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Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review: Bulky buds that do it all
Bose Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
What we like
What we don't like
There’s no end to the hunt for the perfect noise-canceling earbuds. Powerful options inevitably rise to the top, but there’s always something new to consider. Apple’s AirPods Pro are the obvious pick for those that own an iPhone, but Android users have a lot more freedom. Now, Bose is hoping to capture some of that freedom with its QuietComfort Earbuds. The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are a worthy pick on either operating system, but let’s find out just what makes them tick in our review.
Update, November 2021: Addressed information about the custom EQ update and added the Sony WF-1000XM4 as an alternative.
Who should get the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds?
- Travelers and commuters should consider the QuietComfort Earbuds for their excellent active noise canceling (ANC). They may not knock out sound completely, but they’ll make it more comfortable.
- Office workers or remote workers who spend time in loud environments or on conference calls will love the noise canceling as well.
- Anyone with a solid budget for audio equipment. If you don’t mind splurging on Bose products, you will be well rewarded by the comfort and durability of these buds.
What are the earbuds like?
Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds pack all of the signature style you expect from the company, even if they are a bit bulky. The overall design is pretty minimal, almost like the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. It’s sleek and curved. You can grab a pair in either black or white. Though the QC Earbuds are not without their bulk, they are slightly trimmed down from Bose’s original true wireless earbud offerings.
The QC Earbuds nestle nicely into an equally bulky charging case, which comes in black or white to match your headset. You can quickly check your remaining battery level with the four LED lights that adorn the case. Additionally, an internal button is available to manually activate pairing mode. You may want to keep a cleaning cloth close at hand, however — the case collects oil very quickly.
See also: The best true wireless earbuds
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds will automatically jump into pairing mode the very first time you open the charging case. However, you will want to download the Bose Music app for the best overall experience. It’s a must-have if you want to swap between devices or adjust your ANC settings. You’ll also need the app if you want to change the onboard controls. It allows you to set three quick ANC modes, which you can cycle through with a double-tap on the left earbud.
How do you control the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds?
The Bose QuietComfort earbuds rely on touch controls and only touch controls. That means you have to learn a whole menu of taps and swipes. Unfortunately, they’re not always intuitive. Here’s a handy table to give you the lay of the land:
|Action||Left Side||Right Side|
Cycle through ANC quicksets
Pause or play music
|Action||Left Side||Right Side|
Pickup or end phone call
Hold (Long press)
Access smart assistant
Check battery level
Reject phone calls
Remove or insert
Pause or play music
Pause or play music
Auto Transparency mode
Auto Transparency mode
|Left Side||Right Side|
Volume up or down
What Bluetooth codecs do the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds support?
Like its half-siblings, the Bose Sport Earbuds, the QuietComfort Earbuds rely on Bluetooth 5.1. They work well within the recommended range. You should have no problems either indoors or outdoors, as long as you stay within about nine meters of your connected device.
The new buds also match the rest of the Bose lineup with support for two main Bluetooth codecs: SBC and AAC. That’s great news for Apple users, as iOS pairs perfectly with the powerful AAC codec. However, it’s not as reliable on Android. If you find yourself struggling with streaming quality, you can always revert your buds to an SBC connection through your Android device’s developer options.
What’s the difference between Bluetooth 5.0 and Bluetooth 5.1?
Bluetooth 5.1 offers slightly more accurate location tracking than Bluetooth 5.0. This means your phone has an easier time determining the exact location of your Bose earbuds. It’s great if you have a find my earbuds feature, though version 4.2.4 of the Bose Music app doesn’t offer it.
The newer version of Bluetooth is also more energy-efficient, and it’s all thanks to a better caching system. It results in quicker auto-connect speeds. Both Bluetooth 5.0 and 5.1 are part of the Bluetooth Low Energy Standard. They’re not part of LE Audio, though we will only see initial support for that in Bluetooth Core Specification 5.1.
How good is the battery life?
As usual, we put the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds through a constant 75dB output until the batteries emptied. They managed five hours and 29 minutes of playback with ANC enabled. We found this to be above average for ANC true wireless earbuds, topping the likes of both the AirPods Pro and Sony WF-1000XM3.
Additionally, Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds support fast charging. So, about 15 minutes in the charging case should get you two hours of playback. If you need to recharge from scratch, you’re looking at about two hours. The case itself takes three hours to charge via USB-C, or you can charge with a Qi wireless mat at whatever speeds your pad can handle.
How do the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds sound?
The Bose QC Earbuds sound decent, though the frequency response won’t score many points with audiophiles. Bass notes get a hearty boost, nearly two-times that of the low-midrange notes. This can muffle the vocals a bit, especially during bass-heavy songs. While audiophiles may not rejoice, most average consumers will be pleased with the bass power for the extra kick it offers.
Like any headset, your sound quality is pretty dependent on getting the right fit. Luckily, Bose includes three ear tip sizes with each pair of earbuds, which should work for most ears. You’ll want to try for the perfect fit both to enhance your noise-canceling and to maintain as much of the bass reproduction as possible.
Do the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds have a custom EQ?
As of the latest firmware and software updates, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds now have a custom EQ to adjust the sound. To access the new feature, update your devices to:
- iOS: 5.0.2
- Android 5.0.1
- Firmware version 2.0.7
Pressing the “EQ” button on the home screen of the Bose Music App will then allow you to select from a number of presets or completely customize the sound of the earbuds to your liking.
Do the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds have good noise-canceling?
If you travel or commute often, the QuietComfort Earbuds’ ANC option is the icing on your cake. It works surprisingly well to tackle sounds like the hum of an airplane or the racket of an engine. I was pleasantly impressed by how well the earbuds knocked out the sounds of my stationary bike. Normally when I’m pedaling away, my entire apartment rattles. Yet, I hardly noticed any sound when I maxed out the ANC settings.
You can adjust your noise cancelling from levels 1 to 10 on a handy sliding scale. The same scale also manages your transparency, so the lower you set the ANC, the more you increase the audio passthrough. It may take some getting used to, but the ambient noise settings are very impressive compared to other options on the market. I actually prefer the QuietComfort Earbuds’ transparency settings to those of the Sony WF-1000XM3.
Of course, Bose’s ANC isn’t a miracle worker. It won’t do much good against incidental noise like slamming a door or dropping a plate. If you want to tackle the most sound, you just have to make sure that you get a good seal with your ear tips.
How good is the onboard microphone?
You should have no problems with Bose’s microphone system. It’s good enough to get you through just about any phone call with ease. We had no problems with intelligibility. However, there was occasionally a bit of audio clipping. The earbuds use ANC effectively to eliminate noise like the humming of a microphone, as you’ll hear in the demo below. Give it a listen and let us know what you think of the quality.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds microphone demo:
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds vs Bose Sport Earbuds
Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds and Sport Earbuds are close cousins. Nevertheless, the two are meant for slightly different audiences. The Sport Earbuds lack noise cancelling and are meant specifically for athletes even though anyone can use them. That’s about where the differences end. Both pairs use the StayHear Max ear tips, both use onboard touch controls, and both charge via USB-C.
See also: Bose Sport Earbuds Review
Both pairs of earbuds also share the same IPX4 rating. This begs the question — why not just get the QuietComfort Earbuds for both commuting and working out? You certainly can do that, but it depends on how dedicated you are to ANC. The Sport Earbuds offer decent passive isolation, and maybe you just don’t want to shell out the extra cash for ANC features. Bose’s added noise-cancelling technology also adds most of the QC Earbuds’ bulk, which may make them uncomfortable in the gym.
You may also want to consider a few differences before you make a purchase. For starters, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds support wireless charging in case your USB-C input is faulty. You’ll also get a few extra minutes of battery life on the QC Earbuds, even with ANC on. However, you can save yourself $100 if you skip the noise-cancelling features and grab the Sport Earbuds. If you don’t absolutely need the ANC features, you may be best off saving some money.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review: The verdict
Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds are a great pick for just about anyone, as long as you have the money to spend. You won’t really need any other earbuds for your commute, work, or the gym.
The flat, sleek design will appeal to most people, though the large earbud housings might not be so popular. The charging case is large as well, at least compared to other true wireless earbuds. You may want to keep that in mind if you’re tight on pocket space. Of course, the price is hard to swallow for most of us, which is the biggest hurdle. However, Bose often puts its premium headsets on promotion, so you may just want to wait a while for a sale.
iPhone users may still prefer the Apple AirPods Pro
If you call iOS home and you’re not sold on the QuietComfort Earbuds, fear not — you can always grab a pair of Apple’s own AirPods Pro for a bit less money. Even though the QuietComfort Earbuds offer a solid experience on both iOS and Android, you’ll have to download Bose Music which adds an extra step compared to the AirPods Pro.
The AirPods Pro offers good noise-canceling, a far more compact design, and all of the power of the H1 chip. You’re talking hands-free Siri access, device switching, Spatial Audio, and more. Apple’s premium buds are also IPX4 rated, so they’ll work well in the gym. Battery life might take a hit, but you spend most of the time in the charging case anyway.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 offers superior performance
If you are looking for the best true wireless earbuds, the Sony WF-1000XM4 should be near the top of your list. Featuring foam ear tips, the Sony WF-1000XM4 offers excellent comfort and noise-cancelling. Compared to the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, the Sony earbuds are more portable and offer superior Bluetooth codec support.
Since these earbuds are newer than the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, you are less likely to find any major discounts. However, if you can find the Sony WF-1000XM4 for the same or similar price, we’d recommend jumping on board the Sony bandwagon.