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 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. Let’s find out if you agree.
Editor’s note: this Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review was updated on February 8, 2021, to include a contents menu.
Who should get the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds?
- Commuters and globetrotters should get the QuietComfort Earbuds because they feature excellent active noise cancelling (ANC). The buds won’t completely mute your plane cabin, but they sure can quiet your surroundings.
- Office and remote workers will enjoy the ANC too, and be able to use the earbuds for conference calls.
- 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 are attractive, yet bulky, and are available in black or white. The design is akin to the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700: discreet with subtle curves. Bose caught plenty of flak for its original true wireless earbuds, as they were 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, 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|
|Two taps||Cycle through favorites (ANC modes)||Pause/play music|
|Pickup/end phone call|
|Hold||Skip song||Access smart assistant|
|Check battery level||Reject incoming calls|
|Remove/insert||Pause/play music||Pause/play music|
|Auto Transparency mode (remove)||Auto Transparency mode (remove)|
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.
What’s the difference between Bluetooth 5.1 and Bluetooth 5.0?
Bluetooth 5.1 has more accurate location features than Bluetooth 5.0, which make 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.
How long does the battery last?
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 and Sony WF-1000XM3.
You can quick charge the earbuds by placing them in the case for just 15 minutes, which grants you two hours 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 speeds are limited by your specific mat.
How do the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds sound?
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds sound decent, but the frequency response is unlikely to please audiophiles. Bass notes are amplified and sound two times louder than low-midrange notes (where the fundamental frequencies of the human voice lie). This can make vocals sound a little muffled during particularly bass-heavy accompaniment. Most consumers will enjoy the extra bass and upper-midrange boost, because it adds a bit more oomph to music while retaining harmonic detail.
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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 reproduce 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 frequency response.
Bose Active EQ automatically boosts the lows and highs of your media.
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.
Do the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds have good noise cancelling?
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. I was shocked at how well the earbuds cancelled out the noise emitted by my stationary bike setup. Normally when I bike, the resistance mechanism rattles the whole apartment, but I could hardly hear anything when ANC was set to 10 on the Bose QC Earbuds.
Learn more: Active noise cancelling types explained
The sliding scale allows you to make adjustments 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 transparencing hearing, and I prefer it over the Sony WF-1000XM3.
As with all noise cancelling headsets, Bose’s ANC only combats predictable sounds and isn’t equipped to handle incidental noise (e.g., clattering dishes). In order to block out the greatest amount of high-frequency noise, you need to make sure the ear tips fit properly.
Hold up! Something’s missing:
This section is typically where we display a noise cancelling chart to show you exactly where the ANC shines and where its deficiencies lie. Unfortunately, we’ve hit a technical snag in our testing. To combat this, we’ve purchased a Bruel & Kjaer 5128 test fixture (and the appropriate support equipment) to update our testing and data collection. It will take a while to reach our office in Canada, but we will update this review (and many others!) once we’re able with improved sound quality measurements and ANC performance plots. These will be made obvious by an announcement explaining the change, and a new chart aesthetic.
Thank you for bearing with us, and we hope to see you again once we’ve sorted everything out.
How good is the microphone?
The earbuds’ microphone system is very good, and can get you through all sorts of phone calls. Speech intelligibility is never an issue with the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds microphone array, but some audio clipping occurs. It does a very good job of actively cancelling predictable background noise like the humming microwave in the demo below.
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:
Should you buy the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds?
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are a great do-it-all option for anyone, so long as you can afford it. Sure they’re expensive, but their versatility softens the financial blow. After all, you can use these 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 with firmware version 1.0.7-9846+620b71c and app version 4.2.4.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds vs. Bose Sport Earbuds
Unlike the QuietComfort Earbuds, the Bose Sport Earbuds lack noise cancelling and are intended specifically for athletes, though anyone can use them. 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.
Read on: Bose Sport Earbuds vs. Jaybird Vista
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.
With all of these similarities, there are some fine differences to respect. For one, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds’ case can be wirelessly charged, 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 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.
iPhone owners may prefer the Apple AirPods Pro
If you’re an iPhone owner not yet sold on the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, don’t worry: you can snag the AirPods Pro for quite a bit less (shocking, we know, since these are pretty expensive too). Although the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds offer a smooth experience on either mobile OS, so long as you download the Bose Music app, it’s not as seamless as using the AirPods Pro on iOS 14.
The AirPods Pro has very good active noise cancelling, a more compact design, and all the benefits of the H1 chip. You get hands-free Siri access, automatic device switching, battery optimization, Spatial Audio, and more. Apple’s earbuds are also IPX4-rated, so you can exercise with them all the same. Battery life isn’t quite as good as the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, but seeing how you throw the buds back into their case when inactive, it shouldn’t pose much of a problem.
Next: Best iPhone earbuds
Frequently Asked Questions
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.