The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds don’t come cheap, but even at $279 it’s clear that these are simply the best active noise-cancelling wireless earbuds for the money.
Sure, the newer Bose Sport Open Earbuds might be cheaper and have an arguably more interesting design, but those are dedicated sport buds without ANC. The QuietComfort Earbuds, on the other hand, manage to cram much of the functionality from the excellent over-ear Bose 700 headphones into a tiny yet no less premium package. This includes 10 levels of adjustable ANC, dynamic sound, and unique calling features via companion app. Connectivity is upgraded too, though a switch to Bluetooth 5.1.
As glowing as the QuietComfort Earbuds sound, they aren’t perfect. Battery life, while more sufficient than the AirPods Pro (on a single charge), comes up short against the competition. The size and shape of the earbuds isn’t anything to brag about either, neither is the large, weighty charging case. These drawbacks aside, the QuietComfort Earbuds are the company’s best wireless earbuds to date and are well worth the investment for peaceful listening.
Colors: Triple Black, Soapstone
Battery life (rated): 6 hours, 18 hours (with charging case)
Size: 1.5 x 1 x 1.1 inches (per bud), 3.5 x 2 x 1.3 inches (charging case)
Weight: 0.3 ounces (per bud), 2.7 ounces (charging case)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.1
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: Price
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: Design
Bose’s penchant for premium craftsmanship has been celebrated for decades, though the QuietComfort Earbuds may be deemed too minimalist for style mongers. However, there’s no denying their build quality. The buds are constructed from much of the same high-end composite plastic that was used to put together the brand’s previous sporty wireless earbuds, the SoundSport Free, which were super durable and built to take beats. The matte finish is a nice touch that shines bright when exposed to sunlight.
Regarding size, the QuietComfort Earbuds are not the most discrete model to wear. Compared to the Sony WF-1000XM3, they are slimmer and nearly identical in length, but also stick out like a sore thumb. The sound port comes with black IR sensors for on-ear detection. It looks like Bose also made minor changes to the model’s previous design that we saw at an exclusive briefing last year, which, at the time, went under the Bose 500 Earbuds alias; the mics are now placed at the bottom of the casing rather than the front.
I thought Sony and JBL had an affinity for large charging cases, but Bose seems to have one-upped its adversaries with its own creation. The QuietComfort Earbuds charging case is huge and hefty: 3.5 x 2 x 1.3 inches and 2.7 ounces. Do the math, this is about 2.5 times thicker and 2 times heavier than the AirPods Pro case (1.78 x 2.39 x 0.85 inches, 1.6 grams). Simply put, it’s not the most portable-friendly option out there.
Where the charging case somewhat makes up for its size is functionality. Having a Bluetooth button programmed into the case is always appreciated, as it offers another connectivity solution via manual pairing. The release button in front also has some nice spring action to it, opening the lid effortlessly, while displaying the buds beautifully on their respective charging docks.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: Comfort and fit
Some people found the comfortability on the SoundSport Free to be accommodating for workouts and others said the buds were an unpleasant wear for casual listening. Not much has changed on the QuietComfort Earbuds. Those with a high pain threshold should be able to sport them for about two hours before experiencing any discomfort. Others, like myself, will feel the sound port applying unwanted pressure to the concha and want to take off the buds every 45 minutes for relief. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend wearing them for long stretches.
On the plus side, these buds do offer personalized fit. Bose was generous with its accessories, which includes extra sets of ear fins to accommodate different ear shapes. Also, the proprietary StayHear Max silicone ear tips create a tight seal. Performing a slide-in-and-twist technique will provide these buds proper on-ear stability during speed walks or jogs around the neighborhood.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: Controls and digital assistant
Controls on the QuietComfort Earbuds are a mixed bag. Bose did a fine job with the touch panels, and though they’re responsive to commands, not having single- or triple-tap gestures available seems like a missed opportunity that also happens to limit functionality.
Playback and call management are controlled on the right earbud: play/pause/answer call/end call (2x tap), and decline call/enable digital assistant (long press). The left earbud is the only one that can be customized and allows you to either skip a track/hear battery levels (long press) or cycle through your three favorite ANC levels (2x tap). Removing either bud will automatically pause music and placing it back on the ear resumes playback. I noticed some latency when performing either gesture; it’s about a 2-second delay.
Bose headphones and earbuds have a solid track record with digital assistant support, and the QuietComfort Earbuds are no exception. Bose’s mic array demonstrates superb speech recognition, picking up every vocalized command and syllable. Siri and Google Assistant operate smoothly on their respective platforms. I was also surprised by how well this feature worked on macOS, which hasn’t always been the case for me when using other models on my MacBook Pro.
Bose also confirmed that the digital assistant feature is native to whatever smartphone you’re using, meaning it will also work with Bixby (Samsung) and even Cortana (Microsoft). Alexa is MIA.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: Active noise cancellation and Ambient Sound
If you thought Bose kept us waiting three years to produce anything less than best-in-class noise cancellation, then you’re naively mistaken. The QuietComfort Earbuds are hands down the best noise-cancelling buds out there, rewarding listeners with 10 adjustable levels of noise cancellation and nearly matching the Bose 700’s ANC performance.
If you’re someone who wants complete silence during office hours or when binging YouTube videos, keep the buds at max level (10). This setting does a phenomenal job of blocking out ambient sounds across the frequency spectrum. I tested the technology in multiple settings to get a feel for its noise-neutralizing capabilities. The barge work taking place right in front of the house was unnoticeable, along with the whisking cars and dump trucks that passed by the house. Inside, I had fun vibing out to Spotify playlists without my siblings-in-law distracting me.
The lower you bring the ANC levels, the less powerful the feature is. However, the feature still holds up strong when set between levels 5 and 10. Only high-frequency sounds (e.g. ambulance sirens, whistles) caught my attention, and even then, those weren’t enough to pull me away from whatever I had blasting on the buds.
The Transparency mode isn’t well advertised on these buds, yet it’s available and blends with noise cancellation when set to level 5. Overall, it’s useful for hearing your surroundings better without pausing music and the ANC technology does help make ambient noises more distinctive and less harsh, if that makes sense. I enabled it a few times when working in my home office and heard my pregnant wife’s requests clearly.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: Audio quality
ANC isn’t the only other hallmark the QuietComfort Earbuds shares with the Bose 700. It turns out these next-gen buds have a similar frequency curve, using a combination of Bose’s Active EQ technology and proprietary drivers to produce warm, pleasant audio.
Justin Timberlake’s “Summer Love” showed how well balanced the audio is on these earbuds. The singer’s vocals sounded crisp and weren’t overshadowed by the record’s boomy production elements, which range from pounding drums to synthesized effects. Switching over to more melodic selections, I pulled up Miles Davis’ “So What” for a soothing dose of Jazz and was met with satisfying results. Detail and resolution were superb, with every background instrument accounted for; the lightly plucked double bass and steady hi-hat were pronounced.
If you’re someone who wants bass-bumping sonics, then look elsewhere because the QuietComfort Earbuds are quite tame on the low end. The snares on Nas’ “Angels with Dirty Faces” were transparent, but also lacked the percussive impact that I am accustomed to hearing on other bass-forward models like the WF-1000xM3. Those same sentiments were shared when hearing the guitar bass on Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up,” granted I was impressed by the dynamic range displayed on the track, which let me hear the loudest (horn section) and quietest (Gaye’s harmonizing) passages with precision. Raising ANC and volume to the max does provide a bit more oomph, but it isn’t enough to please the head-banger crowd.
It’s interesting that the volume adjuster on the app doesn’t reach max level, which I guess is Bose’s way of telling us the buds can go higher but are capped at one level lower to protect the listener’s hearing. Some might call this thoughtful, and they would be right. At the same time, I feel the buds could benefit from higher volume, even if it’s just one notch higher.
Bose’s ear tips create a tight seal for decent passive noise isolation, allowing for fuller sound and blocking external noises from entering the soundscape.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: App and special features
Those who own the Bose 700 are familiar with Bose Connect. The companion app is easy to navigate, looks clean, and has a few features to enhance the listening experience. Unfortunately, some features remain exclusive to the Bose 700.
The ANC slider is accessible to easily adjust noise cancellation levels. Hitting the Settings icon on the top right presents you with several toggles for ANC, on-ear detection, voice assistance, and voice prompts, along with the option to select a shortcut (e.g. battery level indicator, skip forward) for the left earbud. You also get volume slider, playback management controls, and battery level indicators for both buds on the product’s home screen. The one feature you’ll definitely want to play with is Self Voice, so you can hear yourself louder on phone calls.
What’s missing? Well, two very serviceable features. It’s a shame the QuietComfort Earbuds don’t have the adjustable EQ to fine-tune bass, mids or treble. The Auto-Off option is missing as well, which would place the buds in sleep mode when not in use.
Another missing feature: multipoint technology. I haven’t seen a pair of ANC wireless earbuds employ this technology yet, which allows you to connect to two devices simultaneously. The opening was there for Bose.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: Battery life and charging case
Bose rates battery life at 6 hours. When factoring ANC, heavy wireless streaming, and high volume into the equation, it’s really about 5.5 hours. That is pretty standard for ANC wireless earbuds, and longer than the AirPods Pro (4.5 hours), but also shorter than WF-1000xM3 (6 hours). The fact that you can’t turn off ANC mode and transparency mode at the same time also affects battery life. You’ll need to rely on quick charging to calm your low-battery anxiety: a 15-minute charge will get you 2 hours of juice.
You would think that bigger dimensions would equate to more battery life, right? Nope. Bose’s charging case holds up to 18 hours fully charged. By comparison, that’s shorter than the AirPods Pro charging case in terms of playtime (24 hours) and extra charges (5 charges). It’s a decent amount of portable power to carry around; it’s just an encumbering carry.
One positive is that the charging case supports wireless charging and is compatible with Qi-certified wireless chargers. Its sportier brethren, the Bose Sport Earbuds, is not.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: Call quality and connectivity
The QuietComfort Earbuds are the top wireless earbuds for phone call and video chats, and it’s not up for debate. It was fun to be on Zoom calls, with some of my clients complimenting how loud and clear I sounded. My wife couldn’t tell I was using earbuds during phone calls. She also couldn’t hear the noises (e.g. ceiling fan, car horns, and door buzzers) around me whenever chatting indoors and outdoors, which showcased the strength and versatility of Bose’s noise-cancelling mics. Her feedback spoke for itself, saying, “yep, this is the clearest I’ve heard you on a pair of earbuds.”
These are one of the few models with Bluetooth 5.1, and it shows, as the QuietComfort Earbuds do a fantastic job on the wireless front. From the moment you open the charging case, the buds enter pairing mode and immediately show up on the available devices list. It’s also worth mentioning how fast they re-pair, as I was able to instantly connect to my Google Pixel 3XL and MacBook Pro with ease. Range was steady too, giving me about 35 feet of wireless listening.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: Verdict
Bose set its sights on creating the best noise-cancelling experience in the true wireless space, and the QuietComfort Earbuds accomplish this with gusto. The fact that it’s almost capable of producing the same ANC performance as the Bose 700 is remarkable. You’re going to get some delightful sound and excellent call quality out of the buds as well, which makes the most out of the Bose’s noise-cancelling technology for undisrupted phone calls and video chats.
Yet despite their noteworthy debut, the QuietComfort Earbuds do come up short in a few categories. They are far from small and take up a lot real estate, on your ear and in your pocket. Battery life will also leave you wanting more, especially as ANC sucks up a lot of juice, and the wireless charging case holds less playtime than the AirPods Pro.
We can also harp on the luxury price point for argument’s sake, but let’s be honest. Those who have shopped for Bose headphones already know what that money is going towards: unbeatable noise cancellation and great overall performance. And that’s the QuietComfort Earbuds in a true wireless nutshell.