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Lifewire / Jason Schneider
Rich, detailed sound
Truly impressive active noise cancellation
Solid build quality and comfortable to wear
Lackluster battery life
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds have great ANC and a beautiful design, making them some of the best noise-canceling earbuds on the market.
Bose provided us with a review unit for one of our writers to test. Read on for the full review.
Bose is objectively one of the best audio brands out there for consumer wireless headphones, and that legacy is carried on very well with the latest QuietComfort Earbuds. Now let’s be clear about something: if you want surgical levels of spec details and massive control over the EQ and functionality of your headphones, Bose isn’t really the way to go. You can’t get true audiophile quality without using wired headphones and probably a headphone amp, anyway. But Bose is the Apple of speakers and headphones—they have end-to-end control over their devices with proprietary EQ, design, and a superbly premium fit and finish.
The Bose QuietComfort earbuds are the brand’s first foray into true wireless earphones with active noise cancellation. I got the chance to review the SoundSport true wireless earbuds last year for Lifewire, and they are some of the best true wireless earbuds for my ears (they’re still the ones I bring with me almost everywhere I go). So, I was excited to get my hands on the updated QC version to see just how much value the new ANC brings to the experience.
The design of the QuietComfort earbuds is somewhat derivative of the earbuds Bose has released in the past. While in a lot of ways, that is a positive (I like the design language Bose uses for almost all of their products), it does mean that these earbuds are pretty large.
To be fair, the QC earbuds have gone with an elongated, oval-like chassis instead of the round, bulging enclosure used on the SoundSport line. This helps to shrink the profile of the earbuds, sitting more flush with the side of your face. But at over an inch long, the part of the earbud that sits outside your ears is still pretty noticeable, almost like one of those small Bluetooth headsets you used to see people wearing in the early 2000s.
But the plastic used here makes for a really high-quality matte finish that gives the earphones a very premium, Bose-like look. The subtle curve of the outer casing also looks pretty sleek at first glance. That material design is also present on the battery charging case, making for a really nice package that feels every bit as high-quality as you’d want.
I haven’t been shy in the past about saying that Bose’s earbuds are among the most comfortable for my particular needs. While many people tend to prefer a firm seal provided by a rounded silicon tip stuffed into your ear canal (like you’ll find on AirPods Pro), I believe that to truly wear earbuds comfortably for a long time, you need something that sits just on the outer edge of your ear canal. That way you aren’t sealing in pressure uncomfortably.
Because the QC Earbuds are a noise-cancelling product, I wasn’t surprised to see that they use a much firmer seal than the SoundSport design I grew to love. But, it isn’t nearly as stifling as some of the truly tight earbuds on the market. The new StayHear Max tips are very similar to tips you’ll find on Bose’s previous earbuds, but they do provide a slightly tighter seal. Rather than going for a truly round eartip design, they look a little more tapered, almost like an umbrella or a traffic cone.
These tips are made of ultra-soft silicone and have a nice curved wing that grips the outside of your ear cartilage. I think these two points of contact are paramount in preventing earbuds from being jostled out of your ear—extra important when there’s no wire to keep earbuds from rolling down the street. And even though the earbuds are large, at less than half an ounce, they are feather-light.
While the QuietComfort Earbuds aren’t billed directly as sport earbuds (Bose has a version that does away with the ANC that seems more focused on this), these earbuds are pretty sporty. The plastic that Bose uses has always felt premium, don’t get me wrong, but it has also felt playful in a way that makes me confident that bringing these on workouts, hikes, or just day-to-day commutes won’t lead to tons of undue scuffs and scratches. This is true both of the case and the outer chassis of the earbuds.
The eartips themselves are made of that ultra-soft silicone, but this material also seems to have a fair amount of rigidity to survive lots of bends resulting from taking the earbuds out of your ears repeatedly. There is also an IPX4 rating here, ensuring a decent degree of sweat and rain resistance. It is important to note that this means there’s no dust resistance officially designated, and many sportier earbuds will give you better ratings (like IPX5 or IPX6) for heavier moisture protection. However, I think this amount of water sealing is adequate for average use.
If you’re in the market for Bose earphones, you probably know pretty well what you’re getting into. To my ears, the EQ and sound quality of the QC Earbuds are on par with most of the other products in their lineup. These sound a lot like the SoundSport line of earbuds: a healthy amount of bass without being cumbersome and tons of detail in the mids. I do find that, like other Bose earbuds, the QCs suffer a bit in the volume department, forcing me to drive the volume a little higher than I usually have to for other true wireless earphones. This is probably due to Bose’s “volume-optimized Active EQ technology,” causing some EQ adjustments as you raise and lower the volume.
This ends up being a positive because this technology will aim to keep certain frequencies in check when raising the volume, unlike the EQ artifacts heard on cheaper headphones. To be fair, your ears aren’t meant to be listening to earbuds at max volume anyway, so I think this volume tempering is okay in this case. In true Bose fashion, there isn’t a ton of numerical detail on the spec sheet here, but anecdotally they sound full, natural, and impressive.
These sound a lot like the SoundSport line of earbuds: a healthy amount of bass without being cumbersome and tons of detail in the mids.
Where the QuietComfort Earbuds truly show their effectiveness is in the Active Noise Cancelling department. It’s only been the past few years that truly wireless earbuds have started regularly adding ANC as a feature, and normally it falls far short of the ANC you’d get on premium, over-ear headphones. That’s because, for ANC to work truly effectively, you usually need a better physical seal than is possible with earbuds.
Bose has done something impressive here with their ANC tech and the way it works with the StayHear tips. The seal is just enough to blot out sound, but it’s also perfect for the noise-canceling tech that Bose has perfected in their over-ear QC line. It all comes together nicely to block out a lot more noise than almost any other earbuds I’ve tried. It works perfectly for noisy offices, the dull roar of traffic, or even just an air conditioner’s drone.
The seal is just enough to blot out sound, but it’s also perfect for the noise-canceling tech that Bose has perfected in their over-ear QC line.
Probably because so much stake has been put into the active noise cancellation tech, the battery life on the QuietComfort Earbuds doesn’t win any awards in my book. The spec sheet claims you get 6 hours of constant listening on a single charge with the earphones alone, and you can get 12 additional hours with the additional charge provided by the battery case.
When other brands at this price point offer more than 24 hours of total listening time, these numbers admittedly fall a little flat. I will point out that the battery life here is on-par or even a little better than what I got routinely with the SoundSport earbuds in last the generation, and considering there is ANC on these earbuds (a notoriously heavy drain on battery life), Bose has clearly done something to bolster the battery life. But at this price point, it still feels just a bit low.
The spec sheet claims you get 6 hours of constant listening on a single charge with the earbuds alone, and you can get 12 additional hours with the additional charge provided by the battery case.
Bose makes up for it a bit with USB C-based quick charging (giving you 2 hours of listening with a 15-minute charge) to get you going in a pinch. And there’s even Qi-certified wireless charging tech baked into the battery case—something I’m shocked to see included on so few premium true wireless headphone offerings. But it’s included here, and it works great.
Bose enlists Bluetooth 5.1 to power the wireless transmission on the QuietComfort earbuds, promising about 30 feet of solid connectivity. My experience tends to vary greatly even with other Bluetooth 5.0 earbuds because my apartment has lots of thick plaster walls, and I’m often walking around the heavily populated NYC streets. While I sometimes ran into issues with the SoundSport, Bose has managed to give truly stable connectivity with the QC buds. So far, so good.
What isn’t quite as solid is the Bluetooth codecs on offer here, as you’ll only find the standard SBC and AAC options. When more and more mainstream earbuds are going the way of aptX or LDAC, which are much lossier means of compression for Bluetooth transmission, it feels like a strange omission for nearly $300 earphones. It’s likely that Bose has forgone aptX because it is a third-party software integration made by Qualcomm, and Bose is a brand that tends to like full control over their software and digital signal processing. None of this is a true dealbreaker, but it’s definitely important to note.
Bose earbuds tend to opt for a much simpler experience, giving you just a few onboard controls and not much else. It can be tough for a brand to fit a lot of bells and whistles into something as tiny as an earbud, so when a company is able to fit some cool tricks into a small package, it’s pretty impressive. This generation, rather than using buttons, Bose has included touch controls on each ear, with the right earbud taking care of track-skipping and voice assistance and the left earbud controlling the ANC and an additional assignable parameter. Much of this is even more intuitive when you pair the functionality with the Bose Music app.
Normally Bose’s apps are very basic, but I was surprised at just how many options they offer this time around. You can control the amount of noise-canceling with up to 10 levels of precision. There are also sensors on each earbud that will automatically pause music when you remove an earbud and will auto-answer a call when you put an earbud into your ear—both features that were absent on last year’s SoundSport earbuds. Even the battery case has been redesigned to be easier to open and slightly more compact than last year’s. Overall this category is a big step up for Bose, and I’m happy to see all the improvements.
At right around $280 from most retailers, the QuietComfort earbuds no longer provide the value that you got with the SoundSports’ sub-$200 price tag. To be fair, most ANC TW earbuds on the premium side of the market hover around this price point, and many fancier brands climb well above $300. And Bose has included a ton of new features with this latest offering, including class-leading noise cancellation, so the price jump does feel justified. But, just be aware that the price is not for those looking for affordable earbuds.
From a feature set, sound quality, and even a physical design perspective, the Bose QC Earbuds seem to be competing directly with Sony’s equivalent WF-1000XM3s. The noise cancellation and the fit feel much better on the Bose to me, but the amount of control you have with the Sonys allows you to get slightly better sound quality. The battery life from Sony and the physical feel also feel a bit better. The prices fluctuate a lot, though, so depending on what sales are going on at the time, you might find better value with the older WF earbuds. But, if you like Bose, you really won’t be disappointed going with the QCs.
True wireless earbuds that clear a high bar.
My expectations were very high for the QuietComfort earbuds, mostly because I liked the SoundSport earbuds so much. While I do think the fit of the SoundSports feels a little airier, they do sit similarly in your ears. But the inclusion of truly impressive noise cancellation, the tried-and-true Bose earbud sound quality, and a design and physical build befitting of the price, the QuietComfort earbuds make for one of the best offerings on the market.
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