For better or for worse, there are a few audio companies that rise out from audio forums and become a part of our culture. Obviously, a company like Beats is one that comes to mind. But for a long time when you thought of active noise cancellation, Bose headphones are what came to mind. To the vast majority of people, it probably still does. Even without the title of king of active noise cancelling—which was awarded to the Sony WH-1000XM3—Bose has a healthy product line-up of headphones. In this article, we’re going to focus on a few of the best Bose headphones around. Starting with a classic: the Bose QC35 II.

Editor’s note: this post was updated on March 28, 2019, to account for price changes.

Most people should just go with the tried and true QC35 II when looking for Bose headphones

The reason we decided the Google Assistant-integrated QC35 series II is probably best for most people is because of one thing: active noise cancelling (ANC). Ever since the QC15 and QC25, the Bose brand has been synonymous with air travel. That remains true with the new newest QC35 II. Though we’d say that the top spot for best active noise cancelling headphones was taken by the Sony WH-1000X M3, that doesn’t make the QC35 II any less good. You can see from the chart below that these do a swell job at cancelling outside noise.

A chart showing the active noise canceling performance of the Bose QC35 II.

It may not block out a lot of noise, but the Bose QC35 II does a good job in the low end (the most important frequencies.

Bose QC35 II

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These Bose headphones are also extremely comfortable and fairly portable as well. You’ll get roughly 20 hours of constant playback and that’s with Bluetooth and ANC turned on. Of course, if the battery dies you can always hardwire these in assuming you still have a headphone jack.

Related: Bose QuietComfort 35 II vs. Sony WH-1000XM3

Want something even more portable? Check out the SoundLink On-Ear Wireless

If you don’t see yourself taking too many flights and want something smaller and easier to carry then the SoundLink on-ear wireless headphones are for you. They fold down nicely to a compact size thanks to the plush padding are also comfortable whether you’re spending hours at your desk or just commuting to work. If you’re tired of the low quality ‘buds that came with your phone and are ready to take your headphone to the next level, these are a worthy upgrade. You can also just pick up another pair of inexpensive earbuds to that are actually good, but that’s up to you.

Bose Soundlink On-ear Headphones

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You’ll get roughly 15 hours of constant playback with these Bose headphones, which could easily last you a week or two of commutes (depending on your commute). Additionally, you get handy playback controls on the right ear cup let you switch between tracks and adjust volume without every needing to unlock your phone. The bass is definitely lacking here so if that’s what you’re after you might have to get a pair of Beats, but the heavy emphasis on mids means that vocals sound great.

If you’re heading for a run, grab the Bose SoundSport Wireless

The SoundSportWireless has become a fairly popular option for casual use, but don’t let that fool you; these were made for the gym. The first impression taking these out of the box isn’t great with large earbuds that seem all too likely to fall out of your ears, but in practice, they’re one of the better fitting wireless earbuds available thanks to the StayHear+ ear tips. Whether you’re going to be lifting in the gym or going for a run, you shouldn’t have any issues with these falling out of your ears. Of course, they’re not as stylish or sleek as something like the Jaybird X4 or Tarah earbuds, but the more subtle design still gets the job done.

Bose Soundsport wireless

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The Bose SoundSport Wireless comes with a battery that will last you roughly six hours of constant playback, which isn’t great but should be more than enough for the average gym session. The control module that’s on the cable connecting the two earbuds lets you control music playback and answer/end phone calls if you can’t get to your phone. On top of that pairing to them is easy if you have an Android phone thanks to NFC compatibility, but if you’re on iOS you’ll still have to go through the usual setup in settings. Unfortunately, these don’t come with an IPX certification, but Bose still claims that they’re sweat and water-resistant thanks to a hydrophobic cloth that keeps moisture out of the internal compartments.

See: Why is true wireless connectivity so bad?

Want a better version of the AirPods? Check out the Bose SoundSportFree

These are the updated version of the previous SoundSport Wireless, but in this case, Bose really ditched all wires. The Bose SoundSportFree earbuds are true wireless just like the AirPods but come with plenty of useful features that are missing with Apple’s AirPods. For one, a better fit. Though they’re not as… unique-looking as the AirPods are, the Bose SoundSportFree use an ear tip/wingtip combination to stay in your ears during movement. Buttons along the size also let you skip between tracks and control volume without needing to access any sub-par voice assistants (Siri shade).

Bose Soundsport Free

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Like the SoundSportWireless earlier on the list we’d be lying if we said these are gorgeous, but again, they get the job done. You’ll get an IPX4 build that protects against sweat and water along with one of the longest lasting batteries of any true wireless earbuds we tested at 4.58 hours of constant playback. They also come with a small but sturdy charging case that will give you an extra 10 hours.

Looking for an alternative? Check out the Optoma NuForce Be Sport4

If you don’t want to spend what it takes to get Bose headphones but want something to bring with you to the gym, then allow us to put the Optoma NuForce Be Sport4 earbuds on your radar. The name is a mouthful, but these ‘buds offer a lot of what you’ll get with the SoundSportWireless, minus the price tag. You’ll get an IPX5 water-resistant build with plenty of ear tip options to choose from so they stay in your ears during your workout. On top of that, they have AAC support so if you’re using an iPhone you can listen to your music at higher quality.

Optoma Nuforce Be Sport4

Full Review

They also two handy features that the SoundSport Wireless are missing, one of which is magnetic earbud housings. It might not seem like a big deal, but when you’re not listening to music and just want to let them hang around your neck this ensures that they won’t fall off accidentally. These headphones will also last you about 10 hours, which is significantly more than the SoundSportwireless have to offer. Plus, they have a quick-charging feature that will give you two hours of playback time for only 15 minutes on the charger. Not bad for around $80.

What you should know about 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 makes 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?

A photo of a young man wearing headphones in front of a moving train, for the article "best headphones for kids."

For commuting to school or elsewhere, noise canceling headphones are a great choice for young people’s auditory health.

For commuting to school or elsewhere, noise canceling 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?

An illustration of the human cochlea.

This is your cochlea, responsible for determining what sounds you hear and what gets filtered out.

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.

Is Bluetooth really so bad?

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.

A chart showing the AAC Bluetooth codec's performance on the Huawei P20 Pro, Samsung Galaxy Note 8, LG V30, and Apple iPhone 7.

It may be high-frequency sound, but these drop-outs will be audible to younger ears.

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 isn’t all it’s cracked up to be unless you use only iOS devices. Luckily (or not so 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.

Related: Is Bluetooth Dangerous? No. No it isn’t.

Do I need to burn-in my headphones?

A photo showing the inside grate of the AiAiAi TMA-2 MFG4.

Underneath everything else, the headphones are still pretty standard plastic cans.

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 state. 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.

Why you should trust us

Best Bose headphones: Shot of Adam wearing the Sennheiser HD 58X

We test drive as many headphones as possible by putting them through a battery of objective tests and wearing them out in the real world.

Besides doing nothing but reading and writing about audio between the hours of 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, we’re lucky enough to use plenty of audio products, including Bose headphones. And by a lot, I mean a lot. Adam has been doing this for almost four years, while Chris has double that experience working with companies like USA Today and Reviewed.com. Lily also has plenty of audio experience thanks to her working around audio equipment in radio stations. Between the three of us and the occasional help of our technical colleagues over at Android Authority, we think we know a thing or two about audio.

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