Bose’s latest earbuds have the best noise-cancellation of any wireless earbuds on the market right now. Yes, even Sony. But they fall short of perfection
The new Bose true wireless earbuds are here. If the QuietComfort Earbuds cancel noise effectively enough, and fit well enough, to merit the description ‘QuietComfort’ then they might just be the true wireless earbuds we’ve been waiting for.
It might be slightly unfair to describe them as ‘the elephant in the room’ but, good heavens, the £249 Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are chunky things. At 39 x 26 x 27mm they’re quite a lot larger in every direction than your average earbud, and their charging case is a positively whopping 89 x 51 x 32mm. Good luck slipping that into the pocket of your jeans.
But while their size means no one will ever be in any doubt as to whether you’re wearing them or not, Bose has gone to considerable lengths to ensure they fit not only securely, but, yes, comfortably, too.
Each lozenge-shaped earbud is fitted with a complex silicone eartip with both a ‘wing’ (to secure the earbud against the ridge of the wearer’s ear) and a ‘nozzle’ (Bose’s romantic description of the pipe that directs sound into the inner ear) – there are ‘S’, ‘M’ and ‘L’ versions supplied.
- The best headphones for any budget in 2020The best headphones for any budget in 2020By WIRED
With the appropriately sized eartips attached, the QuietComfort Earbuds twist into place and will stay there, quite happily, for hours at a time without causing the slightest discomfort to the wearer. No mean feat when you bear in mind both the size and the 8.5g weight of each earbud. And this arrangement offers a fair degree of passive noise-cancellation, too, even before Bose’s fearsomely complex active noise-cancellation algorithms kick in.
Build quality is well up to standard. Despite their being made from numerous parts, there’s a sense of solidity to the Bose, almost an impression that they’ve been extracted, like a sculpture, from a single piece of material.
Regardless of how its products have performed – and Bose has had its failures as surely as every other manufacturer has – no one has ever seriously questioned the integrity of their construction. And on the evidence of the QuietComfort Earbuds, they’re not about to start now.
If there’s an area that’s genuinely underwhelming about the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, it’s battery life. Somehow, despite housing some pretty big earbuds in what must surely be the biggest charging case around, the Bose can muster a total of just 18 hours of playback time.
- The best wireless headphones for audio without aggravationThe best wireless headphones for audio without aggravationBy WIRED
There’s six hours of power in the ‘buds themselves, and the case holds another two full charges – and those are best-case figures, when you’re playing at moderate volume. Any number of more affordable, more compact true wireless alternatives can do better than 18 hours of playback time – you need only glance here to confirm it. So quite why the Bose charging case is such a biffer, when it’s demonstrably not packing all that big a battery, is anyone’s guess.
It’s possible to interact with the QuietComfort Earbuds using the Bose Music app, or voice control, or the touch controls accessed via big, responsive capacitive surfaces on each ‘bud.
Touch control is a peculiarly mixed bag here. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the way the controls are implemented – the Bose respond to commands with alacrity and they’re very difficult to confuse.
Many of the most useful and obvious controls are catered for, too: ‘play/pause’, ‘answer/end/reject call’ and ‘summon voice assistant’ are all very worthwhile, and the ability to cycle through three user-defined levels of active noise cancellation is useful, too. But not being able to adjust volume level (except by asking your voice assistant to do it for you) is a weird omission, as is the facility to skip forwards or backwards through a playlist.
- The best wireless earbuds for any budget in 2020The best wireless earbuds for any budget in 2020By WIRED
Actually, it is possible to skip forwards. If you delve into the Bose Music app, there’s a facility to designate a custom command – but you have a straight choice between ‘skip forwards’ or ‘hear battery level’. Obviously anyone sensible will select ‘skip forwards’ – but if you’ve particularly enjoyed a tune there’s no skipping back to hear it again. It’s all rather odd.
The app isn’t absolutely as useful as it might be, either. It’s as clean, logical and stable as these things ever get – which means it’s a sight more stable than many alternatives. And being able to specify those three levels of noise-cancellation is a nice touch, as is adjusting how much of your own voice you hear when engaged in a phone call, deciding whether or not incoming calls should be answered automatically, or if you’d like music to pause when you take one Earbud out.
But there’s no facility to adjust the EQ here – which, for a lot of people, is the whole point of a control app in the first place.
The QuietComfort Earbuds’ mics prove sharp-eared and accurate – your voice assistant of choice (only the Big Three, though, obviously – fans of Bixby will have to look elsewhere) responds to commands with certainty. And there are no complaints from anyone on the receiving end of Bose-assisted phone calls, either.
- These are the best noise-cancelling headphones in 2020These are the best noise-cancelling headphones in 2020By WIRED
Obviously there’s plenty to discuss when it comes to the sound the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds make. But before that, it’s worth considering the silence they generate – because no other true wireless earbud cancels noise as effectively as these Bose.
The Bose Music app incorporates a 1 – 10 sliding scale of noise-cancelling intensity, and at its highest setting the Bose pretty much isolate the wearer from external noise altogether.
There’s no suggestion of counter-sound as they do so, either – less capable designs can create that ‘cabin pressure’ sensation in the user’s ear, or get a tiny bit hissy, or tip you off as to how hard they’re working in some other small, but definite, way. Somehow, the QuietComfort Earbuds don’t do any of this. They simply take external sounds out of the equation. It’s almost as unnerving as it is impressive.
So once you’ve found the level of noise-cancellation that works best for you, you’re free to enjoy what is an almost textbook example of ‘the Bose sound’. Bose has long been denigrated by those who aspire to audiophilia – the Bose sonic signature is off-kilter, so they say, and consequently less than accurate. Well, that may well be the case with the QuietComfort Earbuds – certainly they’re far from the most neutral listen around. But that doesn’t mean they’re not pleasant and engaging to listen to, not at all.
Connected to a music player via Bluetooth 5.1 and with a high-resolution file of Father John Misty’s Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings playing, the Bose don’t take long to reveal themselves. This is a chunky, bass-forward presentation – but this rather shameless attempt to generate the sensation of excitement by pushing the low frequencies to the front of the stage doesn’t result in a particularly skewed sound. That’s because the low frequencies, ample though they are, are straight-edged, properly controlled and loaded with information – so they communicate properly, don’t overstay their welcome and don’t interfere with everything that’s going on above them.
- Sony WH-1000XM4 review: The best headphones just got betterSony WH-1000XM4 review: The best headphones just got better
And everything going on above them is equally detailed and convincing. The vocal in the midrange is characterful, defined and eloquent – the harmonies, in particular, are precisely described and convincing. And at the top of the frequency range, the Bose strike a nice balance between smoothness and attack, so there’s enough bite to treble sounds to keep things moving forwards but not so much that the sound becomes splashy or hard.
The entire frequency range is integrated seamlessly, and the Earbuds describe such a wide, deep soundstage that even the most complex recordings can find space for individual elements to occupy their own little pocket of space. Consequently, recordings are well defined and easy to follow.
Aside from the low-frequency over-confidence, about the only area where the QuietComfort Earbuds don’t entirely convince is where outright volume is concerned. ‘Quite loud’ is no problem for the Bose, but ‘maximum volume’ results in a slight, but unarguable, loss of definition – the soundstage loses a little of its certainty, and everything sounds rather piled on top of everything else. Far better to back off the volume just a little and let the Earbuds regain their composure.
And as far as (relatively) bad news goes, that’s your lot. You’ll make your own mind up about the way the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds look in situ – but be in no doubt, Bose has absolutely nailed both the ‘quiet’ and the ‘comfort’ aspect with these earbuds, as well as serving up its usual interpretation of sound.
You can audition them with absolute confidence – as long as you don’t need to be cocooned in silence for more than 18 hours at a time, anyhow.
- Technics EAH-AZ70W review: The new standard for earbuds?Technics EAH-AZ70W review: The new standard for earbuds?