Apple AirPods Pro (2nd gen) vs Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II
Two top noise-canceling earbuds face off
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It’s been years since we’ve seen updates to either the AirPods Pro or the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds—two of our favorite active noise canceling earbuds. Then they both were officially announced on the same day, mere hours apart. And what a day it was.
Both the new AirPods Pro (second gen) and the QuietComfort Earbuds II promise (and deliver) some of the best noise canceling we’ve heard yet—not only from earbuds, but from any headphones we’ve listened to. The question is how do they stack up against one another across categories. We put them head-to-head, feature-to-feature to find out which comes out on top.
The new AirPods Pro and QuietComfort Earbuds II are both premium earbuds and priced as such. They were released a week apart from one another in September of 2022, so finding them at a discount isn’t likely to happen for a little while yet. Looking strictly at each MSRP, this is an easy win for Apple; $249 vs the Bose’s $299 price.
Our pick: AirPods Pro
Noise canceling and transparency modes
There have been some good improvements in noise-canceling technology over the past couple years, mostly in the midrange down to earbuds under $100, where top-end performance in starting to trickle down. The high-end changes, on the other hand, have been much more granular.
While the Sony WH-1000XM5 are better than the WH-1000XM4, it isn’t a “blows them out of the water” situation. But it’s a brand new world with the second generation AirPods Pro and QuietComfort Earbuds II.
The ANC performance of each is jaw dropping, although with the Bose it’s slightly more so. Airplane drones are all but eliminated—the AirPods let a slight midrange hiss and barely more low rumble through than with the QuietComfort 2.
It’s with vocal chatter that the difference is most apparent. While the AirPods Pro are better than our favorite Sony headphones and earbuds of the past couple years, Bose’s attenuation is stronger and more targeted. Overall, less conversation is heard, and what is heard is quieter and less distracting.
Both pairs list Adaptive Transparency mode among their specs. Transparency mode is nothing new to earbuds, it’s the Adaptive part that’s interesting, which attenuates loud sounds while transparency mode is enabled to protect your ears. In practice, Apple and Bose have different philosophies about how it works.
When Bose’s AwareSense is on and transparency mode is engaged, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II automatically introduce noise canceling to minimize the intrusiveness of loud sounds in the environment. The implementation is a bit disorienting, especially when a sudden loud sound—such as a dog’s bark—occurs in the middle of conversation and the noise canceling rushes in to shut out the world around you for a few brief seconds.
If Bose adds an adjustable slider in the future, it would go a long way to tone down the drama of the moment. As it stands, the feature’s performance isn’t there yet.
Apple, on the other hand, keeps the excellent clarity of its Transparency mode and uses a limiter to stop sudden loud sounds from getting through and immediately damaging your ears.
The powerful H2 chip in the AirPods Pro samples the sound around you 48,000 times per second to quickly react to the environment. That processing power also allows the AirPods Pro to focus on voices and improve their intelligibility when things are noisy. If we’re nitpicking, they aren’t flawless in execution—loud sounds can sometimes cause the limiter to distort slightly—but the performance is still impressive.
This is too close to call, as they each do better at one than the other.
Our pick: Draw
Features and controls
Apple and Bose have both been a bit behind the curve in different ways when it comes to full-featured functionality and control, and there’s still truth to that. Both the AirPods Pro and QuietComfort Earbuds II lack Bluetooth multipoint pairing, meaning you can only connect to one device at a time(although Apple has its Apple-centric iCloud Sharing option for Apple devices).
The AirPods also offer Spatial Audio support with optional head tracking, and convenience features like “Hey Siri” support and tracking of both your earbuds and case with the Find My app. But one common feature Apple still has yet to add is any form of EQ control. Bose did finally add a 3-band EQ, and you can assign access to your device’s voice assistant to a long press on the Bose earbuds (although it isn’t hand-free, like the AirPods), but in a “two steps forward, one step back” move, the company removed wireless charging for the case, something we see on the majority of earbuds at $200 or more, including the Pro.
With the addition of volume adjustment on the AirPods Pro, both pairs have a comprehensive list of controls. The volume controls are also on by default with the Pro, so it works even if you’re not connected to an iPhone. But you can only adjust settings from an iPhone. The QuietComfort II on the other hand, are device agnostic, with a Bose Music app for both Apple and Android that allows full customizability of features for either ecosystem.
There’s still a bit to be desired from both earbuds; EQ options for the AirPods Pro, wireless charging capability for the QC buds, and multipoint pairing for both. This category is a wash.
Our pick: Draw
Design and fit
Bose thankfully decreased the size and improved the fit of the QuietComfort Earbuds II, which now stylistically look closer to the AirPods Pro than the original chunky QuietComfort earbuds. The new QuietComfort are also more than two grams lighter per earbud than the old iteration. Instead of a combination eartip/wing design, the new QuietComfort include a selection of interchangeable eartips and stability bands that offer more customizable fit options than before.
The AirPods Pro design is the same as it ever was, although now with an added extra-small eartip, bringing the total number of options to four. Even though the Bose are nearly three grams lighter at 6.2 grams per bud, the AirPods Pro are lighter still at 5.4 grams per earbud. It might not sound like a lot, but when it comes to long-term comfort, every little bit helps.
Ultimately, which fit design works best for you is dependent on your ear size. Still, the fact that the AirPods Pro are a bit lighter and smaller in design hands this category to them.
Our pick: AirPods Pro
Sound and Call Performance
While Bose’s new EQ is only three bands (bass, mid, and treble), Apple still has no EQ option. Still, Bose’s EQ is a bit flawed. There’s no way to save a custom preset, so if you go from your modifications to one of the four included presets, your settings are gone.
But even with the 3-band EQ adjustments I made, I slightly preferred the sound of the AirPods Pro. They aren’t the best sounding earbuds in this price range (that honor still goes to the Sony WF-1000XM4, with some app tweaking), but they’ve improved over the previous AirPods Pro. The bass in particular is full and supportive without blowing away the midrange clarity, and there’s nice sparkle to the highs.
That isn’t to say the Bose don’t compete. There’s a bit of a midrange push, but overall I enjoyed my time listening to them. If you’re someone that prefers a bit more mids and high-end to your music, the QuietComfort II will serve you well. The two earbuds are close in sound quality.
With outdoor calls, though, it isn’t even a competition. The AirPods focus on the voice and dutifully filter out extraneous noise, so whoever you’re talking to can clearly and easily listen to the dulcet tones of your voice. When Managing Editor Ryan Waniata was on a call while walking by construction along the Seattle pier, he was easily able to carry on a phone conversation without the other party even aware of how close he was to the construction din.
Meanwhile, the Bose have trouble taming a moderate breeze or car alarm from a half block away. Traffic causes a shushy midrange whoosh that pulls focus away from the voice.
Both the out-of-the-box sound quality and the exceptional call quality of the AirPods Pro give this category to Apple.
Our pick: Apple AirPods Pro
Neither earbuds are best-in-class when it comes to battery life. Really, they’re barely middle of the pack, but at least both have improved over their predecessors. The AirPods Pro now get up to 6 hours of battery life with ANC turned on with up to a total of 30 hours from the case. The Bose also get up to 6 hours with ANC on, and their case ups that to 24 hours total.
No matter which you choose, they’ll need a midday charge if you plan on using them all day. Apple’s fast charge is twice the speed as Bose. That, paired with the extra 6 hours from the case gives this category to the AirPods Pro.
Our pick: Apple AirPods Pro
And the winner is ...
For Apple device users, the AirPods Pro are a no-brainer. They are the ultimate Apple mobile peripheral. The noise canceling is much better than before, the Adaptive Transparency mode is excellent and improves overall usability, and the sound profile is detailed and well balanced. The Apple-centric features all improve the user experience, and they’re $50 cheaper than the Bose.
The big argument in favor of the QuietComfort Earbuds II is their noise-canceling performance. It’s just a bit better than the AirPods Pro, especially in the troublesome chatty midrange. They also work the same no matter the device you’re using, which is an important distinction for non-Apple users.
If you’re looking specifically for the absolute best noise canceling you can get, particularly in situations where you’re surrounded by conversation, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II are the standout pick. But in all other situations, the Apple AirPods Pro are as good if not better than the Bose. They fit a varied lifestyle in ways the QuietComfort can’t, which makes the AirPods Pro some of the best all-around earbuds available.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.