Some companies are forever aligned with the technology they produce. For Bose, that is undoubtedly noise-cancelling headphones. So much so, that you’ll rarely read a competitor’s review without Bose getting a mention - when it comes to noise cancellation, it has become the default, the bar setter, the one to beat.
What you might not realise is that Dr Amar Bose, the company’s founder, literally invented the technology, as we know it today, back in 1989. So there’s little wonder that over three decades, it’s got pretty good at it.
But competition is rife now more than ever. Old rivals remain, but new ones are appearing all the time - particularly in this true wireless market. That said, Bose itself is a relative newcomer - the QuietComfort Earbuds II being its second innings, and coming two years after the original QuietComfort Earbuds.
We gave those predecessors a glowing five-star review. So how do these arguably pricey successors compare, and do they fight off the growing competition of a busy market?
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II
If you're looking for the best noise cancellation money can buy, these Bose earbuds deliver and then some. They aren't cheap, but with a refined sound, improved design and comfortable fit, they are a very attractive option for anyone with a premium budget.
- Best-in-class noise cancellation
- Refined sound
- Secure fit
- No wireless charging
- No Bluetooth multipoint
NEW Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II, Wireless, Bluetooth, World’s Best Noise Cancelling In-Ear Headphones with Personalized Noise Cancellation & Sound, Triple Black
- 30% smaller than predecessors
- Dimensions, weight (per bud): 1.7cm x 3cm x 2.2cm (HWD), 6.24g
- Two colours: Triple Black or Soapstone
The Earbuds II look quite different from their predecessors, which were - let's face it - pretty chunky. The design here is much more compact - by 30% in fact - and there is more of a discernible stem, which houses the earbuds’ touch controls.
These are the standard fare of single tap for play/pause and multiple taps for skipping back and forth through tracks, plus swipes up and down for volume control. You can also set a shortcut on each bud for a long hold, from a choice of swapping noise-cancelling modes and activating your phone’s voice assistant.
Bose has done away with its all-in-one StayHear winged eartips, and replaced them with a "stability band" around the base of the bud and separate silicone tips. Both come in three sizes and, as always, it’s worth trying different combinations to see what works best for you - just because you’re a medium in the eartips, doesn’t mean that’ll be what fits best in the stability band.
To double check you picked wisely, there is a one-second eartip fit test in the Bose Music app that will fire Bose’s CustomTune sound into your ear to check if the seal is good.
In fact, this same sound is fired every time you put on the earbuds, in order to tweak their performance to best suit how they’re sitting in your ears. This puts the internal microphone to work in each bud, checking the ear’s acoustic response to the tone and adjusting the sound and ANC accordingly.
At just over 6g per bud (down from their predecessor’s 8.5g), they’re very light and supremely comfortable to wear. It’s probably not quite fair to say you can forget you’re wearing them, but the pressure they exert from being wedged in your ear isn’t tiring or jarring. The new stability band does its bit to make sure they feel nice and secure too - so much so that you can happily exercise in them, supported by the IPX4 waterproofing.
The buds aren’t the only thing that have been made smaller either - the case is also considerably dinkier this time round. It now stands taller and slimmer, in a similar way that the AirPods case does, replacing the chunky oblong shape it was previously. This is much more pocket friendly.
It still has a single pairing button on the back and charges via USB-C, but does lose its Qi wireless charging functionality in this new version, which is a bit of a shame.
- Up to four modes
- ANC cannot be turned off completely
Bose is pretty confident in its noise-cancellation capabilities here, it seems, calling it the "world’s best". And perhaps predictably, they’re not far wrong. We can’t think of another pair of true wireless buds that block out surrounding sound with quite so much refinement.
The four mics in each earbud (one inside the ear and three on the outside) do an incredible job at keeping you focused on your music. Transport noise is zapped instantly, as is nearby chit chat, which is not always managed as well - even by some of the higher-priced buds out there. In fact some of the only noises we noticed infiltrating the silence were really high-pitched sounds, like the beeping when a train opens its doors.
This is the experience under the default "Quiet" mode, at least - the maximum ANC mode these buds offer - but there is also "Aware" pre-programmed out of the box, which is Bose’s take on transparency mode.
When this mode is selected, there’s an option to toggle something called "ActiveSense" on or off in the Bose Music app. This will essentially adjust the noise cancellation on offer to block out any sudden loud noises that might interrupt your music enjoyment, while keeping you in the loop with other sounds you might like, or need, to hear.
Aware mode is also automatically switched on in the earbud you’re still wearing when you remove the other. It’ll also automatically pause your music so you can be all ears to any conversations.
Once you put the removed earbud back in place, your original ANC profile will be resumed, as will your music - and we found this worked seamlessly. However, both of these can be toggled on or off in the Bose Music app settings should you prefer.
Another feature of the Bose Music app is the ability to set and name two of your own modes, to make a maximum of four with the two defaults. There is a slider with 10 steps to select how much noise cancellation you want to have, giving you the option to opt for more of a middle ground than the two presets.
The only thing worth noting is that there is no way to turn off the noise cancellation completely - you can only scale the noise cancelling slider all the way down, which basically mimics Aware mode.
This might be a sticking point for some, but we can’t remember the last time we chose to listen to a pair of ANC headphones with the ANC switched off entirely - particularly a pair made by Bose. Aware should do the trick for any times you’d rather keep the noise cancellation to a minimum.
Features and battery life
- Six hours per charge
- Three more charges in the case (24 hours in total)
- Bose Music app offers further functionality
The Bose buds offer six hours of playback with three more from their case, giving you a full 24 hours of music before you’ll need to charge the case up. That's up from 18 hours in their predecessors.
We particularly appreciate the audio reminder of their battery status every time you put the buds in, which keeps you in the loop with how much charge you have to play with (but you can turn this off if you prefer, and just see battery status in the app).
The good news is that you’ll get two hours of playback from a quick 20 minute boost, should you ever get caught out.
We’ve mentioned the app a few times and we would recommend downloading it to get the most from the buds. You don’t have to have it in order to use them, but you will get a more personalised experience if you do - not to mention be alerted to all-important firmware updates.
There is also a three-band EQ and a handful of EQ presets if you’d like, not to mention the ability to customise your touch controls, set your own noise-cancelling presets and toggle optional functionality (like in-ear detection) on and off.
From a connectivity perspective, the Bose buds pack the latest Bluetooth 5.3 version, which allows for better power consumption and improved stability.
Unfortunately though, there is no Bluetooth multipoint functionality, which allows you to connect to two devices at once. That’s unlikely to be a deal breaker, but considering the premium price of these buds, it might be something you would have expected to see.
That goes, too, for higher quality codecs. Currently these Bose buds don't support the likes of aptX Adaptive or LDAC at launch, but has said the former can be expected in early 2023. Keep checking for firmware updates for that one, folks.
- 9.3mm full-range dynamic drivers
- Three-band EQ
Similarly to their predecessors, Bose has done a really good job with the tuning of these buds. The sound signature is one that just works, with a lot of different music. They’re never out of their depth with any genre, but also never overstep where they shouldn’t either.
Sure, they are somewhat more generous in the low end than you might have heard in Bose’s over ears, but they’re by no means bottom heavy. Everything is immaculately controlled, with rich texture and applaudable extension, but the punch behind the bouncing bass notes in SZA’s Shirt proves that these buds aren’t holding back. This is a bold, authoritative performance, without a doubt, but one that’s keen to show refinement too.
Detail retrieval is good and vocals that are front and centre in a track are given the floor. Something like Rihanna’s Lift Me Up shows the kind of focus and musicality these buds are capable of.
In the track’s simplicity, the Bose show real strength. As the guitar accompaniment weaves in and out of the soaring vocal, they deliver enough insight to uncover the leading edges of each string pluck.
We did notice in songs where more is going on, like Beyonce’s Cuff It, that vocals can lose just a touch of their presence, and that the treble is on the polite side too. That makes them a very comfortable listen - even at near-max volume - but a touch more bite wouldn't go amiss.
Thankfully, we found just a +1 tweak to the treble in the EQ could give us exactly that, and if you feel like the midrange is a little stepped back for your tastes too, a +1 tweak can help bring them forward and put them back on an even keel.
Still, no matter what you throw at these buds, their primary focus is keeping you engaged and entertained. They even handle Cornfield Chase by Hans Zimmer with perhaps surprising authority - a complicated piece of music that builds into a frenzy at its crescendo, and the Bose buds go happily along for the ride.
They never miss a beat, and dynamically they’re agile enough to drive the track forward, without sounding demanding or impatient. They’re expressive enough to get your toe tapping, but never aggressive.
For in-ear buds, there’s an admirable amount of space for them to stretch into, too, and even at volume they have the headroom to breath.
Of course, this is all underlined by the ability to have almost complete disregard for the outside world, thanks to their top-notch noise cancellation. Getting lost in your music has never been so easy.
The Bose QuietComfort EarBuds II improve on their predecessors in pretty much every way, refining their design, improving their fit and comfort and honing the sound. With an RRP of £280/$299, they are undoubtedly expensive, even in the premium wireless market, but retailers have already begun knocking a little off that at the time of writing - so it's worth looking around.
If the price tag doesn't deter you, you certainly won't be disappointed with your investment. And while they sound great, the real wow factor here is the noise cancellation they are capable of. If you need, want or crave near silence while you're listening to your music, these are the best true wireless earbuds for the job - without question.