Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review: Literally live up to the name
- Best-in-class active noise cancelling
- Good quality audio
- Comfortable fit
- Touch volume and assistant controls do not play well together
- Charging case is a bulky lad
- Only 2 recharges in the case
Bose is synonymous with active noise cancelling (ANC) in the full headphone space. I've lost track of the number of flights I've been on over the years where I've seen Bose case after Bose case emerge for travellers looking to block out the outside world as much as is feasible from seat 37b.
However, in the true wireless buds space, there have been a number of serious pro contenders that have managed better than Bose when it came to both ANC and audio quality. Top quality options like the Apple AirPods Pro or the Sony WF-1000XM4 buds have very much taken Bose's throne by force here.
Bose is back, and with the QuietComfort Earbuds, it's indicating that it would very much like to be the king again – even if it is only the king of people in seat 37b.
Design: Lightweight comfortable buds, but the case is a brick
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds sell in 4 colour variants, namely Triple Black, Stone Blue, Sandstone and Soapstone. It's the latter that Bose sent me for the purposes of review. They come with a similarly coloured charging case that is on the larger side for a set of true wireless buds, secured with a front locking button above the battery charge indicator.
The actual buds themselves are light at 8.5g each and come pre-fitted with Bose's mid-sized eartips. You also get small and large options if the interior of your ears needs that; I had few issues with the mid-sized options so didn't need to make that switch. Outside of a standard USB-C charging cable, that's your lot in the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds box.
The buds themselves are a pill shape with an internal speaker that rests inside your ear, wrapped up in the rubber eartips. To keep them stable, each tip also has a shark-style fin, not uncommon in larger true wireless buds. Tastes can vary here around comfort issues with fins, which are designed to support the buds and stop them moving around too much to aid in simple noise isolation.
I've worn the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds for a number of hours at a time without issue or particular discomfort, but if you do know your ears hate having the extra rubber around them, this could be a concern.
The other advantage of the fin design is that they're a lot more secure if you need to use them for exercise. During my review period I've had no issues taking the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds for a run, never feeling like they were at risk of tumbling out of my lugholes and down a nearby drain even when I was running hard.
Performance: Great ANC, good audio, passable microphones
Set-up of the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds did take a while. Like many of its competitors, Bose offers a companion app for adjusting settings and updating firmware. On first connection, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds indicated that they needed a firmware update, but it took a couple of tries before this completed successfully. Every time it failed, I had to fully unpair and reconnect to the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds before I could try again. That's frustrating, but since then it's not been a big problem.
One of the big selling points of the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds is its active noise cancelling. That's no longer unique amongst true wireless buds, and you can get some level of ANC even in quite cheap buds now. The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds truly do show how much more you can get if you pay for a premium set.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds offer presets within the app for active noise cancelling, but also a lot of customisation of just how separated out from the rest of the world you truly want to be. You can have up to 4 preset modes with a slider that offers 10 increments of ANC.
There's a balancing act here, because ANC that's too intrusive can often leave you not only isolated from the world but also the noise that you want to listen to, whether that's music, podcasts or anything else. Bose utterly nails this to a degree I've honestly not hit in any other pair of active noise cancelling buds.
To put this to the test, I put the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds up against the 2 current best-in-class models, the Sony WF-1000XM4 and Apple AirPods Pro. At top ANC level, the Bose did a better job of filtering out a variety of fans, nearby vehicles and even competing speakers over the Sony and Apple models.
Being able to fine-tune that ANC so directly also gives them an edge, because it makes it simple to have 1 preset that's full whack and another that's less intrusive if you know you're about to be run over by that truck. Being run over by a truck is arguably best avoided.
Audio quality is also top notch, although in a straight line comparative sense I'd just about give the edge to the Sony WF-1000XM4, which just seem to have a little more punch than the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds could offer – which is not to say that they're bad in any way.
Throwing Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" at the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds revealed great detail not only in the underlying bass track but also the accompanying guitar and drum beats, while Stevie's warm voice shone through.
The soaring vocals of Edith Piaf's "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" left me with few regrets when it came to popping the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds in my ears. Throwing something considerably heavier at the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, Metallica's "Wherever I May Roam" showed good low range quality without muddying the guitar lines. All of this is without messing with EQ settings, which gives you further flexibility when it comes to specific audio preferences.
Where the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds step up just that bit further in my view is in comfort, which is often overlooked when considering audio quality. It's one thing to have great audio, but if you're going to feel as though you want to tear out your earlobes after a few hours' listening, it'll all be for naught. Excluding running, for everyday at-desk work I could keep the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds on for hours at a stretch without feeling noticeable ear fatigue, which meant more listening time. I can't quite say the same for the Sony headphones, though the Apple AirPods Pro are generally similarly comfortable.
Like so many of their compatriots, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds rely on touch controls for quick adjustments. The default is for play/pause on the right bud as a tap, while a long tap on the right bud will invoke your phone's assistant.
You can enable other features, but I can see why Bose does rather hide these. It's possible to set volume control via a finger slide on the right bud, similar to other true wireless buds, but almost every time when I try to use that, it interprets the slide as a long press, firing up my phone's voice assistant instead. This also pauses the music. You can disable the assistant and just have slide controls, but I simply don't get why Bose didn't throw the assistant on as an option press on the left-hand-side bud.
Double taps on the left-hand-side jump between your chosen ANC levels, which is quite handy, while a long press activates your choice of a shortcut. You can have a battery level check, track skipping forward or back – but only one of those, not both – or a specific Spotify shortcut, and that's all. Why not put the assistant as a shortcut choice there, and keep volume clean and accessible?
Battery: Why only 2 recharges from such a big battery case?
Bose's estimate for battery life on the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds is that they should be good for up to 6 hours of listening time with ANC enabled. That's fair for a set of ANC buds, and my own tests did tend to hit at or around that mark most of the time, even with a few phone calls sprinkled in the middle of testing periods.
You might think that the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds' chunky case was stacked with battery cells, but sadly it's not so. It's only good for an additional 2 charges, meaning that the maximum you'll be able to get out of them without seeking a charger is 18 hours. That's below what I'd like to see in a premium set of true wireless buds.
You do predictably get both wired and wireless charging as standard, but there's no charger in the box, just a simple USB-C cable.
Should you buy it?
- Buy it if you crave comfort and excellent ANC.
- Don't buy it if you need really long battery life away from a charger.
With the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, Bose truly reasserts itself in the premium ANC headphone space in a way that it hasn't done for years. They're very effective at noise filtering without echoey discomfort, and they're also supremely comfortable buds to wear for extended periods of time.
The one caveat here is that the obvious competitors from Apple and especially Sony do tend to go on sale more frequently than Bose do. Shop around for a price to match what the Sony WF-1000XM4 are going for and you won't be disappointed.
Pricing and availability
How we test
I tested the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds over a fortnight, using them as my primary music listening device over multiple days to assess audio quality and battery life. Active noise cancelling was tested against a range of noise sources, including nearby fans, other music sources, the noise of people nearby talking and traffic while out jogging. The classic way to test ANC, by jumping on an international flight, wasn't open to me. Thanks, pandemic. The set of Bose QuietComfort Earbuds used for this review was supplied by Bose.
Images: Alex Kidman
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