When most people think of active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones, they think of some iteration of Bose’s cans. For a long time, its offerings were among the most popular on the market, famed for their effectiveness and relatively painless interaction. It’s been two years since the release of the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, and five since the original QuietComfort 35 hit the shelves. But did we need a new headset with the Bose QuietComfort 45?
Editor’s note: this Bose QuietComfort 45 review was updated on November 8, 2021, to include battery test results.
What is the Bose QuietComfort 45 like to use?
Bose’s ANC headphones are a bit of an archetype, and that’s for good reason: they’re very good at providing comfort and ease of use to most people. The Bose QuietComfort 45 is no different. If there’s one major positive about the QC 45 looking nearly identical to its predecessors, it’s that you’re not in for any major surprises.
The ear cups are decently large, and while the headset weighs 240 grams, it distributes its weight well enough to not cause too much fatigue over long periods of time. The synthetic leather pads are sufficiently dense to offer decent isolation, and the band also provides a bit of padding on the top.
Start here: What makes a good pair of Bluetooth headphones?
Inside the packaging of the Bose QuietComfort 45 is a travel case, 3.5mm TRRS cable, a USB type A to C cable, and assorted documentation. There aren’t airplane adapters of any kind, which is either a funny nod to the state of the world, or another reminder that I’m old and should probably stop expecting these things.
One of the biggest updates to the new design of the Bose QuietComfort 45 is the jump from the outdated microUSB port to USB-C. Of course, this is mainly for charging your headphones, so it’s nice to not have to futz with microUSB anymore. It always feels like I’m trying to mash the wrong sides of LEGO together when I plug in a microUSB cable in the dark, so I appreciate the update.
Speaking of updates, the Bose QuietComfort 45 looks slightly different than the Bose QuietComfort 35 II it replaces. Gone are all the little holes in the back of the ear cups, and instead the outer plastic is smooth. While there are still a fair few microphones used for the active noise cancelling unit, they’re definitely not as noticeable as before.
How does the Bose QuietComfort 45 connect to your device?
The Bose QuietComfort 45 connects to your smartphone or source via the Bluetooth 5.1 hardware nestled inside the ear cups, or you can hardwire it via the 2.5-to-3.5mm TRRS cable included in the packaging. When you go wireless, you can move up to nine meters away from your source device before connection hiccups occur.
If you were holding out hope for a higher-end codec on Bose’s latest, you’ll be disappointed: the QC 45 doesn’t support aptX or high-bitrate Bluetooth codecs. While this may be disappointing to some, the implementations of SBC and AAC have improved over the years, and you’re not likely to notice anything that’s the fault of the Bluetooth itself.
Can you use the Bose QuietComfort 45 with a passive cable?
Yes, the QC 45 supports both wireless and wired playback. You can use the provided cable that can be plugged into the left ear cup of the Bose QuietComfort 45. While smartphones with headphone jacks are becoming an endangered species, this headset will give you the opportunity to listen with older equipment.
What are the controls of the Bose QuietComfort 45 like?
Controlling headphones like the Bose QuietComfort 45 is pretty straight forward once you get used to it, but there are a few foibles to go over.
The buttons on the back of each earcup are fairly intuitive, but can be a bit odd to get used to in the world of touch controls. However, for those who don’t like trusting controls susceptible to failure in colder climes, buttons are a good fallback.
Playback controls live on the right headphone, and voice assistant plus ANC toggle lives on the left. Unfortunately, you can’t turn off the ANC if the headphones are on; you can only toggle a mode called “aware” that allows some passthrough of your surroundings using the external mics of the Bose QuietComfort 45—an unfortunate feature we’ve seen with the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2. Below is a complete rundown of the default controls:
|One press||Two presses||Three presses||Hold|
|Top button (right)||Volume up|
|Middle Button (right)||Play/pause, answer/end call||Next track||Previous track||Decline call|
|Bottom button (right)||Volume down|
|Action button (left)||Toggle ANC mode||Mute call||N/A||Voice assistant|
Should you download the Bose Music app?
You will need to download the Bose Music app (iOS and Android) in order to get the most out of your headphones; otherwise, you won’t be able to get the voice assistant or other features working.
When you open the Bose Music app, you’ll be prompted to share way too much information like location, call and message history, but it’s the price of entry for this kind of feature nowadays. Once you accept, the app will set up your profile and locate your headphones (presumably, in your hands or on your head). After this process completes you’ll be able to rename your Bose QuietComfort 45, mess with the options a bit, and that’s really about it.
Bafflingly, there’s no equalizer or presence of presets for the Bose QuietComfort 45 in the Bose Music app. Instead, the QC 45 uses Bose Active EQ, which boosts bass and treble notes depending on how you adjust the volume output. While the absence of an EQ wasn’t always such a dealbreaker for ANC headphones, nowadays it’s a strong negative.
However, this can all change with an app update, and in fact, Bose has added features after the fact for other headphones. We wouldn’t be surprised if that changes for the Bose QuietComfort 45 down the road.
If you need to update the headphones over USB, that’s easily accomplished using the Bose Updater tool over the included USB-C cable. Bose headphones have had a habit of botched updates over Bluetooth, so if that happens with these cans: just follow these instructions to fix it and you should be fine.
How good is the battery life of the Bose QuietComfort 45?
With noise cancelling on, the Bose QuietComfort 45 lasts 24 hours, 49 minutes, surpassing Bose’s official 24-hour battery life for the headset. Our battery tests are performed by subjecting a headset to a constant 75dB(SPL) output until the batteries deplete, so if you listen to lower volumes, you’ll likely surpass the 25-hour-mark and then some.
You can use the USB-C cable to fast charge the QC 45. A quick 15-minute charge yields 180 minutes of playtime.
How well does the Bose QuietComfort 45 cancel noise?
The Bose QuietComfort 45 does an excellent job at cancelling outside noise with its updated ANC system. Specifically, it does a surprisingly good job at dulling noises in the mids and highs that most headsets don’t attenuate terribly well.
That sounds amazing, but in practice, it means that instead of sounding one-fourth as loud as it should, the airplane engine hum will sound one-eighth as loud as it should. Not Earth-shattering, but a noticeable improvement nonetheless. The redesign of these headphones improved the isolation somewhat, and that pays dividends in the form of increased high-frequency attenuation.
Though we hesitate to crown the Bose QuietComfort 45 the king of ANC, Bose is definitely keeping pace with Sony and Apple after getting leapfrogged for a few years there. Bear in mind though, there’s no way to disable the active noise cancelling without enabling Aware mode on the QC 45. At least with the Bose QC 35 II, which lacks an Aware mode, you can turn off ANC and enjoy music.
If you owned the Bose QuietComfort 35 or Bose QuietComfort 35 II, you won’t notice a massive upgrade here. But because the newer Bose QuietComfort 45 isolates better, overall performance is measurably improved, even though the Bose QuietComfort 35 II was already pretty great.
How good does the Bose QuietComfort 45 sound?
As much as I’d love to tell you that the Bose QuietComfort 45 offers some sort of improvement over its predecessors, I can’t. It’s fine, decent even—just not great. A lot of our gripes with the headset have to do with an overemphasized high-end, which does a good job making speech intelligible; however, it makes busy tracks with a lot of high-pitched sounds like punk, badly mixed 90s-2000s music, and some pop tracks sound pretty terrible. Of course, there’s plenty of blame that falls on the producers of these tracks—but at the time, they were mixing for the “bass boost” crowd, and consequently weren’t thinking the work would ever have to deal with equipment with this much high-end emphasis. It’s not Bose’s fault that these tracks weren’t well-mixed, but it’s much more grating with a sound like that of the Bose QuietComfort 45.
Lows, mids, and highs
Nowhere is this more apparent than Green Day’s Insomniac—oh, does it sound awful on the Bose QuietComfort 45. Not only does the overemphasis in the highs make the vocals and drums take a backseat to the cymbals and echo, but turning the volume up to compensate drives these grating sounds to even more annoying levels. It’s almost like a reverse early-Beats.
The Bose QuietComfort 45 makes podcasts and spoken-word content sound okay.
You can try your hand at checking out songs that you like, but if there’s any Rob Cavallo in your library that house sound has the same issue with any headphones that overemphasize high-frequency sound to this degree. Protip: do not play any punk with these headphones.
Where the Bose QuietComfort 45 does well is in newer mixes that are much more vocal-heavy (or the much-maligned Clear Channel “stomp-clap-‘HEY’ “ genre that includes Mumford and Sons, Imagine Dragons, etc). So for example, Logic’s 2020 album No Pressure and Lil Nas X’s MONTERO will sound far, far better than the aforementioned older songs.
Additionally, you may find that podcasts in particular sound better than they typically do on bassier headphones, because the relative emphasis on second and higher-formant speech sounds does wonders for intelligibility. Like I said: not bad, just strange.
How should you equalize the Bose QuietComfort 45?
If you have an EQ in your music player app like Amazon Music HD or one on the system level, please drop 3-20kHz by about 5dB; your hearing will thank you. That’s not to say that these are bad headphones, it’s just that sometimes you’ll be assaulted by a song mixed for another time that doesn’t hold up. Anything with lots of cymbal shimmer will be a bit grating, and speech intelligibility suffers a bit in mixes with a lot of high-end sounds because of this emphasis.
How good does the Bose QuietComfort 45 microphone sound?
The microphone sounds okay enough. Bose knows its stuff, but it’s not like you’re going to be able to squeeze blood from a stone. Small embedded mics do okay, but they’re not going to replace a dedicated studio mic anytime soon. Still, take a listen and tell us what you think!
Should you buy the Bose QuietComfort 45?
If you get the Bose QuietComfort 45, you’re getting a competent set of noise cancellers. However, it’s a little behind the times where current ANC headphones offer EQ presets and other features.
Unfortunately, the Bose QuietComfort 45 is not currently worth the money when you can get the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 for $50 USD more, or the Bose QuietComfort 35 II for $80 USD less. Really, the biggest downside to grabbing the older headset is the microUSB port. Consequently, I recommend you try to find the Bose QuietComfort 35 II on sale somewhere to save you some money over the new one.
When you consider that the Bose QuietComfort 45’s problems really are something that could be coded away or developed for, I’m not comfortable telling you that this isn’t a good headset, or that you should avoid it altogether. You should either wait to pick this up at a lower price if it goes on sale—or just buy it and gamble on Bose coming through with app updates.
Editor’s note: this review was written while using firmware version 1.0.3
What are some alternatives to the Bose QuietComfort 45?
If you don’t want to spend the hefty sum of $329 USD, you may want to look into a few other models of headphones to make sure that you’re not overspending. For example, the Sennheiser PXC 550-II and the Sony WH-1000XM4 both offer quite a bit more bang for the buck, and include creature comforts like in-app EQ and more audio quality-focused Bluetooth codecs like aptX and LDAC respectively.
If you’re still considering the Bose QuietComfort 45, definitely take a good, hard look at its predecessor, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II. While it doesn’t have a USB-C port, it costs $80 USD less, and it performs about on par with the newer headset—minus the strange high-end emphasis.
While that may sound harsh, let’s look at some comparisons here. The high-end emphasis is very apparent when you compare the QuietComfort 45 with the other headsets in Bose’s stable. Both the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 and the QuietComfort 35 II align with our targets better than the newer headphones.
Of course, when you get down to cost, some may find the Sony WH-1000XM4 to be much more their speed—the sticker price is only $20 USD higher, and the Sony cans offer more features and flexibility. If you have no set budget, both the AirPods Max and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 will provide a measurable step up both in performance and features.