Bose QC Ultra Headphones vs. Bose QC Headphones: What's the difference?

Bose surprised us with two new over-ear headphone releases for 2023. While most of the attention has gone to the masterfully engineered QuietComfort Ultra Headphones as the flagship successor to the Bose 700, it turns out that it also released a replacement for the QC45 simply called the Bose QuietComfort Headphones. Bose hasn’t given the follow-up to the QuietComfort 45 any fanfare or much promotion, but nevertheless it's an impressive update in the QC series.

The QC Ultra and QC Headphones boast different features and upgrades not found on previous Bose headphones, but they come with a price increase. With the exception of the premium price Apple charges for its AirPods Max, the Bose Ultra Headphones flagship are among the priciest options in the best noise cancelling headphones category. 

But whether you’re a Bose fan or a casual consumer wanting the most effective tech to silence the world around you, both new QC models get the job done to a class-leading standard. To find out which Bose model is the best for your needs, our QC Ultra and QC Headphones face-off has all the answers.

Bose QC Ultra vs. Bose QC Headphones on grass

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Bose QuietComfort Ultra vs. Bose QuietComfort Headphones: Specs compared

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Header Cell - Column 0 Bose QuietComfort UltraBose QuietComfort Headphones
Price$429 / £449 / AU$649$349 / £349 / AU$649
Size7.7 x 2.0 x 5.5 inches‎6.18 x 3.15 x 7.68 inches
Weight8.96 ounces7.8 ounces
Battery life (rated)24 hours (18 hours w/ Immersive Audio)24 hours
ConnectivityBluetooth 5.3 with SBC, AAC, LE, and aptX Adaptive supportBluetooth 5.1 with SBC and AAC
Special featuresAdaptive ANC, ambient listening mode, aptX Adaptive, Bluetooth multipoint, customizable sound, quick charging, Immersive Audio with headtracking (universal), SimpleSync, touch volume controls, voice activationAdjustable ANC, ambient listening mode, Bluetooth multipoint, customizable EQ, multipoint technology, Self Voice, SimpleSync, smart controls, Spotify Tap, voice activation

Bose QuietComfort Ultra vs. Bose QuietComfort Headphones: Price & availability

Bose QuietComfort Headphones with the packing box

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The QuietComfort Ultra are listed at $429, which is higher than top sellers like the $399 Sony WH-1000XM5, but also less expensive than the $549 Apple AirPods Max. Meanwhile, the QC Headphones sell for $349, a $20 spike from the QC45’s 2021 launch price, and the same MSRP as the stellar Sennheiser Momentum 4. 

Although price hikes feel excessive in the current world economic climate, the high-level performance on offer makes each model a justifiable purchase. Just know that the more you spend, the wider functionality you get.

Winner: Tie

Bose QuietComfort Ultra vs. Bose QuietComfort Headphones: Design

Bose QC Ultra with Bose QC headphones side-by-side

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Side-by-side these models like pretty similar. The QC Headphones design replicate the appearance of past QC35 and QC45 models, while the Ultra appears to take design cues from rival models to create a chic and well-crafted headphone.

The QC Ultra display superior craftsmanship, blending the 700’s sharp-looking aesthetics with the QC series’ pleasant wearable design. Sturdy aluminum makes up most of the headphones’ composition and premium leather wraps around the headband and earcups for optimal comfort. Details like the accented yokes, matte finish, and multiple microphone holes look nice. Even the bundled carrying case has gotten a facelift, featuring cutouts to collapse and store the cans properly when on the move. 

Differentiating between the QC Headphones and QC45 is difficult since they share the same materials and silhouette. The latest model comes with darker branding on the earcups and a new cypress green colorway that’s very trendy. Expect great comfort and fit, but build quality doesn't feel quite as luxurious as the more costly QC Ultra. 

Winner: Bose QC Ultra

Bose QuietComfort Ultra vs. Bose QuietComfort Headphones: Controls

Bose QC Ultra control buttons

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Physical buttons and voice activation are part of the QC Ultra and QC Headphones control schemes. Tactility is responsive and solid, ensuring all intended commands are properly executed. Advanced mic arrays give both models excellent speech recognition and vocal capture when using the digital assistant. Firing up Alexa or Google Assistant with their wake-word phrase was instantaneous, and voice commands were addressed as quickly as they were received.

Wear detection is only available on the QC Ultra, and it feels a bit remiss that its not included on the QC headphones at their $349 price. The QC Ultra volume control strip on the right earcup that accurately adjusts volume when employing slide gestures, and is a very handy feature to have.

Winner: Bose QC Ultra

Bose QuietComfort Ultra vs. Bose QuietComfort Headphones: Sound quality

Bose QC Headphones worn by reviewer Alex Bracetti

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Bose headphones are the benchmark when it comes to noise-canceling. Sound quality is less of a specialty for its designs, although the company showed out on their new releases. Let’s start with the QC Headphones, which are a noteworthy upgrade from the QC45 with sonic changes that result in deeper bass and more natural sound. There’s plenty of depth and reverb to enjoy on contemporary tracks. Adjusting bass, midrange, and treble in the Bose Music app can also be helpful for those wanting personalized sound. Sadly, there's no aptX support for superior wireless audio signal handling over Bluetooth. 

Bose QC Ultra Headphones worn by reviewer Alex Bracetti

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The QC Ultra have these same perks and a more versatile soundstage that employs CustomTune technology to fine-tune audio based on the unique properties of your ear. On top of that, they support aptX Adaptive for Bluetooth playback that’s dynamically scaled to increase the data rate from 279kpbs to 420kbps. 

Greater clarity and detail are present when listening to Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, and other popular streaming platforms on Android devices. Then comes the kicker: Immersive Audio

Bose’s first attempt at 3D sound is a grand slam that creates a surreal soundscape for music and movies. Still mode calibrates sound to a fixed position and Motion mode places sound right in front of you. These sonic presentations are livelier than what you’ll hear from Apple or Sony’s spatial audio. Not to mention the QC Ultra’s headtracking is spectacularly accurate with zero latency. Lastly, Immersive Audio is compatible with all stereo content. All processing is done directly on the headphone and doesn’t rely on additional hardware, nor does it need the assistance of Dolby Atmos or access to hi-res optimized top-tier music streaming services.

Winner: Bose QC Ultra

Bose QuietComfort Ultra vs. Bose QuietComfort Headphones: ANC

Bose QuietComfort Headphones worn by reviewer Alex Bracetti

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Go with the QC Ultra if you want to block out the world completely. Nearly 95% percent of unwanted sounds were silenced during my testing. Any blaring noises that caught my attention sounded like background effects on songs. Bose’s ambient listening was just as gratifying for situational awareness. I loved communicating clearly with my wife from across the living room, eavesdropping on conversations from across the street, and hearing emergency sirens from several blocks away.

Bose QC Ultra Headphones in white held aloft in an urban outdoors setting

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The QC Headphones are just as reliable for noise neutralization as the QC45. That’s because they share the same ANC technology, which eliminates close to 90% of incidental sounds. These headphones can handle many of the same disruptions as the QC Ultra, but occasionally let in high-frequency sounds (e.g., crying babies, whistles) that are more transparent. You can adjust performance between 10 ANC levels through user modes in the companion app, just like the QC Ultra, and can save and cycle through them when assigned to the action button. There’s also a Wind Block feature that helps reduce wind presence on both pairs of headphones. Aware mode is equally as effective for ambient listening on the QC Headphones as it is on the QC Ultra.

Winner: Bose QC Ultra

Bose QuietComfort Ultra vs. Bose QuietComfort Headphones: Call quality

Bose QC Ultra Headphones testing call quality

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Neither headphone outperforms the Bose 700 in terms of voice calling quality. That may sound shocking given the QC Ultra’s flagship status and price, but that doesn’t make either model an inferior calling headset. 

The QC Ultra were the better design for wireless video and voice calls. They eliminated more background noise, but some high-frequency sounds and wind did enter conversations. The QC Headphones come with a bundle aux cable that has an inline mic for taking calls in wired mode. Surprisingly, it boosted clarity and kept external sounds to a minimum.

Whichever headphones you choose, be sure to enable the Self Voice feature to raise vocal volume. 

Winner: Tie

Bose QuietComfort Ultra vs. Bose QuietComfort Headphones: Connectivity

Testing call quality on the Bose QuietComfort Headphones

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One of the biggest upgrades Bose introduced on all new releases, including the superb QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, was stronger wireless support. The QC Ultra and QC Headphones come with multipoint technology to pair to two devices simultaneously and a toggle to easily switch to single point connection. There’s also one-tap Google Fast pair for instant connectivity with Android devices and SimpleSync to pair either headphone to a Bose smart soundbar and use as a volume remote when watching TV. 

However, the QC Ultra received a few more extras, including aptX Adaptive codec support, plus Bluetooth 5.3 with LE Audio for steadier streaming playback. Bluetooth 5.1 is reliable on the QC Headphones.

Winner: Bose QC Ultra

Bose QuietComfort Ultra vs. Bose QuietComfort Headphones: Battery life

There’s no difference between the two models when it comes to standard battery life (24 hours). Immersive Audio does bring the QC Ultra down to 18 hours when used throughout a full charge. That’s still enough juice to stay entertained on round-trip international flights, as well as the Uber rides to and from the airport. Unfortunately, these are still considered substandard ANC playtimes compared to longer lasting rivals in their price class like the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless, which gives up to 60 hours of ANC playback.

Quick charging is different on both models. The QC Ultra can net 3 hours on a 15-minute charge, whereas the QC Headphones can generate 4 hours from a 15-minute recharge.

Winner: Tie

Bose QuietComfort Ultra vs. Bose QuietComfort Headphones: Verdict

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Header Cell - Column 0 Bose QuietComfort Ultra HeadphonesBose QuietComfort Headphones
Price and value (5)44
Design (15)1311
Controls (10)108
Sound quality (25)2322
Active noise cancelation(20)2018
Call quality (10)88
Connectivity (5)54
Battery life (10)88
Total score (100)9183

With better styling, features, and functionality, the QC Ultra Headphones rank several tiers higher than their lower-priced QC sibling. A bigger and smarter mic array with customizable settings pushes the Ultra's ANC performance to the max. Immersive Audio is an exceptional 3D audio format that enlivens the headphones’ well-balanced soundstage. Even the small changes made to the controls and design make usability more practical and seamless. Simply put, the QC Ultra are as close to perfect as you’re going to get in the noise-canceling headphones category. 

The QC Headphones could be the year’s most underrated tech release. ANC is trademark Bose, and therefore you’re getting remarkable noise cancelation that rivals Sony and Sennheiser ANC headphone alternatives. Small tweaks to the sound profile give music, movies, and podcasts a more dynamic presence, while the bountiful extra features make the QC Ultra greater feel great value even at the higher price.

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Alex Bracetti

A lifestyle journalist with an affinity for consumer products, Alex has over a decade of experience and has worked with popular publications such as Complex, Thrillist, Men’s Health, Gear Patrol, AskMen, and Hoop Magazine. He currently focuses on audio, reviewing the most coveted headphones in the market for both Tom’s Guide and Laptop Magazine.