Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review: The noise-cancelling powerhouse

Bose was way overdue for a new pair of true wireless earbuds. The company doesn't usually release a product update every year, but the SoundSport Free Buds first launched in 2017. True wireless technology has improved dramatically in the last year alone. Any product that is more than two years old will feel pretty dated. To remedy this, the company introduced a brand new noise-canceling model in its coveted QuietComfort line: the QuietComfort earphones. At $ 279.95, this is definitely a premium option, so Bose has a lot to do to justify the price.
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There's no denying that Bose's Bread and Butter are over-the-ear noise-canceling headphones. The company currently offers the tastefully designed Bose 700 and the aging, but still very good, QuietComfort 35 II. It's not surprising that Bose hasn't been immersed in true wireless networks with dozens of models in the past few years. With the QuietComfort Earbuds, Bose took the line of its popular QC headphones and brought powerful active noise cancellation (ANC) into a new true wireless option. And although the company had to wait well over a year since the QC earbuds were first tested, it eventually delivered.
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Noise cancellation
Bose doesn't have the real wireless experience of some other headphone manufacturers, but you would never know. The QC earbuds are a big leap from the 2017 SoundSport Free model. The company offers the best ANC performance you can find in real radio buds, in addition to great sound quality. It lacks some features, but covers the basics, and wireless charging also exists.
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Let's face it: like most Bose headphones, the main attraction of the QuietComfort earbuds is the company's experience with noise cancellation. Bose knows how to effectively block out external sound with over-ear headphones, but doing the same with real wireless earphones is a whole different challenge. Lots of companies pack ANC in the tiny buds, but some of them don't do a great job of countering the chaos around you. Sometimes the noise cancellation is not effective, and for others, the design of the earbuds and earbuds does not provide a sufficient seal in your ear. Any of these mistakes can drastically reduce ANC performance and waste the capability of the feature.
In the QuietComfort earphones, Bose uses so-called StayHear Max tips for a "soft yet tight" seal. In fact, thanks to their size, these are more effective than most "standard" tips for creating a secure seal. The StayHear Max tips flicker as they extend away from the driver, allowing more surface contact in your ear canal. Even with the ANC off, the QC earbuds provide better passive noise isolation than a number of the models I've tested.
With active noise cancellation activated, however, the QuietComfort earphones can basically block the world. The only other earbuds I've reviewed that come close to keeping the chaos around you at bay are the Sony WF-1000XM3. Sony is more about adaptive noise cancellation which adjusts based on activity or location. However, the company has developed an effective combination of ANC and sound quality. However, Bose is the best option for basic noise cancellation.
Bose doesn't have the real wireless experience of some other headphone manufacturers, but you would never know. The QC earbuds are a big leap from the 2017 SoundSport Free model. The company offers the best ANC performance you can find in real radio buds, in addition to great sound quality. It lacks some features, but covers the basics, and wireless charging also exists.
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Bose offers 11 levels of noise cancellation for the QC earbuds, just like the headphones. You can set three favorite levels in the Bose Music app, which you cycle through by double-tapping the left earbud. Unlike its headphones, the company doesn't offer voice prompts for these settings. So you need to be careful to find out where you are. Of course, a full ANC is pretty obvious so at least you'll have a clear point of reference. Also, Level 0 is basically a transparency mode so it's easy to choose one too. Quick access to these settings is great for working from home. With a double tap, I can overhear my first grader's remote learning or be aware of when he needs a snack. And if I have to block an episode of Daniel Tiger's neighborhood, I can go straight back to my own world.
The QuietComfort earphones have internal and external microphones (one per bud) for monitoring ambient noise. In combination with Bose's ANC technology, the system can be set up to counteract ambient noise “in a fraction of a millisecond”. I have no way of controlling this, but I can tell you that the QC earbuds have powerful and effective noise cancellation that perform better than any other true ANC wireless product I have tested. Bose says it brought the ANC chops of its popular headphones to earbuds, but I'm not going to go that far. The noise cancellation is very good here, especially for true wireless devices, but it doesn't quite match the silence of over-ear cans.
design
Bose doesn't have the true wireless experience of some other headphone manufacturers, but you would never know. The QC earbuds are a big leap from the 2017 SoundSport Free model. The company offers the best ANC performance you can find in real radio buds, in addition to great sound quality. It lacks some features, but covers the basics, and wireless charging also exists.
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I'm not going to crush words here: these earbuds are huge. I thought the WF-1000XM3 was big, but the QC earbuds are significantly larger. As with the Sony model, almost the entire earbud sits outside of your ear, only the tip is in it. Because of this, the new Bose model looks like you're wearing two 2010 Bluetooth headsets. And I understand some people don't mind aesthetics. But with true wireless earbuds getting smaller by the month, this could be a deal breaker.
Despite the size, the QuietComfort earbuds don't feel particularly heavy. The weight is decently balanced so they don't feel like they are falling out. At least once you've found the best tips for your ears. It can be uncomfortable at first, but they'll stay active even when you're active. Bose also added a fin to the detachable earbud to secure things in place. I expected these to be a little uncomfortable due to the added bulk, but these earbuds make things feel great after hours of non-stop wear. The QC earbuds are also IPX4 certified so they can withstand a small amount of moisture. The Bose Sport Earbuds ($ 179.95) are actually intended for sports, but they're also IPX4 and don't have ANC.
Bose Music app
Bose doesn't have the real wireless experience of some other headphone manufacturers, but you would never know. The QC earbuds are a big leap from the 2017 SoundSport Free model. The company offers the best ANC performance you can find in real radio buds, in addition to great sound quality. It lacks some features, but covers the basics, and wireless charging also exists.
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On the outside of each earphone there is a touch panel for on-board control. Unfortunately, you have only a few options here - two per page. The right bud will play / pause with a double tap, while the same action on the left will cycle through your selected noise cancellation presets (called favorites in the app). You can press and hold the left earbuds, but you can only use them to either hear the current battery level or to skip to the next track. It's called Shortcut and I locked it for track control. The music app shows the battery information for both buds individually, so I could just take a look at my phone when needed. Finally, press and hold on the right-hand side to call the voice assistant of your choice.
Bigger earbuds mean a bigger case. The one for the QC Buds isn't as absurdly large as the one for the Powerbeats Pro, but twice the size of some other models. The consolation prize is that Bose includes wireless charging that works with any Qi-certified device. There are also five status LEDs on the outside so you can get a better idea of ​​the levels than the typical trio of lights most businesses use. On the back there is a USB-C socket for wired charging. There is a Bluetooth pairing button between the two earbud holders.
Sound quality
Bose doesn't have the real wireless experience of some other headphone manufacturers, but you would never know. The QC earbuds are a big leap from the 2017 SoundSport Free model. The company offers the best ANC performance you can find in real radio buds, in addition to great sound quality. It lacks some features, but covers the basics, and wireless charging also exists.
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While I prefer the typical Sony sound profile, Bose has a knack for great audio quality. The QuietComfort earbuds are no different. They have a crisp clarity that is characterized by finer details like subtle synth grunge, guitar fret noises, snare drum rattle, and much more. The audio is big and full, especially at higher volumes. Sometimes true wireless earbuds sound compressed and flat, but Bose got the momentum to the point here. You can hear the layers of instruments and vocals instead of mixing everything together.
The EQ is also well tuned for a number of genres. Bose doesn't offer an adjustable equalizer for the QC earbuds in the music app, and that's a bit of a stupid thing to do. But these sound damn good right away. There's plenty of bass, but it's not overly boomy or exhausting. It forms a backbone for Ruston Kelly's folk alt-country songs, but also gives a punch to songs on Sylvan Esso's Free Love and Run The Jewels RTJ4. When I've been forced not to peck, the vocals can sometimes be over-emphasized, but it's far from a big problem - and some styles even benefit from it.
Call quality
Many real wireless earbud companies have high demands on call performance. Most of the time, you'll still sound like you're talking on a speakerphone. All of the buds work for calls, but many of them are far from an ideal option in noisy environments. There are a few exceptions, but the mileage varies widely. Bose built a special voice microphone for calls in the right earbud. The company says it should focus on your voice and shut out the chaos around you.
Unfortunately, the results are pretty mediocre. The person on the other end of the phone calls said they could hear a good amount of background noise and my voice was thin, high quality. They also noticed that the noise around me got bigger and bigger as I stopped talking, which wasn't the case with the Sennheiser CX 400BT. Bose lets you adjust how much of your voice you hear through the buds during a call, with options for low, medium, high, and none at all.
Battery life
Bose doesn't have the real wireless experience of some other headphone manufacturers, but you would never know. The QC earbuds are a big leap from the 2017 SoundSport Free model. The company offers the best ANC performance you can find in real radio buds, in addition to great sound quality. It lacks some features, but covers the basics, and wireless charging also exists.
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Bose promises six hours of use on the buds, even with two more full charges in the case. During my tests, I got almost seven hours. And I was usually at the top of the ANC so I could focus on work. If you're in an emergency, the company offers a quick charge feature that gives you two hours of listening time in 15 minutes. And as mentioned before, you can charge the entire package wirelessly or with a USB-C cable.
While some companies offer true wireless earbuds with 10 or more hours of playtime, most don't have ANC. If you look at the best noise cancellation options, Bose is in the same stadium. Sony's WF-1000XM3 also lasts six hours, and Jabra claims the upcoming Elite 85t will run for five and a half hours. To be honest, 5-6 hours is enough for earphones. Most of the time, you dock these after an hour or two so that they can be refilled regularly. Sure, you may have to push the envelope at some point, but six hours of music, podcasts, or phone calls in a row is anything but "normal" for most people.
The competition
Sony WF-1000XM3
As I've mentioned a few times, the main competitor here is the Sony WF-1000XM3. The noise canceling performance is a breeze in my opinion, but the overall sound quality benefit goes to Sony. The 1000XM3 earbuds also offer far more customization options than the QC earbuds, which could be a deal breaker for some. Plus, Sony's flagship is $ 230 full price, and you can buy it for under $ 180 on a regular basis. They are well over a year old at this point, but the company added new features along the way so they will age well.
If sound quality is your primary concern and price doesn't matter, Sennheiser's Momentum True Wireless 2 is a great option. The audio is incredible, but the noise cancellation isn't as robust as what Bose and Sony offer. However, Sennhieser gives you a wide variety of customization options, and the design is a bit more compact than either of the other models.
Wrap up
Bose has come a long way since the SoundSport Free. The company has had years perfecting their next true wireless earbuds and has come up with an enticing package. The QuietComfort earbuds have a powerful ANC and excellent sound quality, as well as premium features such as wireless charging. The limited customization and touch controls could be a headache for some, and the large buds make for a look some might not want. And when you consider the price, the Sony WF-1000XM3 is an attractive alternative despite its age. Bose and Sony have been fighting over noise-canceling headphones for the past few years. Now they do the same thing for true wireless earbuds. And Bose finally has a product that Sony can run for its money with.

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