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Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones vs Bose QuietComfort Headphones

Which Bose headphones reign supreme?
By

Published onNovember 21, 2023

Bose QuietComfort Headphones
MSRP: $349.00
7.5
Check price
Positives
Comfort
Portability
ANC
Negatives
Cost
Default frequency response
Limited scope for EQ changes with Bose app
Outdated hardware
Bose QuietComfort Ultra
MSRP: $429.00
8.5
Check price
Positives
Great ANC
Good passthrough mode
Snapdragon Sound
aptX Lossless
Negatives
Price
No IP rating
Immersive audio
Some channel matching issues

Bose came into late 2023 swinging for the fences with three new QuietComfort products. So, how do the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones and Bose QuietComfort Headphones, the high-end active noise canceling (ANC) headphones compare? Let’s listen and find out.

Editor’s note: this article was published on November 20, 2023, and is the first version of the article. Updates will follow as the market changes.

What’s it like to use the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones compared to the Bose QuietComfort Headphones?

Both the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones and Bose QuietComfort Headphones are constructed mainly of plastic and protein leather (whatever the hell that means), with very understated design choices. Both are light, coming in at 253 and 240 grams respectively, and both are extremely comfortable. It’s no surprise, as these headphones were built to last an intercontinental flight, so you’d expect that a lot of effort was placed into making sure these cans were comfy.

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones have soft padding that is very glasses-friendly.
Austin Kwok / SoundGuys
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones have soft padding that is very glasses-friendly.

Like most other Bose offerings, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones and Bose QuietComfort Headphones also offer wireless and wired listening, a carrying case, and cables if you need that sort of thing. However, where the Bose QuietComfort Headphones has somewhat outdated hardware, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones represent the cutting edge of what’s available today — for a difference of $80 in list price. Given that the Bose QuietComfort Headphones are extremely similar in every way that matters to the Bose QuietComfort 45, we often direct people to the older set of headphones so they can save up for something better later on down the line.

If you were looking for a gym buddy, you’ll have to look elsewhere, as both headphones do not have an ingress protection rating — meaning there’s no guidepost as to how much sweat, rain, or dust the headphones can handle. While that isn’t the worst thing for a set of commuter cans, it’s still something to note if you like singin’ in the rain.

The connection ports and buttons of the Bose QuietComfort Headphones.
Harley Maranan / SoundGuys
Unfortunately, that USB-C port doesn’t allow USB-C audio.

Unlike some other headphone manufacturers, Bose tends to stay on top of firmware updates and responds to user issues pretty well. For example, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 saw multiple performance-enhancing firmware updates when it was still in the lineup, and that’s rarer than you might think. If you pick a Bose headset, you have a good chance of major problems not sticking around so long if they can be solved with a bit of code. Remember that you can’t solve a bad fit with a firmware update, so if you have weak bass, poor ANC performance, or volume issues, you may want to find something else.

How do you control the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones and Bose QuietComfort Headphones?

A man wears the Bose QuietComfort Headphones.
If you found the Bose QuietComfort 45 to be comfortable, good news: the Bose QuietComfort Headphones is virtually identical.

Controls for both the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones and Bose QuietComfort Headphones are largely handled by a smattering of physical buttons and app features. For EQ presets, immersive audio modes, ANC level adjustments, and firmware updates, you’ll need to use the Bose Music app. The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones will have a few extra goodies stuffed in the app like being able to control the ANC passthrough mode, and enable head-tracking with the immersive audio feature, but that’s about it.

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones controls:

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones uses a touch-sensitive slider to control volume, a power/Bluetooth button to handle turning on and off, and a multifunction button for everything else. You can also long-press the volume slider for a shortcut function that must first be defined in the Bose Music app.

ActionMulti-function buttonBluetooth / Power buttonVolume strip
Action
Single tap
Multi-function button
Play / pause
Bluetooth / Power button
Battery level check
Volume strip
N/A
Action
Double tap
Multi-function button
Track forward
Bluetooth / Power button
N/A
Volume strip
N/A
Action
Triple tap
Multi-function button
Track backward
Bluetooth / Power button
N/A
Volume strip
N/A
Action
Long press
Multi-function button
ANC mode change
Bluetooth / Power button
On / off
Volume strip
Shortcut (define in app)
Action
Swipe
Multi-function button
N/A
Bluetooth / Power button
N/A
Volume strip
Volume up / down

Bose QuietComfort Headphones controls:

The Bose QuietComfort Headphones, like the Bose QuietComfort 45 before it, use physical volume, multifunction, and power buttons.

ACTIONTOP BUTTON (right)MIDDLE BUTTON (right)BOTTOM BUTTON (right)ACTION BUTTON (left)
ACTION
One press
TOP BUTTON (right)
Volume up
MIDDLE BUTTON (right)
Play/pause, answer/end call
BOTTOM BUTTON (right)
Volume down
ACTION BUTTON (left)
Toggle ANC mode
ACTION
Two presses
TOP BUTTON (right)

MIDDLE BUTTON (right)
Next track
BOTTOM BUTTON (right)

ACTION BUTTON (left)
Mute/unmute call
ACTION
Three presses
TOP BUTTON (right)

MIDDLE BUTTON (right)
Previous track
BOTTOM BUTTON (right)

ACTION BUTTON (left)
N/A
ACTION
Press and hold
TOP BUTTON (right)

MIDDLE BUTTON (right)
Decline call
BOTTOM BUTTON (right)

ACTION BUTTON (left)
Activate shortcut

Should you use the Bose Music app for either the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones or Bose QuietComfort Headphones?

Installing and using the Bose Music app for either set of headphones will unlock the ability to change how the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones and Bose QuietComfort Headphones sound, behave with audio passthrough, and update software. Though you don’t require the app to listen to the headphones or manually update firmware, it’s a good idea because the default sound of both headphones is overly-bassy.

The Bose QuietComfort Headphones sitting atop a table, with the Bose Music App open on a phone.
Harley Maranan / SoundGuys
The Bose Music App is necessary to adjust EQ, get firmware updates.

With that in mind, neither of these headphones is your choice if you’re extremely privacy-conscious. Though you can disable individual permissions in Android, it’s a bit of a pain to go menu-diving to handle this.

How do the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones and Bose QuietComfort Headphones connect?

Though both headphones are primarily wireless headphones that use SBC and AAC to connect to your source device over Bluetooth, they can also connect over an included 2.5mm to 3.5mm cable. The Bose QuietComfort Headphones, however, only has a Bluetooth 5.1 radio, which means that they won’t be able to keep up with the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones’ features as time goes on. Specifically, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are compatible with Snapdragon Sound and the aptX Adaptive family of codecs — including their status as the only headphones on the market with aptX Lossless compatibility (the only other product with this codec support is the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds).

The USB-C charging port of the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones.
Austin Kwok / SoundGuys
This USB-C port is only for charging, unfortunately.

On top of that, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones’ use of Bluetooth 5.3 allows them to use LE audio, enabling compatibility with low-energy sources and applications. If you want your wireless headphones to stay relevant for a long time, the only choice here is the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones.

Is battery life better on the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones or Bose QuietComfort Headphones?

Using our standardized setup, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones were able to play back music for 27 hours and 37 minutes, while the Bose QuietComfort Headphones lasted 27 hours and 14 minutes. Because the two results are so close, we’re not really comfortable telling you that an extra 1.3% battery life makes all the difference. Both headphones are great with battery life.

Do the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones or Bose QuietComfort Headphones block noise better?

When it comes to ANC, however, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones do a much better job than the Bose QuietComfort Headphones. With larger ear cups and more effective ANC, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are better able to isolate your ear from outside noise while also being able to cancel what does reach you more effectively.

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That’s not to say that the Bose QuietComfort Headphones are bad or even mediocre — they’re good. But some performance points will be difficult to touch when you’re up against a product representing the top of the line. The Bose QuietComfort Headphones do cancel noise very well, but the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are one of the best on the market.

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Of course, this all comes with the standard caveat that you should not expect ANC headphones to serve as hearing protection. ANC headphones protect your hearing not by canceling outside noise, but by allowing you to listen to your tunes at a lower volume, so please be careful with your listening volume.

Do the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones sound better than the Bose QuietComfort Headphones?

We believe that more people will enjoy the sound of the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones over the Bose QuietComfort Headphones not only because of how the headphones are tuned, but also because they support a higher bitrate codec family over Bluetooth. This means that what audio actually makes it to your ears will be less compressed (even though SBC and AAC aren’t nearly the setbacks they once were). While it’s definitely something that purists would care bout more than your average folk, if you can get better: why wouldn’t you even if it’s a little overkill?

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Much hay has been made online about the channel balance issues of the Bose QuietComfort Headphones, but that mainly impacts the ability of the headphones to create a convincing illusion of 3D space. Given that the immersive audio feature of both Bose headphones isn’t conceptually all that attractive to use, we don’t think this will make or break peoples’ experiences here.

Do the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones or Bose QuietComfort Headphones have better microphones?

When it comes to microphone quality we don’t imagine that the headphones will be the bottleneck to your calls, and both the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones and Bose QuietComfort Headphones handle themselves as well as you can expect a set of headphones to handle a phone call. Just be aware that the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones’ Wind Block feature may prevent wind noise from annoying you, but it’ll still come through on your call. Should you notice your voice quality is low, be sure to troubleshoot and see if it isn’t your chat app or network making your voice sound worse than what you hear below.

If you’d rather not take my word for it and hear for yourself, listen to samples we collected with each pair of headphones in our simulated environments.

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones microphone demo (Ideal conditions):

Bose QuietComfort Headphones microphone demo (Ideal conditions):

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones microphone demo (Windy conditions):

Bose QuietComfort Headphones microphone demo (Windy conditions):

Which microphone sounds best to you?

467 votes

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones vs Bose QuietComfort Headphones: Price and availability

Of course, the big question here is how much you’re willing to pay. Given that these headphones are from the same company and the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones is meant to be the flagship headphones in their QuietComfort line, it’s extremely unlikely the Bose QuietComfort Headphones will ever be more expensive. However, it may be easier to find the Bose QuietComfort Headphones as it’s the “more affordable” option — however affordable $350 is to you. The $429 pricetag of the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones is a bit tough to stomach, but you do get extra value for that money.

The Bose QuietComfort Headphones, sitting folded in their carrying case, along with the included cables.
Harley Maranan / SoundGuys
Same as it ever was, the Bose QuietComfort Headphones fit in the same bag-friendly case.

You should be able to find both the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones and Bose QuietComfort Headphones pretty much anywhere headphones are sold, though you should try your luck shopping around online. If you settle on the Bose QuietComfort Headphones, consider getting the Bose QuietComfort 45 instead, as its sale price is sometimes under $200 for almost exactly the same headphones.

Should you get the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones or Bose QuietComfort Headphones?

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones have a matte exterior.
Austin Kwok / SoundGuys
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones have a matte exterior.

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are better in every way outside of price than the Bose QuietComfort Headphones — and it’s not close. Given that both of these headphones are so expensive, we’re going to go out on a limb and say that paying a little extra for the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones, a set of headphones equipped to handle the standards and features coming to smartphones in the coming year or so will help you stay on top of features that may improve your listening.

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Bose QuietComfort Headphones
Bose QuietComfort Headphones
Great battery life
Comfortable materials
Great ANC
See price at Amazon
Bose QuietComfort Ultra
Bose QuietComfort Ultra
Great battery life
Advanced audio experience

Frequently asked questions

No.

Yes, you can listen above for samples recorded by each.

The ear pads are replaceable, but the ear cups aren’t. You can find replacement pads on online retailers’ sites or the Bose site in your country.

Neither the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones nor Bose QuietComfort Headphones are a good pick for runners, as the headphones do not bear an ingress protection rating from moisture.

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