones when it comes to both passive isolation, though the Bose QC 45 noise cancelling really is so close. Ultimately, it comes down to your personal style preference but we pick the Sony WH-1000XM5 over the QC 45 because you can fully disable ANC and transparency mode on the XM5, which you can’t do on the QC 45.
If you want to save even a bit more, the Sony WH-1000XM4 offers almost everything the XM5 does but with less effective microphone and ANC systems. You can read all about how the WH-1000XM5 compares to the XM4, but if you have any of these Bose headphones, it’s hard to justify buying Sony’s newer (albeit fantastic) headset.
If you hang around audiophiles enough or find yourself down a rabbit hole of audio forums on the internet, one phrase you’ll hear tossed around is “burn-in.” This is the belief that your brand new headphones need to be used for a certain amount of time before they can reach their peak performance. I’ll save you the hassle of trying this for yourself and just tell you that it’s not true. If you want to dig even deeper into this topic you can read our full explainer.
Bose headphones work with both iPhones and Android phones, however, none of the company’s Bluetooth headsets support the aptX Bluetooth codec. This means that Android users don’t have a reliable, high-quality wireless listening option, while iPhone users do with the AAC codec. Of course, anyone can take advantage of lossless wired audio with any of Bose’s over-ear headsets.
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