Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review
Quick verdict: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
Bose’s latest true wireless earbuds improve on last generation’s SoundSport Free buds in almost every way which is a relief considering its last attempt at true wireless felt old before their time. The QuietComfort Earbuds are more comfortable, charge faster and sound better. Bose also earns top marks for its first crack at true wireless noise-cancellation, surpassing most of its competitors straight out of the gate.
Despite these improvements, the earbuds and the included charging case are still bulkier than what the competition provides, still don’t last as long and if you’re not a fan of the default EQ settings, there aren’t any in-app customisation options to tinker with. Overall, the QuietComfort Earbuds improve upon the SoundSport Free in almost every way but that still leaves Bose lagging behind the competition in a few key areas.
- Quite comfortable indeed
- Contender for best ANC in true wireless
- Better battery life
- IPX4 water-resistant
- The case is still chunky
- The battery is better but still lagging
- Confusing, inconsistent touch controls
- No custom EQ settings
How much do Bose QuietComfort earbuds cost?
- $399.95 RRP
- Much cheaper if you shop around
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are priced at $399.95 through Bose but they will only cost you $319 if you shop anywhere else, it seems. JB HI-FI, Harvey Norman, Amazon and Myer all sell the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds for $319.
Bose QuietComfort vs Bose SoundSport Free
- Better battery life (18 hours vs. 15 hours total)
- Active noise cancellation
- More comfortable
Despite its dominance in the home speaker and over-ear headphone markets, I was left wanting when it came to the Bose SoundSport Free, though that was partly thanks to stiff (and rapidly evolving) competition from the likes of Sony, Apple and Sennheiser. Thankfully, the QuietComfort Earbuds are a better representation of Bose’s strengths and improve on the SoundSport Free experience in almost every single way.
Firstly, there’s comfort and aesthetic. The SoundSport Free’s activewear-adjacent design philosophy was garish and dated before its time. Not only that, but the buds themselves were uncomfortably large. The same went for their chunked-up charging case, which weighed in at a whopping 80g yet somehow only holds 10 hours of total charge and uses micro USB. Bose hasn’t completely redesigned the QuietComfort Earbuds but it has slimmed things down for a more subtle profile with muted colour options (Soapstone and Triple Black). The charging case is still larger than most but Bose has smoothed off the edges (like the SoundSport’s external hinge) and managed to shave off a few grams (76g), packed in more battery life to warrant the size and moved over to USB-C.
The QuietComfort Earbuds are also Bose’s first real attempt at ANC (Active Noise Cancellation) in the true wireless space and it’s an outstanding first attempt (more on that in a moment).
Here’s a spec comparison of the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds and the Bose SoundSport Free.
|Model||Bose QuietComfort Earbuds||Bose SoundSport Free|
|Release||September 2020||September 2017|
|Earbud battery life||6 hours||5 hours|
|Total battery life (inc. case)||18 hours||15 hours|
|Earbud weight (each)||8.5g||9g|
|Charging case weight||76.5g||80g|
|Charge time (buds)||2 hours||1.5 hours|
|Charge time (case)||3 hours||2 hours|
Despite every other umbrage I took with the SoundSport Free, their overall sound quality was never really in question (at the time at least) but the QuietComfort Earbuds are still a marked improvement.
Like many of our favourite in-ear wireless headphones, the QuietComfort Earbuds lean a little bass-heavy. It’s not quite as overwhelming as the Jabra Elite Active 75t but the key difference here is that Jabra lets you tailor the EQ settings or select from a handful of audio presets in the Jabra Sound+— the Bose Music app doesn’t offer any customisation.
Thankfully, the default audio settings are otherwise phenomenal and will suit most people. The bass in the QuietComfort Earbuds is a little more refined than the Jabras. It can still overshadow the vocals and other low to midrange notes, leaving some tracks a little anaemic in sections, but in particularly busy tracks, the bass notes really shine through.
It’s a similar story for high to midrange notes and treble. Listening to a track like The White Stripes’ “Blue Orchid”, you’ll notice a stark difference in how the crash cymbals sound during and outside of Jack White’s vocals. Without vocals, the tsh-tsh-tsh-tsh of the crash is crystal clear but it becomes a little muddy when the vocals kick in.
Those are a few rare examples of where the audio starts to slip, though. For the most part, the QuietComfort Earbuds offer a very roomy soundstage for a pair of wireless buds and Bose’s Active EQ (while restrictive) does a bang-on job of dynamically adjusting bass and treble at different volumes. I may have done some serious damage to the old wing nuts over the years but with most earbuds these days, I set the volume to 100% when I’m working or focusing and the QuietComfort Earbuds allow me to do that without blowing out the bass.
The Jabra Active Elite 75ts benefit a lot from their low-profile, lightweight design and water-resistance and for those reasons, I still think they’re the best pair of true wireless earbuds for most. But they aren’t the best-sounding wireless earbuds on the market.
On the flip side of the coin, you’ll find Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, a pair of buds where the crystal-clear sound and top-tier noise cancellation make up for some less than ideal design choices. They’re still not the best for sound quality (that honour might go to Sennheiser’s True Wireless Momentum 2) but the balanced, out-of-the-box sound is only elevated by the QuietComfort Earbuds’ splendid active noise cancelling (ANC).
Active noise cancelling
By far the biggest improvement in the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds is ANC. ANC was non-existent in its SoundSport Free buds— an unfortunate omission when it suddenly became the most treasured feature of rival manufacturers like Sony.
Bose hasn’t just corrected course, it has earned its place amongst the highest-ranking true wireless earbuds for noise cancellation. The QuietComfort Earbuds are at least as good as Sony’s noise-cancelling efforts, maybe slightly better than the Apple AirPods Pro, and leagues ahead of a lot of competitors, including Sennheiser, Jabra and Audio-Technica.
The problem with Sony’s WF-1000XM3s is that they’re getting a little long in the tooth. They only released back in 2019 but that’s a lifetime in the world of headphones and earbuds. There are already rumours swirling about the replacement WF-1000XM4s and if the current-gen over-ear equivalent is anything to go by, Sony’s next buds will likely reclaim their place atop the noise-cancelling throne. In the meantime, the Bose QuietComfort buds get to bask in that glory.
Tips on tips
Taking and making calls
Call quality was another big gripe I had with the Bose SoundSport Free. They seemed to handle general office chatter well enough but louder ambient noises and slight winds definitely took their toll.
The call quality with the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds isn’t perfect but things like wind interference no longer make as much of an impact. Whereas as a bit of wind used to render chat near-unintelligible in the SoundSport Free, wind just adds a bit of background noise now and is mostly cancelled out by the QuietComfort’s four microphones.
Range and stability
- Roughly 9 metres (30 feet)
- You’ll know it when you’re out of range
Bose advertises a Bluetooth range of about 30-feet (roughly 9 to 10 metres). That’s the kind of range you expect from any earbuds rocking Bluetooth 5/5.1 technology but select headphones still manage to hold a stable connection at longer ranges than others. For example, in our tests, we managed to maintain a stable connection with the Apple AirPods Max at roughly 20 metres away from the connected device.
Anecdotally, this becomes an issue when I’m at my climbing gym. My local gym is roughly 25 metres from the front door to the back wall. I usually leave my phone with my bag near the front door and climb with my wireless earbuds in. With the Jabra Active Elite 75t, I only really start to get interference at the very back wall but the QuietComfort Earbuds start to break up somewhere around the middle of the gym.
I’ve also had the odd connection quirk, like music not playing through the buds, where the only solution is to put them back in their case and remove them again.
Battery life and charging
- Earbud battery life: 6 hours
- Total battery life (earbuds and case): 18 hours
- Earbud charge time: 2 hours
- Case charge time: 3 hours
- Charging cable: USB-C
Bose has improved the overall battery life of the QuietComfort Earbuds, gaining an extra hour of charge per bud (six hours) and three additional hours of charge overall (18 hours in the case). The extra hour really counts too. In our first test, the Bose lasted roughly 5 hours and 10 minutes with ANC turned on and volume set to roughly 75%. With the volume set lower and ANC switched off, you should be able to get to 6 hours without charging.
Through everyday use, I’ve been charging the QuietComfort buds roughly once a week which is manageable and never really feels like a chore. If you’re commuting more than me, you might need to top them up more often, but a quick 15-minute charge will get you an extra two hours of battery life. That’s partly thanks to the fact that Bose has switched to USB-C (thank heavens) with its latest buds. To be fair, the micro USB-charged SoundSport Free buds released way back in 2017 when micro USB was more ubiquitous but we’re still happy to see the other side of it.
The improved battery life is a welcome upgrade but it’s still not quite up to snuff with the competition. Even the sub-$200 Huawei FreeBuds 4i earbuds are packing 22 hours of battery (and in such a compact case). Again, that’s with the ANC switched off but it’s still a decent innings for such an affordable pair of buds.
Design and comfort
- Improved StayHear Max tips
- A little lighter
- Still won’t fit smaller ears
It’s no secret that the Bose SoundSport Free were a grotesque pair of buds. Not only were they uncomfortably large but the gaudy colour options available were true to their name and only really spoke to fitness types (if anyone). That said, there were some sound ideas there and Bose has iterated on a few of these principles for a more attractive and comfortable fit.
Quite cosy (and secure) considering the size
Firstly, Bose has tweaked the design of its silicon tips. Bose’s StayHear+ tips, which have silicon wings that fit snugly in the upper ridge of your ear. Bose’s QuietComfort earbuds come with StayHear Max tips, which offer the same level of comfort and security while sitting a little closer to your noggin, creating a tighter seal between your ear and the earbud, which helps with bass reproduction and noise-cancelling.
They’re comfortable and secure but, most importantly, they allow for a slimmer profile than the outrageous protruding mass of the SoundSport Free buds.
I will say that small-eared folk will still find no joy with the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. In the box, you’re given a selection of three silicon tip sizes and even with the smallest fit, one of my tiny-eared friends who shall not be named (so small) couldn’t get the QuietComfort tips far enough in for a secure fit.
Still chunky after all these years
As much as they are an improvement over the SoundSport’s comfort, the QuietComforts are still a chunky pair of buds. They’re just slightly lighter (8.5g per bud) than the SoundSport Free (9g per bud) and exactly as heavy as the Sony WF-1000XM3s. Sure, 8.5g per ear won’t break your back but heavier buds tend to get uncomfortable faster. The improvements go a long way but I still need to take regular breaks from wearing the QuietComfort buds; whether that’s removing them completely, or switching up the silicon tips.
To be honest, it’s the same story with the charging case; an improvement on the SoundSport Free but still cumbersome. Bose has smoothed the edges of the QuietComfort case, resulting in a more pocket-friendly design but it’s still a huge unit when compared to more discrete examples, like the Jabra’s Active Elite 75t, Apple AirPods Pro or Galaxy Buds Live.
(L-R: Jabra Active Elite 75t, Sennheiser CX 400BT, Sennheiser Momentum 2, Bose QuietComfort Earbuds)
U can’t touch this
My, my, my, my… I’ve repeatedly expressed my preference for physical buttons on earbuds over touch controls. Even some of the best wireless earbuds are let down by confusing and inconsistent touch controls, and the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds touch controls might be some of the worst. Their worst crime is that they are inconsistent.
The double-tap to play/pause seems especially hit and miss. The Bose SoundSport Free, for all their faults, had physical on-ear controls and while pivoting to touch might seem like an upgrade to some, it’s a step back for me, personally.
There are far more elegant control solutions out there, such as the Jabra Active Elite 75t two-button scheme and, in the over-ear space, the digital crown on Apple AirPods Max.
|Command||Left bud||Right bud|
|Pause/play music and answer/end calls||-||Two taps|
|Cycle through ANC presets||Two taps||-|
|Skip song/check battery||Hold||-|
|Decline call/initiate Voice Assistant||-||Hold|
|Increase/decrease volume||-||Swipe up/swipe down|
|Auto Transparency mode||Remove bud||Remove bud|
|Play/pause music||Remove/insert bud||Remove/insert bud|
Are they worth it?
For many reasons, yes. If you’re a Bose fan who was severely disappointed by the SoundSport Free earbuds, a true upgrade has arrived. If your new jack-less smartphone has pushed you to the world of wireless, the QuietComfort Earbuds are an amazing all-around package with some of the best active noise-cancelling in the game. I only have a few major issues with the QuietComfort Earbuds: the finicky connection, awkward touch controls, the size of the charging case and the nagging feeling that, with Sony’s next pair of buds possibly right around the corner, Bose might be a little late to the party once again.