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Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds
Case: 66 x 59 x 27mm
Earbuds: 31.2 x 20.1 x 24.4mm
Ear tip: 4 x 6mm
7.1g per earbud
If you want top-tier active noise cancelation (ANC) earbuds, the AirPods Pro aren’t the only game in town. Bose is making a strong case for your dollar by refreshing its line of QuietComfort audio products, which includes the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds. But are these new earphones worth your time? Let’s find out.
Editor’s note: this is the first version of the article. Updates will follow as the market changes.
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are for earbuds enthusiasts looking for the top end of what’s available, and mostly those who have an up-to-date Android phone. The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are not for those who prioritize spatial audio or a neutral frequency response.
What’s it like to use Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds?
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are a chunky set of wireless earbuds that look like they came out of Star Trek. Each earbud is a light 7.1 grams and combines an ear fin and an ovoid-shaped nozzle to keep it in place. Unlike other earbuds that use a cylindrical nozzle, this shape sits more firmly in your ears without putting too much pressure on your sensitive ear canals.
Each earbud has a metallic protrusion that serves as its control interface, which prevents applying pressure when you’re skipping through tracks. Well-implemented touch controls and gestures can make controlling earbuds and headphones much less problematic, which is expected on top-flight earphones.
The charging case of the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds features a multifunction button, USB-C charging port, and earbud charging recesses inside. On the front and the inside are LEDs that serve as status indicators by displaying several different patterns in blue, white, and amber. The upside here is that you should be able to diagnose problems when they arise by paying attention to the appropriate light.
There are a ton of different combinations of indicator lights, which leads us to believe that maybe a more understandable display would be better. Here’s what the otherwise-unexplained blinks and lights mean:
Outside of the charging case:
Solid white light: Case is charged
Solid amber light: The case has a low battery
Blinking amber light: The case has a critical battery
Three white blinks: Case is updating firmware
Amber and white blinking: Case error
Inside the charging case:
Slow blue blinking: Pairing mode
Solid blue: Paired
Two white blinks: Cleared device list
Solid white light: Earbuds charged fully
Solid amber light: Earbuds charging
Two white blinks: Reboot complete
Three white blinks: Updating earbuds
Amber and white blinking: Earbuds error
New to the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds is a revamped chipset with many new features. Namely, they offer Snapdragon Sound with aptX Lossless support, which purportedly provides Hi-Res audio using aptX Adaptive. This feature also allows low-latency listening and Google Fast Pair for source devices with a compatible processor. Even if bleeding-edge features aren’t something you want to shell out for, they help keep your purchases current as the years go by. You’ll see more headphones offer this as time passes, but only the Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones and the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds currently offer this feature.
The earphones have an IPX4 ingress protection rating, which means that, like many competitors, they can withstand some moisture. This is essential for climes like Vancouver, Canada (where the SoundGuys office is located) due to the rapidly changing weather. If you’re in a rainier area, moisture resistance is less of a perk and more of a must-have.
How do you control the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds?
Controlling the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds is straightforward and conducted through a series of taps, swipes, and long presses. The capacitive touch pads on the earbuds have slightly different functions, but for the most part, a touchpad is important because it avoids breaking the ear tips’ seal in your ear canal. For your convenience, here is the default layout:
Play / Pause
Answer call / Answer second call
End / Reject call
Mobile device control / User control preset
You can customize either earbud’s long press using the Bose Music app, though further control customizations are unavailable.
Should you use the Bose Music app for the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds?
Most of the time, we say that companion apps are not a critical product component, but in this case, it is. You need the Bose Music app if you’d like to enjoy features like Immersive Audio, in-app EQ, firmware updates, and customizing the shortcut gesture.
If you avoid using the app because of privacy concerns, you will miss out on most of those features. You could use the Bose Updater tool for firmware updates, but beyond that, these features are not available without the app.
How do the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds connect?
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds connect to source devices via Bluetooth 5.3, over SBC, AAC, or aptX Adaptive codecs. With the latest Bluetooth stack, a firmware update may also enable LE Audio, though it’s unclear when or if that will ever happen. If you have the option, we suggest using the aptX Adaptive codec. Not only is this the highest-bitrate option available, but it also offers minimized latency for games or other apps that have been sticking in your craw lately.
Notably, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds do not support Multipoint. While strange, it’s not the end of the world unless you often love to hop from device to device and cannot go through a relatively short pairing process.
Because the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds support fast pairing, you should be able to open the case, and assuming your phone’s permissions allow the Bose app to find nearby devices, you can simply Fast Pair. If you can’t, here is what you must do to pair manually.
- Enable Bluetooth on your phone.
- Open the case of the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds and wait for the LED to turn on.
- Hold the button on the back until the blue LED flashes twice.
- Open the devices list on your phone and select the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds.
How long does the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds battery last?
With our standardized test, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds lasted 6 hours and 11 minutes on a single charge. This should be enough to handle your daily commute and a few hours of listening at work. However, if you take a break, the charging case will top up their charge. You’ll likely never have to worry about dead earbuds within a day. Just be sure to practice good battery hygiene, and the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds should survive longer than many other earbuds.
Your mileage may vary depending on battery temperature, feature use, listening volume, and how you treat your product. Our figures are meant to ballpark everyday use.
Though fast charging isn’t listed in the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds specs, earbuds have very tiny batteries, so even a short charging session achieves a decent amount of juice. If you only have a few minutes to charge in the case, you should expect a decent amount of listening time in exchange.
How well do the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds cancel noise?
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The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds have some of the best ANC we’ve measured. Despite a little dip in the mids, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds quell outside noise under 400Hz by up to 34dB — effectively reducing the perceived loudness by around 90%. Additionally, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds can silence noise above 1kHz by up to 39dB, which is outstanding.
Not only do the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds cancel noise well, but they also isolate you from your surroundings excellently. The ovoid nozzle shape and ear tips fit ears quite well, which has several benefits to your listening.
While perfect for a flight or noisy commute, if you find yourself looking to hear goings-on around you, you can adjust the ANC mode of the earbuds using the app. If you’re not using the app, you can cycle through the modes with the touch interface’s long presses.
How do the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds sound?
From a sound standpoint, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds will appeal to a specific type of listener: someone who wants strong bass and treble. For most people, this won’t necessarily sound bad, but there will be defects that get more annoying with time.
Though the bass boost can help with an imperfect seal and outside noise, we generally steer people away from that for several reasons. Though this isn’t such a huge deal for classic rock, pop, and instrumental tracks — rap or electronic music will absolutely rattle your skull if there’s a lot of low-end content like 808 kick drums. For example, Daft Punk’s weirder tracks like “Teachers” have a strong bassline that comes across very loudly, impacting your ears with this kind of emphasis. Similarly, the Duke Dumont track “I Got U” has a thumping beat that’s just a bit overbearing with this tuning.
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The treble over-emphasis may also lead to some uncomfortable situations, like when listening to cymbal-heavy content. You might notice that things like room effects and echo can sound more pronounced, and grating sounds like metallic screeching in horror movies will be far more shrill than expected. However, many people like this kind of sound, and if you’re the kind of person who wishes for more cymbal prominence or hearing the attack of drum strikes and guitar picks in their music, this isn’t bad — it’s just not for everyone.
You might want to try your luck with the in-app EQ, but truth be told, our results weren’t very promising. Of the available presets, the default was the least extreme preset.
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds has a feature called Immersive Audio, which attempts to recreate the experience of live music. It sounds like a speaker is playing nearby — but my ears are still occluded. With the Bose Music app, you can also enable head tracking to assist in this illusion. However, that mainly just “locks” the emulated position of this imaginary performance and then attempts to fool your ears into thinking the sound is coming from a fixed point in space. It’s just replicating the stationary speaker setup.
This feature also suffers from some lag when you move your head, so it’s a bit jarring. I’ve never been a fan of this kind of spatial audio, and the original stereo mix almost always sounds better.
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds have several EQ presets, but you may also want to tinker with the 3-band equalizer in the Bose Music app. This won’t fix all the problems with the sound of the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earphones, but you can make broad adjustments that will improve things slightly.
Bass Boost EQ:
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As advertised, this preset boosts bass. Granted, boosting bass on earphones with a ton of bass emphasis isn’t the best idea, but you can do it.
Bass Reducer EQ:
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Reducing bass is a great idea, but that means relatively more emphasized treble. Given that the mids are comparatively underemphasized, this only helps a little.
Treble Boost EQ:
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Well, it does add more treble. If you find that your music is too treble-light, or you’re listening to more vocal content, this preset might provide a better experience than the default sound, but not so for this reviewer.
Treble Reducer EQ:
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Again, reducing ranges of over-emphasis is good on paper, but it can also lead to other ranges becoming comparatively overemphasized. In this case, the bass.
Our Custom EQ attempt:
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By tinkering with the Bose Music app, we achieved the above result. It could be better, but it is better than the stock modes. You can try this by adjusting the bass to -10, the mids by -3, and the highs by -10. I want to point out that a 3-band equalizer like the one found in the Bose Music app is not good enough to fix all your tunes magically, but it improves some broad ranges.
However, the best feature of the earbuds is support for Snapdragon Sound. While it might sound trite, having this compatibility opens the door to a much better Bluetooth codec than previously available aptX Lossless. Though we haven’t seen other personal audio products with this yet, this codec has some serious bragging rights in its latency and data transfer rate (even though some compression is necessary). Only the Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones share this feature for now — so while the earbuds may not have the best frequency response, they are closer to “lossless” than just about every other set of Bluetooth earbuds.
Can you use the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds for phone calls?
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Like most wireless earphones, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds have a microphone array for phone calls. Listen to the standardized samples below if you’d like to hear how well the microphone performs in several common settings. Be wary that tiny microphones like the ones found in the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are unlikely to sound like a dedicated podcasting microphone — it’s solely meant for calls.
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds microphone demo (Office conditions):
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds microphone demo (Street conditions):
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds microphone demo (Windy conditions):
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds
Should you buy the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds?
While I struggle to recommend an almost $300 product that likely won’t live beyond a couple of years, you could do much worse than the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds. Bose put the time in to fix the major issues with the previous earbuds, and the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are very befitting of its price point. While you might be tempted to save a few bucks and go with the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II on sale, fight the urge. There are enough upgrades here to justify the newer model.
If you use an iPhone, I’ll still recommend the AirPods Pro (2nd Generation) over this set of earbuds. However, if you’re using a relatively new Android phone, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are unquestionably among the top options at this price point. Snapdragon Sound and Bluetooth 5.3 may not seem like a slam-dunk win, but they enable future features that could make you happier over time. While the default sound isn’t great, it can be addressed with the included (or a third-party) app.
Any way you slice it, $300 is a lot of money to pay for earbuds — given their comparatively short life — regardless of their quality. You should always shop around to find something that directly addresses your needs.
What should you get instead of the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds?
While it’s tough to say that one set of earbuds are definitively better than others, there are products on the market with things to offer over the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds. For example, the Sony WF-1000XM5 ($298 at Amazon) offers better tuning and mic quality if that’s important to you. However, it does so at the cost of comfort, as the earbuds use a less ear canal-friendly shape than the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds. That doesn’t mean they’re uncomfortable, but it is something to be aware of.
Users of iPhones will probably want to stick with the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation) ($199 at Amazon) due to its lower cost, better sound, and iOS-oriented features. Though it’s frustrating that the phone wars bleed over into audio, Apple is playing defense big time here, which means tending its walled garden. For iOS users, there aren’t many audio products that can touch the AirPods in terms of features.
Frequently asked questions
Yes. See the article for samples.
No, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are not waterproof. However, with an IPX4 rating, it can handle sweat and moisture.
Selecting the correct size of ear tip is crucial. The fin and ear tip are shaped to hold the bud well, and the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds should be comfortable for most.
Yes, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are compatible with iPhones, iPads, and other Apple source devices.