Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II review: The new market leader
With CustomTune sound calibration, best-in-class noise cancellation, and a smaller, smarter physical design, Bose isn’t just reaching for the crown with the QuietComfort Earbuds II, it’s already seized it.
Best Today: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II
There’s so much innovation in the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II that these breakthrough buds deserve a new name—and demand serious consideration by anyone in the market for a new high-end mobile audio experience.
But instant name recognition is hard to come by, so Bose is to be forgiven for merely attaching a roman numeral to its best noise-cancelling in-ear headphones. After a week of serious workout in my ears, the QC Earbuds II have become my go-to, top-of-the-pile faves.
This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best noise-cancelling headphones.
Bose is celebrating a first-of-its-kind sound personalization technology here—the company calls it CustomTune—that calibrates both these earbuds’ audio performance and their noise-cancellation prowess to each user’s ears. Powered by a customized version of Qualcomm’s QCC5171 Bluetooth chipset and Bose’s decades of proprietary DSP algorithm development, CustomTune works its magic without so much as a “Yes, please” from the user.
The processing happens automatically whenever you remove the buds from their case and put them in your ears. In less than half a second, a self-triggered musical woosh test tone measures how your ear canals “warp” that tone. The circuitry compensates for any distortion, custom tunes the buds’ equalization, and likewise enhances noise cancellation to provide both the ideal frequency curve and what Bose is calling “the best noise reduction” ever found in any earbuds or over-the-ear headphones. As I’ll get into in a bit, my listening tests indicate that’s not just hyperbole.
The QuietComfort Earbuds II have been physically redesigned as well. They look much cooler and the comfort level is way up. You won’t be hearing many suggestions of “if you have the earlier model, there isn’t much need to upgrade.”
Forget the geeky, boxy, rectangular look of the original. While that enabled a bigger sound field than the competition could deliver, it also broadcast a brash, “pay attention to me” physical persona that was, how can I say this nicely, distinctive. Bose’s redesign also eliminates the oversized stabilizer wings that were fused to its predecessor’s ear tips. Those annoying appendages had to be carefully shoved into each of your ears’ concha to keep the buds from falling out.
These still are not the most petite buds, but the QC Earbud IIs are certainly more discrete in appearance and more comfortable for long-term use. They’re about one-third smaller and 20 percent lighter, with a back that’s been re-shaped to cling tighter to the ears. And there’s now a two-piece (instead of integrated) ear tip Fit Kit that lets you individually switch between three sizes of silicone ear tips and three sizes of tiny, barely-there stability bands. The latter also hug the concha quite well, without making a painful pest of themselves.
How do the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II sound?
If I had my druthers, I’d rename these things the Bose Bliss Buds, because they perform with such relaxed grace and assurance. They sound natural, well balanced, and detailed with whatever kind of music you throw at them, from bass-rich dance pop and hip hop (Ariana Grande, Da Brat), to stomping rock (Foo Fighters, AC/DC), to big-Band countrypolitan (Lyle Lovett’s new beaut 12 th of June)—all manner of jazz and high-toned classical, too. They lift the fog and add space around each voice and instrument.
I’m hearing production flourishes previously buried in mixes, subtleties that add to the sense of three-dimensional presence, atmosphere, musical intrigue, and romance. Take the extra soupçon of Hammond B3 vibrato emotionally enriching the late Joey DeFrancesco’s collaborative album session with Van Morrison, The Prophet Speaks. Or the subtle, airy interplay of muted trumpeter Enrico Rava and keyboardist Fred Hersch on the oh-so-tasteful The Song Is You. Classics are worth revisiting for previously hidden touches that now pop out of the shadows, such as the semi-buried, second level of background jingle-jangles I’m now hearing from ace percussionist Victor Feldman on Steely Dan’s “Do It Again.”
Stephen Colbert recently acted surprised when guest James Taylor shared how he was all over the production on Joni Mitchell’s classic album Blue. Mr. Late Show should have listened on these buds, because J.T.’s sweet guitar chording jumps out in plaintive and trademarked relief. And for follow-ups, Steve, move on to my favorite young L.A. folk rocker of the hour—Madison Cunningham—so clear in lyrical intent and playful with mod electronica effects on her new album Revealer as these buds, um, reveal.
Noise-cancelling earphone technology has long taken knocks for dulling the sound performance or introducing unwanted hiss—once considered necessary byproducts when eliminating those droning jet engine or rumbling train sounds that wearers wanted to escape. It’s the reason purists have long demanded a switch on their earphones to turn noise-cancelling circuitry off.
But get this: The Bose QC Earbuds II don’t need no stinking defeat switch. Out of the box, noise cancelling is always on—even when you switch modes from Quiet (full noise cancellation) to the alternative Aware Mode with ActiveSense, which selectively lets in some outside sounds when you don’t want to lose touch with your surroundings. If you insist, it is possible to damp down the noise cancellation to a lower level or seemingly to a full “off” position by fine tuning and storing one or two optional “create mode” settings, available in the Bose Music app.
Still, I defy you to detect any dereliction in the QC Earbud II’s musical delivery with noise cancelling cooking. Bose’s CustomTune circuitry calibrates the noise-reduction signal to your ears and the needs of the moment with surgical precision, targeting frequencies that were previously difficult to reduce without taking a blunt axe to everything in the forest.
I heard this for myself during a recent visit to my neighborhood swimming pool. After putting in the Bose buds, I could kiss goodbye—simultaneously—the loud boombox soundtrack (“Eye of the Tiger”) pumping up an aqua aerobics class, the screaming tykes and gurgling water fountain aerating the baby pool, and some nearby gabsters talking about—gee, I have no idea. If Bose ever does rename these earbuds, it should also consider retagging Quiet mode as Oblivion, thanks to the way it takes you out of your zone and deep into the music.
Making or taking phone calls when wearing these things is likewise a pleasure—the talker at the other end intones with a brighter presence than I’m used to hearing on my high-grade Ooma internet phone rig at home. And from the other end, I’ve been complimented on how clear and crisp I sound.
But take note: While Bose’s noise cancellation does eliminate almost all environmental sound distractions in the wearer’s ears during phone calls, the listener at the other end is not quite as fortunate. Bose says the microphone (one of four in each bud) dedicated to calls and Apple/Android voice assistance offers “improved voice pickup enabled by an updated noise removal algorithm,” but it’s not quite the same.
Yes, these buds are better than others at blocking out wind interference when you’re outside, but when wearing the buds and answering a call in my kitchen, I was begged to “please turn down the TV,” which I’d previously set to blast level for testing purposes. Comically, this loud “breaking news” chatter wasn’t bothering me at all on my oblivious, noise-cancelled end. I’d even forgotten the telly was on.
Are Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II easy to set up and operate?
These earbuds couldn’t be simpler to get going. Just point your smartphone’s camera at the QR code on the package to download the Bose Music app. Once open, it will search and find your earbuds and probably instigate a firmware update. Be patient; mine took almost 30 minutes to complete.
The earbuds will then automatically start searching for Bluetooth connectivity to your streaming source—or you can change that up by tapping the Bluetooth refresh button on the back of the charging case. The Bluetooth 5.3 radio in these buds is quite robust. I could travel two house floors away from the music beaming from my iPhone 12 Pro and still hold onto a stable signal.
The buds arrive with the medium size (of three) silicone ear tips and the smallest of three sizes of silicone stability bands pre-installed. I ran the “Fit Test” in the Bose app, which instigated a CustomTune violin swoop sound, then instantly declared I had a good seal. Later, I decided the buds were a mite tight, so I switched to the smallest-size ear tips and again received a good fit endorsement.
With this combination, I can comfortably listen to music (and talk on the phone) for all 6-plus hours these things will play on one charge. If taking a break, returning the Bose buds to their dental-floss-sized case quickly tops off their batteries. The case can re-charge fully depleted buds in one hour, while a mere 20-minute charge provides up to two hours of playback. The case itself fully recharges (for 18 hours of backup power) in three hours via USB-C. A short (12-inch) USB-A-to-USB-C cable is included, but an AC adapter is not.
Function-duplicating capacitive touch controls on both left and right earbuds offer a fast-tap option to pause and play (which is easy to trigger accidentally) or answer a call, while a well-finessed up/down finger slide raises/lowers the volume. Two taps on either bud will skip a track, three taps replay the previous track, and a long hold on either side either activates your phone’s voice assistant or shifts through the two preset noise-cancelling modes and two custom noise-cancelling modes if you decide to add them.
Customizable adjustment of bass, midrange, and treble settings is enabled in the Bose Music app. But honestly, I found the CustomTune EQ was so spot-on and satisfying, so close to “as the artist wanted me to hear the music,” that I’ve mostly left the EQ flat. Even listening to rock and rap, I’ve never felt the need to crank up the bass more than a couple notches, although all three EQ settings can be adjusted plus or minus a full eight steps.
What’s coming next?
Updates to the Bose Music app and linked QC II earbuds “will be released over time to add new features and benefits,” says the maker. I could readily imagine them adding spatial audio support to reach feature parity with headphones and earbuds from the likes of Sony and Apple. An automatic “pause audio playback when the wearer speaks” option, as found on Sony’s clever new LinkBud-S buds, would be welcome, too.
When all is said and done, however, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II don’t need much in the tweaking department. If you just can’t stand black buds, a Soapstone (off-white) color variant will be available later this year at the same 299 price as the glossy Triple Black version you can pick up now. But think of all the musical enjoyment you’ll miss while waiting.
With CustomTune sound calibration, best-in-class noise cancellation, and a smaller, smarter physical design, Bose isn’t just reaching for the crown with its QuietComfort Earbuds II, it’s already seized it.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review: A next level noise-cancelling audio experience
Some of the best-quality sound and noise-cancelling you’ll ever get without over-ears. If you’re really looking for vigorous workout companions, you might be better off elsewhere. But for everyday music, mindfulness and light workouts, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are exceptional quality.
- Some of the best active noise cancellation we’ve tried
- Secure enough to gym and run in comfort
- Ergonomic design
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Welcome to FitWell’s Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review. Bose Sport earbuds, the successor to the Soundsport Free, are already some of our best-rated sports earbuds, but the Bose QuietComfort takes that quality and improves them even further with all the company’s long history of audio expertise.
We’ll be diving into the price, features, design, comfort, sound and performance to rate the Bose QuietComfort earbuds amongst its contemporaries. We’ll save you some time with a quick verdict: the Bose QuietComfort earbuds are some of the best workout earbuds. The audio quality is second to none, with active noise cancellation and a wonderfully simple setup. I couldn’t believe my ears.
They’re not as light and sleek as the Bose Sport earbuds, so their added bulk means you didn’t feel as brave throwing your head or weight around during vigorous exercise like boxing or circuits. But with the right size silicone buds, they’re more than suitable for a run or moderate-intensity weights sessions, while providing amazing audio quality.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review: Price and Features
Bose QuietComfort earbuds cost 279 in the US, and £249 in the UK from the Bose store. That’s a hefty price tag, but you can often find them cheaper at other outlets (in the UK, they’re currently on sale for £199.99 on Amazon), especially around popular deals times like the holidays.
The most important QuietComfort feature is in the name: Quiet. The earbuds feature active noise-canceling to rival Apple’s Airpods, which can be turned on and off with a tap of the left earbud. The right earbud features touch-sensitive volume controls instead.
They come in four colorways: triple black, stone blue, soapstone, and sandstone. The case features wireless charging, a factor lots of otherwise premium earbuds seem to lack, and the buds provide a total of around six hours of battery life.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review: Design and Comfort
At first glance, the QuietComfort Earbuds looked big. Way too big. The QuietComfort Earbuds aren’t specifically designed with workouts in mind, but they are designed for everyday life, including (as mentioned on the official Bose site) roller-skating and other active movement pursuit – “everything that makes you, you”. For me, that’s workouts, and I was worried these earbuds would go flying out of my ears every time I took too vigorous a step.
Fortunately, that’s not the case. I’ve been on runs for over an hour and the earbuds have remained snug in my ears due to the StayHear Max design. It’s extremely comfortable, with every surface that touches your ears being made of soft silicone. You get three different bud sizes to get a good “seal” around your ears, and the added in-ear hook helps keep the bulbous unit surprisingly snug.
Initially, on my first run I felt the buds pendulously wobbling in my ears, and I thought my hopes of using them outside the house were dashed. However, on changing the silicone sizes from two to three, I had a nice snug fit, improving the sound quality and noise cancelling, and the larger hook secured them comfortably. The only time I felt one drop is when I was doing a particularly vigorous punchbag workout, which is phenomenal for earbuds which don’t even fall into the Sport category.
The sizeable units, although they stick out of the ears, are attractive, simple pebbles (hence the colorway names) and the touch controls are pleasing to use when adjusting volumes, flicking from “aware” to “quiet” modes, and answering calls. It’s simple, ergonomic and pleasing.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review: Sound and Performance
I live on a busy west London street. The first moment I tapped the left bud twice, heard the Bose AI say “Quiet” and the world drop away, I was in awe. It’s not completely soundproof, but by filtering sound through the earbud’s microphone and choosing what to block and what to pipe into my ears, almost all ambient sound is shut out. It’s wonderful for reading in coffee shops, which turns the outside world from a roar to a dim background hum, or guided meditations. But it’s also perfect for busy gyms.
It does depend on finding the right fit for your ears out of the three silicone buds provided. Once you’ve got your fit, the seal really does limit the amount of unwanted ambiance coming in, allowing the microphone to do the work. For incorporating mindfulness into everyday life from Headspace or Calm (my personal choice) this is a godsend.
It also allows you to FOCUS on Bose’s signature high-quality sound. Bose is obviously no slouch in this department, and the sound engineering delivers. Songs are suitably bassy, and the buds can deliver ear-blasting volume (if you want) with no hint of tin. I’m a big audiobook and podcast listener, and voices were also crystal-clear.
On that subject, taking calls becomes a real pleasure to do with a touch on the right ear. Chatting is easy, and I was understood (and could understand) people perfectly even on a breezy winter’s night. The battery life lives up to its six-hour time as promised, and it charges quickly after clipping into the magnetic case. The five battery lights on the front of the case indicates when the case is out of charge.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review: Verdict
These buds are fantastic. They’re at the upper echelon of the price point for wireless earbuds, but they’re some of the best-quality sound you’ll ever get without over-ears (which, coincidentally, is where the QuietComfort range began).
If you’re really looking for buds to see you through truly vigorous workouts, you might be better off with the smaller Bose Sport, as the size of the buds can be a bit off-putting for those seeking dedicated workout earbuds.
However, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are the highest quality all-rounders we’ve ever tried, capable of handling moderate-intensity workouts with ease and providing a true blessing in the ability to generate amazing noise canceling at the drop of a hat. Want to do a mindfulness exercise on the bus? Block the world out with a tap.
Amazing wireless earbuds with brilliant noise-cancelling tech Tested at £249 / 280 / AU399
What Hi-Fi? Verdict
The first-gen Bose QuietComfort Earbuds deliver an energetic, balanced sound and brilliant noise-cancelling.
Why you can trust What Hi-Fi?
Our expert team reviews products in dedicated test rooms, to help you make the best choice for your budget. Find out more about how we test.
Bose’s QuietComfort sub-brand has become synonymous with sensational noise-cancelling headphones over the years.
Historically, the vast majority of its noise-cancelling headphones have been on- and over-ear designs, but the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are true wireless earbuds. There’s no shortage of competition in this arena, though, and they go toe to toe with some huge rivals, such as the Apple Airpods Pro 2 and Sony WF-1000XM4, not to mention their 2022-released sequels, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II.
Given our experience with its other QuietComfort models, we have big hopes for these wireless earbuds, but can Bose deliver?
Bose had launched noise-cancelling in-ear headphones and true wireless headphones before, but this marked the first time it combined the two technologies. This means there is plenty of tech packed into the QuietComfort Earbuds, and that has led to a pair of buds that are pretty stocky in appearance.
The earpieces don’t protrude massively from your ears, but the general look is bigger than the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 and Sony WF-1000XM4. The main body of the headphone is at least curved, so it blends in a bit easier to the side of your head.
Bluetooth version 5.1
Battery life 6 hours (18 with charging case)
Voice control Siri, Google Assistant
Finishes Soapstone, Triple Black
Our review pair is in the creamy Soapstone finish, but there is also a Triple Black option. Even some premium wireless earbuds can feel a bit cheap in the hand, but not these Boses. The smooth outer surfaces of the earpieces feel tactile, while the glossy plastic used for the driver enclosure is robust. The winged eartips boast a smooth, matte finish, too, helping heighten the impression of quality.
There’s a choice of small, medium and large tips – this seems a little stingy, but the edges of the tips are so generous in size, it makes it easy to get a good seal. You don’t need to drive them in like tent pegs to feel the isolation, which is great for comfort levels. We’re also fans of how simple it is to swap the tips around. Just slide them on and off the earbuds and you can have a new pair fitted in seconds.
The Boses feel lightweight enough and we have no issues listening for a few hours at a time. For the average commute or exercise session (the QuietComforts are both sweat and weather-resistant) they are great to live with.
Battery life is a claimed six hours from a single charge, with the charging case supplying an extra two charges, making 18 hours in total. That’s a decent reserve, but by no means class-leading. The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3, by contrast, boast seven hours per charge plus 28 extra hours from their case. Bose did at least address this in the QuietComfort Earbuds II by blessing them with a more on-par total of 24 hours, but this won’t help the originals last any longer!
A 15-minute quick-charge should give you a couple of hours if you’re caught short, though, and there’s the option of using the supplied USB-C cable or any Qi-certified wireless charging mat to get the job done.
The charging case is a chunky affair too, but at least it feels solid and built to last. You need to press a button on the front to gain entry, which is unusual for a pair of wireless earbuds, as most just tend to settle for a magnetic lid. A row of LEDs on the front of the case shows you how much battery life is left inside.
When first using the QuietComfort Earbuds, open the case and have the Bose Music app (for Android and iOS) to hand. You’ll be prompted to pair and guided through all the key features.
By default, you touch and hold your finger on the touchpad of the right earbud to access voice assistants or decline a call. Double-tap to play/pause and answer. Touch and hold your finger on the left earbud to skip a track or check the battery level.
You can customise some features and controls based on what you use the most often, and thanks to a recent update, they can also control volume by swiping up or down along the surface of the right earbud.
The headphones use four microphones to help with call quality and they work together well to keep your voice sounding solid and clear. But do the QuietComfort Earbuds deliver Bose’s trademark, excellent noise-cancelling? In a word, yes.
Bose has designed these in-ears to be as flexible as possible, so you can set them up to cancel noise based on your personal preferences. In the Bose music app, you’re presented with a noise-cancelling sliding scale which ranges from zero (no noise-cancelling) to 10 (maximum noise-cancelling). Here you can create custom modes that you can switch between depending on the activity you’re doing.
You can also switch between Quiet Mode, which activates ANC, and Aware Mode, which acts as a transparency mode by allowing your surroundings to seep in while you’re listening to music.
The QuietComfort Earbuds more than live up to their billing. Experiment with the different levels and you’ll hear the QuietComforts do their thing, cutting out huge swathes of background noise when on the maximum setting.
Conversely, if you want more of the outside world to seep in, the headphones adapt perfectly. Take an earbud out to have a conversation and the Bose buds don’t just pause playback, they automatically cut the noise-cancelling in the earbud left in your ear so you can hear more clearly.
That excellent noise-cancelling also allows the Bose’s superb sound quality to shine through unmolested. We kick things off with a spot of uplifting drum and bass in Delta Heavy’s White Flag VIP and from the very first beat we are captivated.
The sense of enthusiasm and excitement conveyed by the Bose buds is highly infectious. There’s power, poise and a fantastic sense of dynamism. Bass notes sound full-bodied, go deep and the QuietComfort Earbuds squeeze out lots of detail.
The quiet background allows the vocal to stand proud before the chorus launches this track into the stratosphere. The deep, throbbing bassline oozes texture. We’d describe the Bose sound as one full of natural warmth and richness, but the music never sounds smothered – even with the noise-cancelling in its highest setting.
The QuietComfort Earbuds aren’t just a one-trick pony either. Yes, they can be the life of the party when the track warrants it, but they’re also versatile enough to allow the emotion and more subtle elements of a track to leave their mark.
Play Dave’s BRIT Awards 2020 performance of Black and the Boses convey the drama and emotion of the occasion perfectly. Dave’s vocal sounds pained and poignant while the accompanying strings and piano are natural and believable. There’s a richness to the sound which you’re immediately drawn to, and lyrics flow effortlessly as the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds keenly extract every last ounce of detail.
The current class-leading Sony WF-1000XM4 have the edge in terms of outright dynamics and timing but the Bose put on a great show. Bose has since jumped ahead of Sony with its QuietComfort Earbuds II, but they have the premium price tag that goes with it too.
With Apple, Sennheiser and Sony already offering premium wireless, noise-cancelling earbuds, the pressure was on Bose to produce something competitive – and it’s fair to say it didn’t disappoint with its original QuietComfort Earbuds.
They are great all-rounders, capable of impressive musicality and topped off with excellent noise cancelling. They’re more than a match for any rival at this level, especially now that they have fallen in price in light of their successor’s arrival.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II are the next generation of wireless listening. Enjoy the best in sound and noise cancellation that is perfectly yours.
You always get the best sound quality because CustomTune technology auto-adjusts it to your ears’ liking.
Your buds send out a chime to learn your ear canal’s unique shape
The chime bounces back and gets picked up by the built-in microphones
Your buds then optimize a noise cancellation and sound performance that fits you perfectly
Keep them in comfortably with soft eartips and stability bands that come in three sizes. Then, take the Fit Test in the Bose Music app to make sure it’s just right.
Tune in and tune out
Pure bliss is in Quiet Mode when you silence background noise with the world’s best noise cancellation.
When it’s time to pay attention, Aware Mode allows enough transparency to hear your surroundings or engage in friendly conversation.
The ActiveSense technology in Aware Mode can silence loud background noise to a stop, or soften it to a manageable volume.
You heard it correctly
Lifelike and well-balanced sound is our game, and we achieve it through innovative technology custom-built for small devices.
No more “huh?” during calls thanks to built-in microphones that filter out ambient noise to FOCUS your voice and deliver conversations clearly.
Take personalization even further with Adjustable EQ settings in the Bose Music app. Control bass, mid-range, and treble levels as you go.
Midnight Blue, Soapstone, Triple Black, White, Eclipse Gray, Midnight
Earbuds: Plastic, gold plating, sweat and water resistant (IPX4) Eartips: Silicone Case: Hard plastic
Battery life: Up to 6 hours Earbud charge time: 1 hour Charging case charge time: 3 hours Quick-charge time: 20 minutes for 2 hours Battery charge method: USB-C Battery type (earbud): Lithium-ion Battery type (case): Lithium-ion Automatic on/off feature to preserve battery
4 microphones in each earbud
Bluetooth range: Up to 30 ft Bluetooth version: 5.3 Codec: SBC and AAC Chip set: Qualcomm S5 Audio SoC