Bose QuietComfort 45 review: Good sound, but Bose needs to step up to Sony

Quick verdict: The Bose QuietComfort 45 headphones deliver superior sound, excellent comfort and easy travel compatibility, as you'd expect. However, they're not a huge step up from their predecessors, or even Bose's most "premium" headphones, and that means that they're still second-best to Sony's WH-1000XM4s.

Pros

  • Physical controls rather than touch
  • Great audio output
  • Multi pair compatible
  • Easy mode switching
  • Compatible for wired headphone use
Cons

  • No sound cancelling options or levels
  • No equalisation options
  • Microphones are soft on calls
  • Battery life is OK, but others do better

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Mention noise cancelling headphones, and in most situations people will think Bose. The brand is synonymous with quality noise cancelling cans, and especially in its QuietComfort range. The latest set of QuietComfort headphones, the QuietComfort 45s, offer most of the quality that you'd expect from the brand.

However, the market has shifted, with newer entrants in the premium space such as Apple and especially Sony taking the mantle from Bose. Where the QuietComforts were once the go-to option for everyone, they're now playing in a much more crowded space.

They're good noise cancelling cans with some specific advantages, but it wouldn't even be accurate to call them Bose's best.

That's still going to be the Bose Headphones 700, which puts the Bose QuietComfort 45s in an odd position in terms of picking the best noise cancelling cans for your music needs.


Bose QuietComfort 45 review: Design

bose quietcomfort 45 review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

If you've seen or used any prior QuietComfort headphones, the Bose QuietComfort 45s will feel instantly familiar, and that's mostly a plus. The big pitch for Bose's QuietComfort headphones, back when we used to get on airplanes a lot, was they were portable, foldable and comfortable, and all 3 of those descriptions still apply to the QC 45 headphones.

The Bose QuietComfort 45s weigh just 240g, plus another 180g for the included carrying case. They use a leather style ear cup and padded head rest, and otherwise an awful lot of plastic to keep the weight down – although you do get metal supports where they're needed, so there's little concern here for wear and tear unless you're stupidly brutal with them.

I have a notably large skull, not that it's stuffed with intelligence, but this means that I struggle to get over-ear headphones to fit properly and comfortably for any serious length of time. This was never an issue with the Bose QuietComfort 45 headphones.

So many wireless cans work on the idea that you'll love to tap at specific edges of a headphone to keep a sleek design aesthetic rolling, but that's explicitly not what you get with the Bose QuietComfort 45s.

bose quietcomfort 45 review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Instead, you get a direct switch on the right cup for power and pairing, alongside volume and call/skip buttons on the side. The left cup houses a single button used for switching between noise cancelling and microphone-boosted "aware" modes above a standard 3.5mm headphone jack.

Wired connectivity isn't an absolute given for premium headphones, so it's a nice touch for Bose to not only make it compatible, but also to drop a 3.5mm cable in the carrying case. If your Bose QuietComfort 45s are 100% flat, you can use them as standard headphones this way too, presuming your phone still has some kind of 3.5mm connection.

The Bose QuietComfort 45s ship in either a very standard black or dusty white finish – "White Smoke" in Bose marketing-speak – with prominent Bose logos on each cup. You're very much going to be telling the world your choice of headphone brand with the QuietComfort 45s.


Bose QuietComfort 45 review: Performance

bose quietcomfort 45 review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Bose has a good track record for audio reproduction, and on this score, the Bose QuietComfort 45 are quite impressive. They're a generally well-balanced set of headphones for most music and podcast listening.

As an example, on Jackie Wilson's "Higher and Higher" the QuietComfort 45s gave great separation and timbre to the backing drum beats while keeping the trumpets in check against the vocals.

Switching up to Prince's classic "Sign o' The Times", the bass kicked in, but not at a super-heavy level. That's something of a taste matter, of course, depending on both your musical choices and level of kick you prefer. Jumping over to Ice Cube's "Hello" lacked just a little bit of edge on that track, thanks to the less hefty bass.

One detail I would have liked to see here was equalisation in the Bose Music app, but it's not to be.

You either take the sound Bose's way via its "ActiveEQ" technology, or rely on an external music playback app to tweak it for you, which isn't ideal as it won't carry across every audio source you might use the Bose QuietComfort 45s with.

bose quietcomfort 45 review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

I won't say that the Bose QuietComfort 45 delivers bad audio because that's 100% not the case. But again, in a competitive premium noise cancelling world, they're merely adequate rather than great. That's something Bose might address with app or firmware updates, but as always, I can only assess products as they are, not as they might be in the future.

The Bose QuietComfort 45s will pair with multiple devices simultaneously, which is handy if you need to be on a Zoom call and have your phone ready to take calls at the same time.

I paired with a MacBook Pro M1 Max and Apple iPhone 13 Pro without issue in terms of audio switching.

Calls were another matter. It's always difficult assessing call quality over headphones, because it's all too easy to mistake network quality for call quality. However, in every instance with the Bose QuietComfort 45s, I had callers note that I sounded quite soft all of the time. Not inaudible, but noticeably softer, even than if I'd switched the phone over to straight speaker mode.

Testing out the Bose QuietComfort 45's noise cancelling was a little trickier than it classically would have been. Typically, I'd jump on a plane to do that, because it's the classic test scenario for blocking out white noise, so much so that many premium headphones have specific settings just for jumbo jet white noise blocking.

bose quietcomfort 45 review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

However… well, you're reading this now, so you know how little actual plane travel has been happening lately. To put the Bose QuietComfort 45 headphones through its paces, I went for a few workouts, jogging around my local area and using the Bose QuietComfort 45s to block out car noise, lawn mowers, leaf blowers and other assorted neighbourhood noise. Jogging with full cans on isn't the ideal use scenario, but I did appreciate that the Bose QuietComfort 45s stayed comfortable on my head for quite a bit longer than most thanks to their low weight and comfortable support band.

To give them a more direct and brutal test, I also wore them while doing some leaf blowing around my garden. They didn't totally block out the power of the leaf blower, but they did make it considerably more bearable at close range.

The Bose QuietComfort 45's use of physical buttons will be a love-it-or-loathe-it proposition for many, but I appreciate the idea of having something distinct to hit every time, and that includes the left cup noise cancelling/aware button, which switches modes for you. However, I didn't appreciate the fact that it pauses my music every time to tell me that it's switching.

bose quietcomfort 45 review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

The Bose QuietComfort 45 manages its noise cancelling quite well, but it doesn't compare all that favourably against other premium headphones in terms of configuration. Simply put, there isn't any. You can have noise cancelling all on, or aware mode all on, and that's your lot. If you want configuration profiles in the Bose world, you're going to have to pony up for the Bose Headphones 700. Or opt for the Sony's WH-1000XM4 headphones that give you more concrete control in this way.

You also don't get any in-built direct control for voice assistants beyond long pressing the play/pause button. For a cheaper pair that'd be understandable, but while the Bose QuietComfort 45s aren't Bose's most expensive set, they're still comfortably in the premium price arena, and it would have been nice to see.


Bose QuietComfort 45 review: Battery

product review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Bose rates the Bose QuietComfort 45s as capable of 25 hours of playback time at 50% volume, which is decent for headphones of this weight, but again a little behind the times for best in class at this price point. The pricier Bose Headphones 700 admittedly only claim 20 hours, but Sony's similar WH-1000XM4 offer 30 hours with noise cancelling, and even more with it disabled.

That doesn't make the Bose QuietComfort 45s feel that impressive, although they certainly can live up to that battery life claim. Recharging is via USB-C with a supplied cable but no charger in the box. Bose is grabbing an idea from Samsung and Apple here, and while you might have a compatible charger ready to roll, if you don't, its omission will be annoying.

product review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder


Should you buy it?

  • Buy it if you want a lighter and cheaper set of Bose noise cancelling headphones specifically.
  • Don't buy it if you've already got the Bose QC35 IIs or want the best in this price range.

The Bose QuietComfort 45s are an impressive set of headphones from a comfort and audio quality standpoint, but only as long as you're happy to let Bose handle absolutely every aspect of equalisation and noise cancellation. They're also a good choice if you like physical controls, because they skip over touch controls entirely.

If you're after more personalisation, the Sony WH-1000XM4s remain the headphones to buy, with slightly better audio presentation and a lot more consumer-level customisation on offer.

Sony WH-XB910N review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder


Bose QuietComfort 45 review: Pricing and availability

How we test

The Bose QuietComfort 45 headphones were tested over a 1-week period, paired with multiple devices via Bluetooth and the Bose Music app. They were tested for music and podcast playback quality, as well as audio throughput for mobile phone calls utilising the Telstra network in Australia. Noise cancellation was tested within a home office setting as well as by walking and jogging along some moderately busy roads to simulate and check blocking of standard mechanical sounds.


Specifications

Bose QuietComfort 45

Build

Category
Over-ear
Colours
Black, White smoke

Connectivity

Wired/Wireless
Wireless
Bluetooth
Yes
Bluetooth Version
Bluetooth 5.1

Features

Noise Cancelling
Noise-rejecting Mic System
Detachable Cable
Yes
Rechargeable Battery
Yes
Battery Life
Up to 24 hours
Battery Type
Lithium-ion

Images: Alex Kidman

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