Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds vs. Bose QC Earbuds 2: Which is best?

It’s uncommon for Bose to release a new flagship just one year after releasing their previous one. Nonetheless, they did, and brand enthusiasts are torn on what to spend their money on. Is it the all-new QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds? Or is it the model they replace after just one year on sale, the QuietComfort Earbuds 2, which won best wireless earbuds in the Tom's Guide Awards 2023

The decision may be more difficult than you think. For one, similarities between the two products are high. They each come with the same active noise cancellation, battery life, controls, and design (for the most part). Pricing isn’t far apart either. However, the QC Ultra Earbuds welcome up-to-date features like Bluetooth 5.3 with aptX Adaptive support and spatial audio

These are easily the top two best noise-cancelling earbuds that money can buy, but only one can be considered the true wireless ANC king. Find out if it’s the QC Ultra Earbuds or QCE 2.

Bose QC Ultra Earbuds vs QC Earbuds 2 face-off listing image

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Bose QC Ultra Earbuds vs. QC Earbuds 2: Specs compared

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Header Cell - Column 0 Bose QuietComfort Ultra EarbudsBose QuietComfort Earbuds II
Price$299 / £279 / AU$429$299 / £279 / AU$429
Wireless charging caseOptional ($49)Optional ($99)
Battery life (rated)6 hours (ANC on); 24 hours (with charging case); 4 hours (Immersive Audio on)6 hours; 24 hours (charging case)
FeaturesAdaptive active noise cancelation, Bluetooth 5.3, aptX Adaptive support, Immersive AudioAdaptive active noise cancelation, Bluetooth 5.3

Bose QC Ultra Earbuds vs. QC Earbuds 2: Price & availability

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds

(Image credit: Future)

There’s only a $20 difference between the two models. The QC Ultra Earbuds go on sale on October 3 at $299 and can be pre ordered from the Bose store as well as online retailers. The QCE 2 have been around for a year and are listed at $279, which is pricey for what are presumed to be discontinued buds.

Expect to see the QCE 2 as part of this year’s best Black Friday deals and Cyber Monday deals, but don’t expect the QC Ultra Earbuds to be discounted any time soon.

The QC Ultra Earbuds are the more enticing purchase based on current MSRPs. 

Winner: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds

Bose QC Ultra Earbuds vs. QC Earbuds 2: Design

Bose Quiet Comfort Earbuds 2 in hand

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Two aesthetic changes distinguish the QC Ultra Earbuds and the QCE 2. The QC Ultra Earbuds have been given a metallic sheen on the touch panels and new grooves on the top for easier installation of the silicone stabilizer wings. We prefer this glossier appearance to the QCE 2’s matte finish. 

Besides that, you’re practically looking at the same design, from the dimensions to the sturdy plastic frame with IPX4 sweat and water resistance. Bose’s updated ear tip kit is beneficial for optimal fit on both models, and the Earbuds Seal Test helps users determine the proper tip size. The charging cases remain the same too. 

Winner: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds

Bose QC Ultra Earbuds vs. QC Earbuds 2: Controls

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds

(Image credit: Future)

Touch controls, motion detection, and voice assistance perform equally great on the QC Ultra Earbuds and QCE 2. Tap and long-hold gestures are registered accurately for seamless functionality. Firing up Google Assistant with the “Hey Google” wake-word phrase is instant. The shortcut feature makes cycling through listening modes or manually enabling your phone’s native assistant a breeze. Unique features like Auto Transparency to automatically place ANC at the lowest level when wearing one bud also work like a charm.

We did notice the QC Ultra Earbuds responded to functions and voice commands a little quicker.

Winner: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds

Bose QC Ultra Earbuds vs. QC Earbuds 2: Sound

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 in black as worn by reviewer

Bose equipped the QC Ultra Earbuds with the same proprietary technologies (ActiveSense, CustomTune) as the QCE 2. They also added two new features: aptX Adaptive and spatial audio. The new Immersive Audio mode is a noteworthy 3D audio format that pumps out natural, spacious sound and is compatible with all media formats. Live performances and movies have a livelier presence, while ballads and orchestral tracks feel like you’re hearing them in studio. 

The icing on the cake is Bose’s headtracking technology, which is superb and only second to Jabra’s version on the Elite 10. Instruments and vocals are positioned properly based on head movement. Streaming tracks on DSPs (digital streaming platforms) is even more gratifying with aptX Adaptive pulling in more detail. 

The QCE 2 are a solid audio upgrade to the original QCE that introduced ActiveSense and CustomTune to Bose users. ActiveSense automatically adjusts ambient listening to your surroundings and CustomTune maps the contours of your ear canal for more effective noise cancelation. Together they create well-balanced sound that isn’t compromised by ANC. Bose’s EQ setting in the Music app lets you tweak bass or treble.

The QC Ultra Earbuds offer the stronger listening experience overall.

Winner: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds

Bose QC Ultra Earbuds vs. QC Earbuds 2: ANC

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds

(Image credit: Future)

Bose engineered the QC Ultra Earbuds with the same noise-canceling technology as the QCE 2. That means both models deliver the same outstanding ANC performance. Up to 95% of incidental sounds were silenced. Daily distractions such as construction, household appliances, loud TVs, and neighborly chatter went unnoticed. Blaring noises like crying babies, sirens, and whistles were also subdued at the highest level.

The QC Ultra Earbuds and QCE 2 performed at their best when commuting. Flights were mostly quiet, as Bose’s ANC completely blocked out engine noises and other unwanted sounds. None of the ruckus on public transportation broke my concentration. Wind resistance was most impressive; harsh sounds produced in gusty conditions didn’t affect music listening.

Winner: Tie

Bose QC Ultra Earbuds vs. QC Earbuds 2: Call quality

Showing reviewer making a call using Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2

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The predecessors in Bose’s true wireless series have always been better calling headsets than the latest entries. That was the case with the original QCE versus the QCE 2, and it’s the same here.

According to Bose, the QC Ultra Earbuds come with adaptive filters, dynamic microphone mixing, and more intelligible voice pickup. Yet calls were still marred by background noise and muffle. The QCE 2 demonstrated some noise-canceling struggles, but they kept vocals prominent over noisy backgrounds. Using the Self Voice feature via Bose Music app increases vocal volume to hear yourself louder on calls, which I recommend for both models.

Winner: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2

Bose QC Ultra Earbuds vs. QC Earbuds 2: Connectivity

The QC Ultra Earbuds and QCE 2 run on Bluetooth 5.3, though the former currently experiences random drops in audio quality and connectivity. We noticed a significant drop in clarity when streaming music, and there were also times when the Bose Music app struggled to recognize our unit. The QCE 2 were more reliable for wireless performance. They also deal with occasional crashing and freezing when connected to the companion app. 

Winner: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2

Bose QC Ultra Earbuds vs. QC Earbuds 2: Battery life

Bose QC Ultra Earbuds on charge in their case

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Ultra Earbuds have the same ANC playtime and claims up to 6 hours per charge, while Immersive Audio brings battery life down to 4 hours. A 5-minute quick charge nets you 1 hour of listening time on both set of buds and the charging cases share the same 24 hours total capacity when fully charged.

Wireless charging is available on both the QC Ultra Earbuds and QCE 2, but there are two caveats. Bose’s silicone case cover is required to enable the feature on the Ultra and costs $49, while a similar charging cover for the QCE 2 is $99. 

Winner: Tie

Bose QC Ultra Earbuds vs. QC Earbuds 2: Verdict

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Header Cell - Column 0 Bose QuietComfort Ultra EarbudsBose QuietComfort Earbuds 2
Price and value (5)43
Design (15)1312
Controls (10)98
Sound quality (25)2320
Active noise cancelation (20)1919
Call quality (10)78
Connectivity (5)34
Battery life (10)87
Total score (100)8681

The QC Ultra Earbuds are the better value buds overall. Addition like aptX Adaptive and Immersive Audio are huge additions to elevate sound quality. ANC remains top tier. Wireless charging is also noteworthy, though we’re annoyed that it comes at a premium.

Paying $279 for the QCE 2 makes very little sense right now. However, if you can snag them for a significantly lower price, you'll be rewarded with first-rate ANC and terrific sound in a swanky package. They even serve as the better calling headset.

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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.