Price: $299 / £279 / AU$429
Colors: Black, white smoke
Battery life (rated): 6 hours; 24 hours (charging case)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3 with aptX Adaptive support
Durability rating: IPX4
Size: 1.23 x 0.96 x 0.79 inches (per bud); 2.61 x 2.34 x 1.05 inches (charging case)
Weight: 0.27 ounces (per bud); 2.1 ounces (charging case)
Despite the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 launching just a year ago, the brand has returned with the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, a pair of noise-canceling buds that looks pretty similar to the Earbuds 2 on paper.
In many ways, that’s a good thing. The active noise cancelation is still best-in-class, plus the full-featured companion app and Bose’s new “immersive audio” treatment makes for a premium listening experience. Pair that with a comfortable fit and better stabilizing fin alignment, and the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds could be ones you wear all day long.
But for the $299 price, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds also lack a few features you’d expect from high-end earbuds in this day and age. Why not include a wireless charging case like you get on the AirPods Pro 2, for example?
In this Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds review, I go over whether the performance makes up for what is missing, and whether they replace the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 as the best wireless earbuds for noise cancelation you can buy.
Update: Discover how Bose's new flagship earbuds compare to their predecessor in our Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds vs. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 face-off.
Bose QC Ultra Earbuds review: Price and availability
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are available as of October 3 for $299 / £279 / AU$429, coming in two color variations: black and white smoke. That’s the same price as the previous gen Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, and the same price as rival Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds. The AirPods Pro 2 remain slightly more affordable at $249 / £229 / AU$399.
One difference between the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds compared to the Sony WF-1000XM5 and AirPods Pro 2, though, is that it doesn’t come with a wireless charging case. You can spend $49 on Bose.com to get the compatible Bose Wireless Charging Case Cover, if you’d like.
Bose QC Ultra Earbuds review: Design and comfort
Even if the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds don’t look all that different from the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, there’s a small design change that addresses one of our biggest complaints with the previous-generation model. Now, three sizes of stability fins (separate from the three earbud tips) secure to the buds with a new tab-and-notch interlocking design that make the earbuds feel more comfortable and secure. And on my runs testing them around New York City I never feared I’d lose an earbud to a subway track or sewer grate.
While you could just start using the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds out of the box, I’d suggest downloading the Bose Music app to pair the earbuds and run the Earbud Seal test. Similar to the AirPods Ear Tip Fit Test, the Earbud Seal will check that you have a good seal with the fins and earbud tips sizes you’ve selected. A good seal is not only important for comfort, but it’s imperative to achieving effective noise cancelation, too.
I already like the familiar small stem silhouette but the switch to a metallic finish on the outward-facing control pads make the buds more attractive. More than a few friends said they liked the look, especially how the sheen adapted slightly depending how it caught the sun.
Even inclement weather couldn’t slow the Bose earbuds down — with the IPX4 durability rating, I knew the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds could survive rain drops when the wind inevitably flipped my cheap umbrella inside out. This means the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds could certainly pass as some of the best sport headphones for those with active lifestyles; however, if you’re an avid athlete, the Bose Sport Earbuds are the best running headphones within the same brand.
Bose QC Ultra Earbuds review: Connectivity and controls
Although the Earbud Seal test is one of the accompanying app’s best features, it’s not the only one.The app lets you control music playback and check the battery status of your earbuds, as well as choose which known Bluetooth source you’d like to pair with. Unfortunately, however, there's no multi-point connectivity. You can only pair to one playback source at a time, which is a disadvantage as someone who frequently switches between my iPhone, iPad and MacBook throughout the day.
Otherwise, the app can be used to toggle between Bose’s new immersive audio settings. You can choose whether to be in “still” mode, which is optimal for situations where you’re sitting or stationary, or “motion” mode, which is essentially spatial audio that moves with you. I used the shortcut assignment feature to have my left earbud cycle through a carousel of some of the immersive audio modes, in addition to aware and quiet modes, using a long press.
Meanwhile I assigned the right earbud shortcut to trigger my voice assistant, Siri, for hands-free control and quick queries. Of course, there are also intuitive touch controls on the earbuds. Swiping on the panel adjusts the volume, and a double tap skips the track. You can pause your music with either a short tap on either earbud, or by removing one of your earbuds. You can even tap to answer and hang up calls.
Beyond control settings, the Bose Music app lets you tailor the earbuds sound profile with a customizable equalizer. There are a few presets such as Bass Boost and Treble Boost, but essentially you can adjust the bass, mid and treble exactly to your listening preferences. And if you don’t like the profile you designed, the Bose app lets you reset the EQ at any time.
Bose QC Ultra Earbuds review: Sound quality
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds’ headline upgrade is the company’s new immersive audio technology that creates a multi-dimensional soundstage with proprietary digital signal processing software. So, whatever music source or streaming platform you use, you should benefit from spatialized listening that keeps you in the so-called “sweet spot” whether you’re sitting at a desk or on the move. (Side note: this technology is also available in the new Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones, which replace the Bose 700.)
After listening via immersive audio for this review, I’ve come to consider it a game-changer. The “still” mode in particular offers one of the most enveloping audio experiences I’ve ever had with a pair of earbuds. Listening to Portugal the Man’s “Feel it Still,” I felt like I was in the studio with one of my favorite bands. The boogie-inducing bass line thumped low, while the varied horn registers soared behind my head. Retro synths held 360-degree balance without distracting from the nuanced vocal deliveries that sounded like they traveled straight from a microphone to my ears.
“Motion” mode also impressed, offering spatialized audio while I walked around the city. Listening to Kelsea Ballerini’s Penthouse (Healed Version) recorded live on tour, I may as well have been in the crowd. Even as I moved my head, Ballerini’s breathy crooning held position while picking up all the audience cheers — including an exquisitely-timed expletive directed at the song’s subject.
There are some new audio perks beyond immersive audio that take the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds beyond SBC and AAC codecs. For example, Qualcomm's aptX Adaptive support is on board, offering higher quality Bluetooth playback by dynamically scaling the data rate from 279 to 420kbps. That's a long way off aptX lossless quality but an improvement over the Bluetooth wireless capabilities of their predecessors. If you're using a lossless streaming service such as Apple Music or Tidal you should hear an uptick in sound quality.
Bose QC Ultra Earbuds review: Active noise cancelation
Bose has been hard to beat in terms of active noise cancelation (ANC) for some years now, and the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds successfully maintained the reputation. I believe that AirPods Pro 2 and Sony WF-1000XM5 have caught up in certain respects, but still lack the advanced personalization options Bose provides.
While most of even the best noise-cancelling earbuds and best noise-cancelling headphones have an “on or off” approach to ANC, Bose lets you customize your sound profiles with 10 different degrees of isolation. When I’m on an airplane, I’d use the preset “quiet” mode with maximum silence to drown out the sound of the engines. But walking around the city, I customized a “commute” profile that gives me a little bit of ANC to limit the buzz of traffic, yet not fully eliminate my awareness.
With “aware” or transparency mode, the passthrough sounds highly natural. It almost feels like there’s nothing plugging my ears with “aware” enabled on the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds. Plus, the optional ActiveSense feature automatically lowers ambient sounds when loud noise is detected, similar to the Adaptive Transparency feature in AirPods Pro.
Bose QC Ultra Earbuds review: Call quality
Call quality was one of the more lackluster experiences with the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds. I took calls in a variety of environments, and the person on the other end hardly seemed impressed with the clarity of my voice.
When I was walking to work, they couldn’t hear me well unless I spoke loudly, which I prefer to avoid out in public. The environmental noise cancelation isn’t up to par with other earbuds I’ve tested, so I probably wouldn’t reach for these if I knew I wanted to take calls on-the-go. Only when in a quiet environment did the call quality seem to be suitable. But if I’m in a quiet place by myself, I’m probably going to opt to take my call on speakerphone.
Bose QC Ultra Earbuds review: Battery life
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds battery life is unchanged generation-over-generation. Like the Bose QuietComfort 2 Earbuds, the Ultra model has a 6-hour playtime with moderate volume levels. As Bose estimated, using immersive audio most of the time during testing, my earbuds needed to be recharged after about four hours of continuous playback.
Bose’s included charging case provides 24 hours of total time (16 with immersive audio), which gave me a few days of use between charges. I wish the best feature didn’t result in such a massive hit to battery life, though.
I also struggle to accept that wireless charging isn’t included. For $299 earbuds, I should be able to charge the case on the same wireless charging pad I use for my AirPods Pro and Sony WF-1000XM5. I probably won’t buy the $49 wireless charging case, but if having the technology is important to you, the accessory does offer a quick fix.
Bose QC Ultra Earbuds review: Verdict
I’d argue that Bose should’ve kept the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 around for another year, then launched Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds in about a year from now, pulling down trademark features of the exciting new Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones. If I had bought the Earbuds 2 a few months ago and heard the immersive audio upgrade of the Ultra buds, I would have serious buyer’s remorse. The addition of lossless and spatialized listening on Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds make a meaningful difference.
So why did Bose again hold out on wireless charging and support for multi-point Bluetooth pairing? It’s a bit baffling, to be honest. I wouldn’t say it’s a complete deal breaker, especially if active noise cancelation and audio quality matter to you more than complete convenience. But there are other premium earbuds that don’t force you to compromise as much. That said, you’d be hard pressed to find a better choice for blocking out the world’s sounds.