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Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
September 29, 2020
Original: $279 USD
Case: 31.8 x 88.9 x 50.8 mm
The hunt for the perfect noise cancelling earbuds seems never-ending. The Apple AirPods Pro is the obvious choice for iPhone owners, but Bose hopes you’ll consider the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds too. Whether you’re a die-hard Apple fan or a devoted Android user, these earbuds are worth your while. Bose believes its noise cancelling earphones are nothing short of genius, and the price reflects that. We spent a week with the Bose QC Earbuds to see how it compares to the stiff competition.
New model: Bose QuietComfort earbuds 2
Editor’s note: this Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review was updated on November 15, 2022 to update formatting.
Commuters and globetrotters should get the QuietComfort Earbuds because it features excellent active noise cancelling (ANC), rivaling Sony’s WF-1000XM4 earphones. You don’t have to travel to an office to get a lot out of these earbuds, though. Remote workers will enjoy the ANC too, and be able to use the earbuds for conference calls. Also, anyone who doesn’t mind spending a bit more for a household name will appreciate the comfort and durability of these earbuds.
What is it like to use the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds?
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds is attractive, yet bulky, and comes in black or white. The design resembles the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700: discreet with subtle curves. Bose caught plenty of flak for its original true wireless earbuds, which are laughably bulky. While Bose scaled down its QC Earbuds, these still protrude from the ear more than most alternatives.
A chunky charging case accommodates the earphones, and shares the same matte black exterior. You can easily clean the case by wiping it with a cloth, which you’ll need to do a few times a week since it collects oils quickly. Four LEDs line the case and indicate its remaining battery levels. Inside, a button rests between the two earbud cutouts, and you can press it to manually initiate pairing mode.
When you open the case for the first time, the earbuds automatically enter pairing mode. For the best experience, you should download the Bose Music app. This is required to quickly switch between devices, reconfigure the controls, create a custom EQ, and adjust ANC levels. You can set three quick favorite ANC/transparency mode levels, and cycle through them by double-tapping the left earbud.
How to control the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
Bose’s earbuds feature touch controls only, and since the series of taps and swipes aren’t always intuitive, we made a table of the controls below.
|Action||Left side||Right side|
Cycle through favorites (ANC modes)
|Action||Left side||Right side|
Pickup/end phone call
Access smart assistant
Check battery level
Reject incoming calls
Auto Transparency mode (remove)
Auto Transparency mode (remove)
|Left side||Right side|
What Bluetooth codecs does Bose QuietComfort Earbuds support?
Just like the Bose Sport Earbuds, the QuietComfort Earbuds use Bluetooth 5.1 and operate well within a nine-meter range. Whether you take the earbuds into the great outdoors or listen from your home office, you don’t have to worry about connection drops.
As with all modern wireless Bose headsets, the QuietComfort Earbuds support two Bluetooth codecs: SBC and AAC. This is very good news for iPhone owners as iOS easily handles the high-end AAC codec; Android, on the other hand, has trouble consistently streaming over AAC. If streaming quality inconsistencies become too frustrating, you can always force SBC from your Android phone’s developer settings.
Bose firmware updates seem to go wrong quite often for listeners, and this can interfere with your ability to use the earphones. Fortunately, it’s easy to fix a firmware update gone awry.
- Put the buds in the charging case.
- With a computer, navigate to the Bose Updater page online. You may have to install an updater program.
- With the included USB-A to USB-C cable, connect the case to your computer.
- Follow the update instructions and allow the site to update the firmware of your charging case.
- Historically, botched firmware updates with a smartphone have accounted for poor ANC, weird sound, and broken features. If you find yourself wondering if this has happened to you, a reinstall of the firmware takes about 3 minutes.
How long does the battery last on the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds?
We subjected the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds to a constant 75dB output until the batteries depleted, and they lasted 5 hours, 29 minutes with active noise cancelling enabled. This is above average for ANC true wireless earbuds, beating out the AirPods Pro, but not the Sony WF-1000XM4.
You can quickly charge the earbuds by placing them in the case for just 15 minutes, giving you 120 minutes of playtime. If you need to complete a full charge cycle of the earbuds, you have to set aside two hours, while charging the case completely takes three hours via USB-C. The case also supports Qi wireless charging, though your specific mat limits speeds.
How well does the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds cancel noise?
If you commute regularly, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds’ active noise cancelling is a huge asset to you. It effectively reduces continuous droning sounds like the grind of a train car and roar of an engine to sound up to 90% quieter. I am shocked at how well the earbuds cancel out the noise emitted by my stationary bike setup. Normally when I bike, the resistance mechanism rattles the whole apartment, but I can hardly hear anything when ANC is set to 10 on the Bose QC Earbuds.
The sliding scale allows you to adjust from levels 1-10, and inversely controls the transparency mode and ANC. As you decrease the ANC intensity, you increase the degree of ambient passthrough audio. It took me a moment to realize this, as the ambient noise mode sounds quite good compared to its competitors. It’s among the most natural-sounding executions of transparency hearing, and I prefer it over others like the Nothing Ear 1.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds has some of the best noise cancelling in the industry, and handily outdoes the Apple AirPods Pro. You can see this in the charts below (click to expand). Things get a little less clear as you compare the QC Earbuds to the Pixel Buds Pro and WF-1000XM4, however.
We have a detailed Google Pixel Buds Pro vs Bose QuietComfort Earbuds article for you, but all you need to know is that the ANC is very close between the two headsets. Bose’s earbuds do have a leg up when it comes to passive isolation performance, so they’ll block out more unpredictable sounds than the Pixel Buds Pro.
At first glance, it may appear that the Bose QC Earbuds blocks out more noise than the Sony WF-1000XM4, but that’s not entirely true. The Sony earbuds do a better job of passively blocking out unpredictable sounds (1kHz and higher), largely due to the memory foam ear tips. That said, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds ANC does more to affect 130-400Hz frequencies. Ultimately, you can’t go wrong with either even though most people will likely prefer the Sony earbuds due to better fit and isolation, longer battery life, and superior Bluetooth codec support. You can read our Sony WF-1000XM4 vs Bose Quietcomfort Earbuds article for a comprehensive breakdown.
How does the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds sound?
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds really sounds quite good and as you can see above, its frequency response closely follows our consumer curve. Most listeners will enjoy this sound profile that is popular among other high-quality consumer headsets. As with any headset, sound quality is dependent on your ability to get a good fit with the earbuds. Bose provides three ear tip sizes (small, medium, large), which should accommodate most ear canals. This is both important for active noise cancelling performance, and optimal bass reproduction.
Lows, mids, and highs
Kishi Bashi’s song Honeybody sounds great through the Bose QC Earbuds, which reproduces the bass notes clearly even during instrumentally busy moments (1:42). Just a few seconds later, the high-pitched “Ohs” manage to stand out from the cheery din, in large part due to the amplified high-midrange. Treble notes occasionally come through too loudly, which is noticeable in Snail Mail’s song Speaking Terms. If you skip to the end of the second hook at 2:20, Lindsey Jordan’s voice is harder than it should be to distinguish from the cymbal hits.
At launch, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds did not include any native EQ customization. However, the following Bose Music App updates now include custom EQ functionality:
- iOS: 5.0.2
- Android 5.0.1
- Firmware version 2.0.7
After updating, you can press the “EQ” button on the home screen of the Bose Music App to adjust the sound of the earbuds to your exact preference.
Can you use the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds for phone calls?
The earbuds’ microphone system is okay, but a long way from the best we’ve heard from a TWS earbud, though it can get you through phone calls. Speech intelligibility is never an issue with the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds microphone array, but some mild distortion occurs.
Take a moment to listen to our microphone recording and rate the quality of the recording. Doing so helps our readers better understand how it sounds relative to a huge index of products.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds microphone demo (Office conditions):
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds microphone demo (Street conditions):
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds microphone demo (Windy conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
Should you buy the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds?
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds is a great do-it-all option for anyone, so long as you can afford it. Sure this is expensive, but its versatility softens the financial blow. After all, you can use this on your daily commute, to communicate in a conference call, and when you exercise.
Bose’s flat, minimalist design appeals to many, but the large housings might not be for everyone. The case is sizeable too, compared to other ANC true wireless earbuds, so you should factor that in if every centimeter counts. What’s more, the price is hard for most of us honest nine-to-fivers to justify. Fortunately, other premium Bose headsets often go on promotion, so it’s likely the QC Earbuds will too, given enough time.
Editor’s note: this Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review was originally written with firmware version 1.0.7-9846+620b71c and app version 4.2.4.
What’s the difference between the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II and QuietComfort Earbuds?
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II includes new AI-powered features, better ANC, and a new design. If you’re considering buying the QC Earbuds, you may want to save up for the $299 USD QC Earbuds II from Bose, but read our full review first. Unfortunately, the QC Earbuds II has a very wonky frequency response that heavily boosts bass.
If you don’t mind the extra bass, or embrace it, then there’s still a bit to like about the new earphones, namely the lighter weight and more compact build. The second-gen QC Earbuds have a much smaller footprint, making the whole thing more pocketable and comfortable to wear.
The QC Earbuds II debuts CustomTune and ActiveSense. CustomTune adjusts the sound and ANC to your ear canal shape for the best possible performance. ActiveSense is another new feature that improves upon Bose’s Aware Mode (aka transparency mode). With Active Sense, the earbuds will pipe in environmental sound while ensuring that unusually loud, unpredictable sounds like construction machinery are cancelled out.
Should you buy the Bose Sport Earbuds instead of the Bose QC Earbuds?
Unlike the QuietComfort Earbuds, the Bose Sport Earbuds lacks noise cancelling and is intended specifically for athletes, though anyone can use it. Otherwise, they share more similarities than differences: both earbuds use the StayHear Max ear tips; both earbuds feature touch controls; and both earbuds have USB-C charging cases.
The Sport Earbuds and QuietComfort Earbuds share the same IPX4 rating, which may seem curious. After all, why not just use the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds as your daily headset and workout headset? Well, you certainly can, but some listeners don’t like ANC, don’t want to pay for it, or both. The noise cancelling tech adds a lot of bulk to the QC Earbuds, which doesn’t make them supremely comfortable for exercise—even though they still stay in place.
The Bose Sport Earbuds is a cheaper and more compact package than the QuietComfort Earbuds.
With all of these similarities, there are some fine differences to respect. For one, you can wirelessly charge the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds’ case, which is a good backup in case the USB-C input breaks. Additionally, battery life is a few minutes longer with the QC Earbuds (ANC on) than the Sport Earbuds, a possible benefit of the larger housings. You save well over $100 USD when you purchase the Bose Sport Earbuds over the noise cancelling variant. Unless you absolutely need noise cancelling, you’ll enjoy the Sport Earbuds just as well.
What should you get instead of the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds?
If you’re an iPhone owner not yet sold on the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, don’t worry: you can snag the AirPods Pro (1st generation) for quite a bit less. Although the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds offers a smooth experience on either mobile OS, so long as you download the Bose Music app, it’s not as seamless as using any of the Apple AirPods on iOS 14. You can see how the two headsets compare in our Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation) vs Bose QuietComfort Earbuds article.
Listeners with a bit more money to burn may want to get the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) instead. These earphones compare favorably against the older model, though not by much, and introduce new features. You get Adaptive Transparency mode, which operates like Bose’s Aware Mode with Active Sense found on the QC Earbuds II. You also get improved ANC and a slightly bassier sound on the second-gen AirPods Pro. An IPX4 rating ensures the case and buds are protected against light splashes of water. Apple also adds a speaker to the bottom of the case for easy locating within a room. The AirPods Pro (2nd generation) is also a little cheaper, going for $249 at Amazon.
Android phone owners can try their luck with the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro ($104.99 at Amazon)or Google Pixel Buds Pro ($192.5 at Amazon) instead of Apple’s flagship earphones. Samsung’s buds have an IPX7 rating, and 360 Audio. Meanwhile, Google’s buds allow you to experience Google Translate right in your ear, so long as you have compatible hardware and applications. Both the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro and Pixel Buds Pro support the SBC and AAC codecs, but only Samsung supports the Samsung Seamless Codec for 24-bit audio from a compatible Samsung device.
Want noise cancelling on the cheap? Get the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen)
The Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) uses the companies proprietary noise canceling technology, which works quite well to hush the hum of an A/C unit or outdated refrigerator. Amazon provides three sets of ear tips and ear stays, so anyone can find a secure fit. Plus, the company provides an ear tip fit test through the Alexa app, meaning you’ll always experience the optimal fit.
Like the QC Earbuds, Amazon’s earphones feature an IPX4 rating and the case supports both fast and wireless charging. If you don’t want to go over $120-140 USD, the Echo Buds (2nd Gen) is a smart purchase ($69.99 at Amazon). See how the two compare in our Bose QuietComfort Earbuds vs Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) article.
Want something bigger? Consider the Bose QuietComfort 35 II instead (yes, over the QuietComfort 45)
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II may be quite a few years old, and seemingly outdated compared to the Bose QuietComfort 45, but the QC 35 II has plenty of beloved features and currently costs well under $200 USD. You get very good active noise cancellation, a versatile frequency response that makes all music sound good, and a comfortable fit.
Rather than the Bose Music app, the QC 35 II uses the older Bose Connect app to customize the headset. The older app works well, even though it doesn’t allow you to create a custom EQ. If you want one of the best consumer headsets around, save up for the QC 35 II. The Bose QuietComfort 45 may have better ANC, but you can’t turn it off without immediately enabling transparency mode.
Frequently asked questions about the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
The Bose QC Earbuds do not have Google Assistant integration, and instead are programmed to use your smartphone’s default smart assistant. If you have an iPhone, the QuietComfort Earbuds will default to Siri, and Bixby for Samsung.
Bluetooth 5.1 has more accurate location features than Bluetooth 5.0, which makes it easy for your smartphone to understand the directionality and precise location of your Bose earbuds. This is great for something like “find my earbuds,” but oddly enough, version 4.2.4 of the Bose Music app lacks this feature.
Bluetooth 5.1 is also slightly more energy efficient than Bluetooth 5.0, thanks to a more advanced caching system. This translates to faster auto-connect times. Both Bluetooth 5.0 and 5.1 are part of the Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) standard. They aren’t part of LE Audio, which will initially see support in Bluetooth Core Specification 5.1.