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Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds have the best noise cancellation of any wireless earbuds we’ve tested, but they’re expensive

Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds have the best noise cancellation of any wireless earbuds we’ve tested, but they’re expensive

Bose Original Photo

Summary List Placement Table of Contents: Masthead StickyQuietComfort Earbuds (small)

Over the years, Bose has made a big name for itself in the audio world, especially when it comes to over-ear headphones with noise cancellation. It’s a leader in the market and anyone would recognize a pair of Bose QuietComfort headphones on someone’s head.

With the company’s new QuietComfort Earbuds, Bose finally becomes a major player on the noise-cancelling true wireless earbud stage. The QC Earbuds have a price tag, build quality, and feature set that places them squarely against the likes of Apple’s AirPods Pro and Sony’s WF-1000XM3.

Being on that stage with such competition, and just being Bose itself, it should come as no surprise that the QC Earbuds are among the more expensive earbuds of its type. Thankfully, they’re also among the best.

Updated on 4/22/21 by Lisa Eadicicco: Added a table comparing the key features of the Bose earbuds against the Sony WF-1000XM3 and Apple AirPods Pro. This review was originally published on 12/14/20. Our verdict has not changed.

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds specifications Bose QuietComfort Earbuds Specifications Connectivity Bluetooth 5.1, USB Type-C charging Codecs SBC, AAC Battery Life 6 hours for earbuds, 18 total with charging case Charging 15-minute quick charge for 2 hours of music playback, 2 hours for full charge App Bose Music for iOS and Android Design and comfort

The QuietComfort wireless earbuds from Bose take on a fairly typical design. They’re oval shaped, made of plastic, lightweight, discreet, and barely stick out of your ears. Still, the AirPods Pro are smaller and lighter overall, but not so discreet with their iconic design and short stem.

They come with three eartip size options to ensure a good fit. The eartips themselves are very soft rubber and have a wingtip-style hook that helps keep them in your ears.

If you’re used to in-ear designs that feel like earplugs, like myself, you may think that you have a bad fit. But that’s unlikely to be the case. The lightweight and discreet design, combined with the soft rubber tips, make for an extremely comfortable fit inside your ear. That said, my confidence in that fit is often questionable. They never feel like they’ll actually fall out, but I have to trust that the fit is good, even if they feel loose at times.

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds Review --Tony Villas Boas

Rather than fitting in your ear canal, they rest comfortably in your ear canal’s opening, like the AirPods Pro. They’re more comfortable than earbuds with an in-ear design that feel like earplugs, like the Sony WF-1000XM3. With all that said, the AirPods Pro are still more comfortable and even more lightweight, and they give better confidence that you have a good fit than the QC Earbuds and their somewhat finicky eartips.

The charging case is an oval plastic box coated in a soft matte texture that’s nowhere near as compact as the AirPods Pro‘s charging case. As a result, the case isn’t as comfortable to fit in your pockets. The Bose’s charging case does support wireless charging, which is good. It has a USB-C port for charging, and it has five LEDs to indicate how much battery life the case has.

Sound quality

To test the Bose QC Earbuds sound quality, I compared them next to the Sony WF-1000XM3 wireless earbuds with customized EQ settings from the Sony Headphones app. The WF-1000XM3 combined with my personal EQ settings represent how I like to hear sound — powerful bass that doesn’t boom, a full and rich quality that doesn’t sacrifice clarity, and a brightness in the higher frequencies.

With that in mind, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds sound good out of the box — better than the AirPods Pro, which have an overall less powerful sound. There’s good bass, clarity, and brightness, but Bose’s signature richness isn’t as present as it is on the company’s over-ear headphones, like the QC35 or the 700. And at the end of the day, I still prefer my custom EQ setup with the WF-1000XM3 earbuds.

Note that your eartip selection can make a big difference to the sound quality. I initially tried tips that were apparently too large, resulting in poor audio quality. Bose suggested I size down, and it helped tremendously. If you’re having performance issues, try the different eartip sizes for fit, comfort, and sound.

Holding Bose QuietComfort Earbuds Tony Villas Boas

You can also get better sound, at least sound that you prefer, by playing around with an equalizer, like Spotify’s EQ settings, or the built-in EQ settings you’ll find on many Android phones. iOS doesn’t include a built-in EQ, so you’ll have to rely on whatever music app you use. Unfortunately, Bose’s Music app doesn’t include EQ settings of its own.

Even still, the WF-1000XM3 just sound better. For example, details like the bass guitar in Tool’s “Pneuma” are way more apparent, and the balance, clarity, sound separation, and richness are superlative in general.

The tracks I used to test the QC Earbuds were numerous and varied, but some tracks include Tool’s “Pneuma,” The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights,” Steel Pulse’s “Your House,” Yosi Horikawa’s “Bubbles,” and Hudson Harris & Haim’s “Body & Soul.”

Noise cancellation and battery life

I tested noise cancellation under a bridge where a major highway was above me. The average decibel level under this bridge with the highway’s traffic was around 75, and when cars drove by next to me under the bridge, the decibel level would jump up to 88.

The Bose QC Earbuds have excellent noise cancellation, performing noticeably better than the WF-1000XM3s and the AirPods Pro in a noisy environment.

While the QC Earbuds did extremely well with the highway’s 75-decibel drone, almost removing the sound entirely, the cars driving by me producing up to 88 decibels were very much audible. Still, the QC Earbuds greatly reduced overall noise — taking off the earbuds made me realize just how loud our surroundings can be.

I also tested noise cancellation from my home office while a distant leaf blower was distracting me while writing this review. For lower ambient noise levels, the QC Earbuds and WF-1000XM3 perform nearly identically — I had to remove the earbuds to make sure the leaf blower was still on. The AirPods Pro work, but not quite as well as either.

Battery life for the QC Earbuds is rated at six hours for the buds themselves per charge, and two full charges with the case, amounting to a total of 18 hours. 15 minutes of charging in the charging case adds two hours of listening time. I have no reason to think that Bose is off with its statement.

For reference, the WF-1000XM3s also have six-hour battery life for the buds, and three full charges stored in the charging case (which doesn’t have wireless charging, by the way). That’s 24 hours of battery life for the Sonys. And the AirPods are rated for four and a half hours for the buds, and a total of 24 hours combined with the wireless charging case.

Phone calls

The Bose QC Earbuds unfortunately don’t have noise cancellation for phone calls, like the Bose 700 headphones, which results in a fairly typical experience when talking to someone on the phone in noisy environments. That’s to say, it’s not great.

Phone calls work well in a quieter environment, but it’s all over as soon as you go onto a street with cars whooshing by. That whooshing sound transmits clearly over to the person I’m calling, often replacing my voice entirely.

Tony Villas Boas image of Bose

The same can be said for Apple’s AirPods and Sony’s WF-1000XM3. If you’re looking for the best performance for phone calls, the Bose 700 over-ear headphones are the absolute top pick.

Apps and other features

The Bose Music app is fairly basic and, like I mentioned earlier, it would have been nice to see some kind of EQ settings for the QC Earbuds.

In the Bose Music app, you’ll see the battery level for each of the earbuds, but strangely not for the charging case. You can also adjust the level of noise cancellation, and there are various customizable settings for things like in-ear detection, setting a shortcut, and adjusting voice prompts.

The QC Earbuds have touch sensors, but there’s no option to customize what tapping the sensors do. One long tap on the right earbud brings up Siri or Google Assistant, and two quick taps play or pause music. One long tap on the left earbud performs the shortcut you set it to, whether to hear battery life or skip forward a track, and two quick taps adjusts noise cancellation between 100%, 50%, and 0%.

Should you buy the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds?

If you value noise-cancelling performance, the QC Earbuds are the wireless earbuds to get. That said, they’re expensive at $279, especially when you compare them to the $160 price you often see for the Sony WF-1000XM3s these days.

What are your alternatives? MSRP Audio features Battery Life Water Resistance Other Features Bose QuietComfort $279 Active EQ, adjustable noise cancellation Up to 6 hours Yes Wireless charging, touch controls, voice assistants, in-ear detection Sony WF-1000XM3 $180 Adaptive Sound Control that auto adjusts ambient sound, noise cancellation, equalizer settings Up to 6 hours No Gesture controls for playing and pausing, in-ear detection, voice assistants, customizable touch controls Apple AirPods Pro $249 Spatial audio, noise cancellation and transparency mode, Adaptive EQ Up to 5 hours Yes Wireless charging, touch controls, Siri, in-ear detection

The Bose QC Earbuds sound great but, despite the EQ adjustments, I ultimately prefer the sound that comes from the WF-1000XM3 earbuds. Coupled with their cheaper price, that superior sound could make the 1000XM3s a better fit for people who prioritize audio quality over noise cancellation.

The $250 AirPods Pro, which you can often find for around $200 these days, are also a worthy contender. You’re getting decent sound and good noise cancellation, but shorter battery life for the earbuds themselves. The main redeeming factor for the AirPods Pro are their seamless integration with the Apple ecosystem, but that’s only relevant to Apple device users. They also have best-in-class comfort and a smaller portable charging case.

The bottom line

The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds should be among the top two options on your list if you’re in the market for great wireless earbuds with noise cancellation. If their $279 price is within your budget, the Bose QC earbuds are the pair to get, but if not, the Sony WF-1000XM3 will serve you almost as well for less money.

Pros: Comfortable fit, amazing noise cancellation, great sound, discreet design, long battery life, charging case supports wireless charging

Cons: Sound isn’t as good as the cheaper WF-1000XM3, bulky charging case, expensive, poor phone call performance in noisy environments

QuietComfort Earbuds (small)

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