Incredible noise canceling
Secure and light fit
Lackluster call performance
Missing some standard features
The new QuietComfort earbuds aren’t just world-class noise cancelers. They add options like personalized ear calibration and adaptive noise reduction during transparency mode for unwanted loud sounds, alongside a much slimmer design than their predecessors.
Meanwhile their improved active noise canceling targets the troublesome vocal range better than anything I’ve heard before. If you’re looking to silence the din, these are the earbuds (or headphones in general) for you.
About the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II
- Price: $299
- Battery life: up to 6 hours with ANC, up to 24 hours with the case
- Fast charging: 20 minutes for 2 hours of listening
- Colors: Triple Black, Soapstone
- Ambient sound modes: Active Noise Canceling, Adaptive Transparency Mode
- Speakers: 9.3mm transducers
- Microphones: Four microphones per bud
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3
- Audio codecs: SBC, AAC
- Dust/water resistance: IPX4
- Weight: 6.2 grams per earbud, 59.8 grams for charging case
- Extras: Auto-pause
The plain packaging wrapped in a cardboard strip announcing the contents is similar, although not as hefty as the original QuietComfort earbuds. That size decrease continues when you open the box to see the black QuietComfort II case that’s 40% smaller and almost 20 grams lighter than the previous iteration. At 2.61 x 2.34 x 1.05 inches (HWD), it’s a little taller, but not nearly as wide or thick making it much more pocket-friendly.
The buds, too, are much smaller than the honking danglers that were the original QC buds, and they weigh over two grams less per side—that's quite significant at this size. Their new design also mimics the stems of AirPods and their many copies.
Under the case is a selection of silicone ear tips and stability bands that can be mixed and matched to find the proper fit for your ears. There’s also a 12-inch USB-C to USB-A charge cable that plugs into the case’s underside. Surprisingly, the case does not support wireless charging like almost all rivals.
What we like
Astonishing noise canceling
From the moment they were announced, I was curious how much the noise canceling was improved and how it would compare to the impressive noise-canceling earbuds we’ve seen since the last QuietComfort buds came out in October of 2020.
Generally, due to their inherent design that completely covers the ear, over-ear headphones have an easier job at noise canceling. It’s one of the reasons—in addition to some excellent engineering—that the Sony WH-1000XM5 were dubbed our favorite noise-canceling headphones.
You’d naturally assume the QuietComfort II buds would be at a disadvantage. But they aren’t. Across the board, the Bose QuietComfort II are as good or better at noise canceling than the XM5.
Both virtually eliminated the low-end drone of airplane engines from the cabin with our standard test track. The difference is toward the top of those drone frequencies as they enter the midrange. On the XM5, there’s excellent attenuation across those middle frequencies but the Bose buds bring it to another level with less hiss creeping through.
The midrange performance is even more apparent with crowd chatter and clinking of glasses and plates in a restaurant. Again, the Sony cans do a more than commendable job and up until I put the QC II in my ear, I wouldn’t have expected it could get much better. But the noise floor is even lower than the Sony pair.
What’s more, noise canceling is better targeted toward voices than the Sony, so the band of what does get through is tighter and less obtrusive overall. To say I was impressed with the QC II as I went back and forth between these two pairs is an understatement. This represents more than just an earbuds upgrade: it’s potentially a turning point for all headphones.
When any audio plays through the earbuds, you might as well be in an isolation chamber. While I sat at my kitchen table watching Alex Vs America on my device as my wife did a Les Mills workout in the next room, I was blissfully unaware that she stopped her workout and walked over to tell me something before realizing I had no idea she was there. It wasn’t until she started waving her arms that the motion caught my eye and I switched to Aware mode.
The new Apple AirPods Pro are sitting in the wings, about to be released, and Apple claims noise canceling is a drastic improvement over the previous AirPods Pro, so there’s a chance this pinnacle of performance will be shared by two earbuds. We’ll be sure to compare the two at the earliest opportunity, but for now, when it comes to ANC, the title goes to Bose.
Clear audio performance
If you’re at all familiar with Bose audio, you’ll have a sense of what’s in store with the QuietComfort II. There’s a bump to the midrange that accentuates the vocal frequencies, adding clarity in music as well as TV/movie content. It can sometimes feel a little “in your face” at higher volumes, but some of that can be tamed in the new 3-band EQ in the app.
The EQ is a first for Bose’s earbuds, and a welcome change from previous iterations. It’s not quite as adaptable as Sony’s EQ, but enough to take the edge off while still allowing small details to stand out and dance around the mix.
Bass is a little heavy for my tastes by default, but far from being objectionable. It doesn’t overpower the mids or cover them in any way. And in some older recordings, such as the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” where the bass isn’t pumped to the same level as modern songs, it adds some nice support. Still, I chose to bring it down a few notches with the EQ.
I do wish there was the ability to save EQ profiles so I could change the balance based on the content. I found myself fiddling a bit with it when my shuffle went from the Sneaker Pimps’ “Low Place Like Home” to Guns N’ Roses’ “Patience.”
Still, the QuietComfort II’s overall sonic performance is great. Spatial placement within the stereo sound field is suitably wide and performance is balanced enough for long listening sessions.
Smaller buds, still comfy and secure
The combination of three choices for ear tips and stability bands allows for a multitude of combinations to assure the newly shrunken QuietComfort Earbuds will fit and stay secure in your ears. Once the correct combination is found for your shape, the buds are easy to put in and I was never concerned with them falling out.
There’s also Bose’s CustomTune fit test within the app that not only checks the seal by running a quick tone that sweeps from right to left, but also adjusts the ANC filters to ensure optimal performance. It takes longer to find in the menu than it takes to run (and it’s only a couple of clicks to get there). I’d recommend it if you plan on wearing the earbuds for any extended period of time.
Comprehensive touch controls
The QuietComfort II have a full complement of touch controls accessible with either earbuds. Pause/play, track forward and back, ANC mode, and device voice assistant can all be accessed with a combination of short or long presses.
Volume is changed by sliding your finger up and down either earbud. Overall response is good for touch controls—there were only a few times the buds would pause tracks (one tap) instead of fast forward (two taps) or something similar, but no more than any other touch-controlled earbuds I’ve tested. The only thing missing is always-listening Alexa or Google voice assistant.
What we don’t like
Call quality outdoors suffers
Indoor calling is something all earbuds should be fine with, and the Bose are perfectly acceptable in quiet environments. But when you head outside it’s another story.
Wind and traffic will always be an Achilles heel for any type of headphones, but especially so with the QuietComfort II. The wind detection algorithm that switches between mics based on the external noise works incredibly hard, but ends up being distracting to the other side of the call. Even the slightest breeze causes a whooshing sound that fills the mid-to-high frequency range.
As I was on a call with another Reviewed writer, someone a couple hundred feet away enabled their car alarm, and the way the beep sounded to him was on the verge of distressing and completely pulled him out of the conversation.
Some missing features and polish
There are some conspicuous feature omissions for earbuds of this caliber. Wireless charging cases are essentially standard at $200 and up these days, but the option is absent with the QuietComfort II. It’s particularly strange because the previous version had wireless charging when it was more novel.
The earbuds are also missing Bluetooth multipoint pairing to keep simultaneous connections to multiple devices for easy switching. (Sony’s similarly pricey WF-1000XM4 noise-canceling earbuds also skip multipoint pairing, for the record.)
Customizability within the app also doesn’t have the depth found in some competitors, like Sony’s Headphone app. As mentioned, there’s no way to save an EQ profile. If you select one of the presets after adjusting the default, you can’t return to what you had before.
You can also only have a maximum of four ANC modes including the two defaults—Quiet and Aware. Within the two available modes, the noise canceling is set with a single slider that moves from full noise cancelation (as you get with Quiet) to full transparency (as you get with Aware). There’s no way to adjust just the noise canceling intensity or the transparency effect independently or even turn the noise canceling off.
Within the Aware (transparency mode) setting is ActiveSense, which will automatically adjust the amount of noise that's let in while using transparency mode. It reacts to loud sounds such as car horns or barking dogs. In theory, it’s an interesting feature to protect your ears and keep your focus on whatever you’re doing. But in practice, I found it distracting.
Most often I’m using transparency mode to have a conversation and when the intensity is constantly changing, my focus is drawn to it and away from my conversation. If there was an option to adjust its intensity, I might find it more useful, but that isn’t the case. I ended up turning it off.
They’re still a bit bulky
Even with their slimmed-down design, the QuietComfort II are on the bulky side when compared to competitors like the new Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro or even tried-and-true options like the Jabra Elite 85t.
With the Bose logo emblazoned on the side, nobody will need to guess what you’re wearing, which might be a benefit for some. I prefer something with a lower profile.
Should you buy the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II?
Yes, if you want the best ANC you can get
The Bose QuietComfort II’s active noise canceling is truly impressive. The amount of solitude and focus they deliver alone makes them an easy pick for anyone looking for top-notch ANC earbuds. Travelers in particular will appreciate how much transit noise and conversation they attenuate.
But when it comes to the overall experience, they still lag behind the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds (our previous top noise-canceling earbuds) and their vastly superior app customizability. With an MSRP of $299, the Bose buds are also pricier than Sony's pair (especially when on sale) and $50 more than the upcoming AirPods Pro (gen 2), which have the potential to rival Bose’s ANC performance and offer better usability—for Apple users at least.
Still, there’s no arguing the QuietComfort II are a landmark achievement in the earbuds world. They’re sure to satisfy travelers, ANC aficionados, and anyone looking for their own personal cone of silence.
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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
Meet the tester
Editor, Electronics & Audio/Video@johntmhiggins
John is the A/V Editor for Reviewed. He is an ISF Level III-certified calibrator with bylines at ProjectorCentral, Wirecutter, IGN, Home Theater Review, T3, Sound & Vision, and Home Theater Magazine. When away from the Reviewed office, he is a sound editor for film and musician, and loves to play games with his son.
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