Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review: The noise-cancelling powerhouse

Bose doesn’t have the true wireless experience of some other headphone companies, but you would never know it. The QC Earbuds are a huge leap over the SoundSport Free model from 2017. The company provides the best ANC performance you’ll find in true wireless buds on top of great sound quality. There are some missing features, but the basics are covered, and there’s wireless charging as well.

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On the outside of each earbud, there’s a touch panel for on-board controls. Unfortunately, you only have a few options here — two per side. The right bud will play/pause with a double tap while the same action on the left side cycles through your selected noise cancellation presets (called Favorites in the app). You can choose to add a press and hold on the left earbuds, but you can only use it to either hear the current battery level or skip to the next track. It’s called Shortcut, and I kept it locked on the track control. The Music app displays the battery info for both buds individually, so I just glanced at my phone as needed. Lastly, a press and hold on the right side will summon your voice assistant of choice.

Bigger earbuds mean a bigger case. The one for the QC Buds isn’t as absurdly huge as the one that comes with the Powerbeats Pro, but it’s twice as big as some other models. The consolation prize is that Bose included wireless charging that works with any Qi-certified device. There are also five status LEDs on the outside, so you get a better idea of levels than you would with the typical trio of lights most companies use. A USB-C jack is around back for wired charging and a Bluetooth pairing button resides inside between the two earbud cradles.

Sound qualityBose doesn’t have the true wireless experience of some other headphone companies, but you would never know it. The QC Earbuds are a huge leap over the SoundSport Free model from 2017. The company provides the best ANC performance you’ll find in true wireless buds on top of great sound quality. There are some missing features, but the basics are covered, and there’s wireless charging as well.

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While I prefer Sony’s typical sound profile, Bose has a knack for great audio quality. The QuietComfort Earbuds are no different. They have a crisp clarity that’s excellent with finer details like subtle synth grunge, guitar fret noise, snare drum rattle and more. The audio is big and full, especially at higher volumes. Sometimes true wireless earbuds can l sound compressed and flat, but Bose nailed the dynamics here. You can hear the layers of instruments and vocals, rather than having everything mashed together.

The EQ is also well-tuned for a range of genres. Bose doesn’t offer an adjustable equalizer for the QC Earbuds inside the Music app, and that’s a bit of a bummer. But, these sound pretty damn good out of the box. There’s ample bass, but it’s not overly boomy or exhausting. It provides a backbone to the folky alt-country tunes of Ruston Kelly, but also gives thump to songs on Sylvan Esso’s Free Love and Run The Jewels’ RTJ4. If I was forced to nitpick, there can be a little too much emphasis on vocals at times, but it’s far from a major issue — and some styles even benefit from it.

Call quality

A lot of true wireless earbud companies make lofty claims about call performance. Most of the time you still end up sounding like you’re talking on a speakerphone. Any buds will work for calls, but a lot of them are far from an ideal option in noisy environments. There are some exceptions, but mileage varies greatly. Bose built a dedicated voice microphone inside the right earbud for calls. The company says it’s designed to focus on your voice and block out the chaos around you.

Unfortunately, the results are pretty mediocre. The person on the other end of phone calls said they could hear a good amount of background noise and my voice had a tinny, high-pitched quality to it. They also noticed that the clamor around me became more prevalent when I stopped talking, which wasn’t the case with the Sennheiser CX 400BT. Bose does give you the ability to adjust how much of your voice you hear through the buds during calls, with options for low, medium, high and none at all.

Battery lifeBose doesn’t have the true wireless experience of some other headphone companies, but you would never know it. The QC Earbuds are a huge leap over the SoundSport Free model from 2017. The company provides the best ANC performance you’ll find in true wireless buds on top of great sound quality. There are some missing features, but the basics are covered, and there’s wireless charging as well.

Billy Steele/Engadget

Bose promises six hours of use on the buds themselves with another two full charges in the case. During my tests, I got almost seven hours. And I typically had the ANC level all the way up so I could focus on work. If you find yourself in a pinch, the company offers a quick charge feature that will give you two hours of listening time in 15 minutes. And as I mentioned, you can charge the whole package wirelessly or with a USB-C cable.

While some companies offer true wireless earbuds with 10 or more hours of play time on the buds, most of those don’t have ANC. When you look at the best noise-cancelling options, Bose is in the same ballpark. Sony’s WF-1000XM3 also lasts six hours and Jabra claims its upcoming Elite 85t will run for five and a half. Honestly, 5-6 hours is plenty for earbuds. More often than not, you’ll dock these in the case after an hour or two, so they’ll be topped up regularly. Sure, you might need to push the limits at some point, but six straight hours of music, podcasts or phone calls is far from “normal” use for most people.

The competitionSony WF-1000XM3

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As I’ve mentioned a few times, the primary competition here is Sony’s WF-1000XM3. In my opinion the noise-cancelling performance is a toss up, but the overall sound quality advantage goes to Sony. The 1000XM3 earbuds also offer way more customization than the QC Earbuds, which could be a deal breaker for some. Plus, Sony’s flagship model is $230 at full price, and you can regularly find them on sale for under $180. They’re well over a year old at this point, but the company has added new features along the way, so they’re aging well.

If sound quality is your primary concern, and price doesn’t really matter, Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 2 is a solid option. The audio is incredible, but the noise cancellation isn’t as robust as what Bose and Sony offer. Sennhieser gives you a good amount of customization options though, and the design is slightly more compact than either of those other two models.

Wrap-up

Bose has come a long way since the SoundSport Free. The company had years to perfect its next set(s) of true wireless earbuds, and it’s created a tempting package. The QuietComfort Earbuds have powerful ANC and great overall sound quality, plus premium features like wireless charging. The limited customization and touch controls could be a headache for some, and the large-sized buds create a look some may not want. And when you factor in price, Sony’s WF-1000XM3 is an attractive alternative despite its age. Bose and Sony have done battle over noise-cancelling headphones during the last few years, now they’re doing the same for true wireless earbuds. And Bose finally has a product that can give Sony a run for its money.