Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II Review
The best earbuds for noise-cancellation
When it comes to noise-cancelling there aren’t many, if any true wireless earphones, that can hold a candle to what Bose has done here. Throw in improvements to the battery life, decent customisation options along with bigger and better bass and you have one of the best wireless earbuds available.
- Top-tier noise cancelling and ambient modes
- Improved sound over the original
- Slimline design
- AptX support on the way
- Improved battery capacity
- More expensive than before
- Average call quality
- Still susceptible to wind noise
- UKRRP: £279
- USARRP: $299
- EuropeRRP: €299
- CanadaRRP: CA$379
- AustraliaRRP: AU$429
- CustomTuneNew feature that optimises ANC and sound quality
- ActiveSense technologyKeeps loud noises at bay when using Aware mode
When it comes to noise-cancelling, Bose are one of the eminent names in the market. The QuietComfort series ushered in the standard for over-ears, and the original QuietComfort Earbuds did much the same for true wireless earphones.
When it comes to audio, Bose isn’t quite as comfortably class-leading, with the likes of Sony, Sennheiser and Bowers & Wilkins offering more invigorating listens.
At the second time of asking, Bose has tweaked a few things, from the design to the sound, and produced a true wireless that is in, some respects, a very special one indeed.
- Slimmer design for earbuds and case
- Good comfort
- Touch controls
It’s all change on the design front. The QuietComfort Earbuds II (or QCE II, for short) are more compact, lighter (6g) and don’t stick out as much. The StayHear Max ear-tips have been ditched for a stem design with touch controls at the top of the earbud.
Comfort is good, though I feel some slight discomfort (especially when moving) from the stability bands. They can cause a little bit of itchiness, but a scratch solves the issue.
And despite sensing some movement when walking about, I never felt the buds would fall out thanks to the ergonomic shape of the housing. Both the ear-tips and the stability bands come in three sizes if the fit doesn’t fit the first time of asking.
Controls cover playback (taps) and volume (swipe up or down), though I’ve found that taps can be interpreted as swipes, inadvertently upping the volume if you’re not too careful. The QuietComfort Earbuds II provide the wearer with two shortcuts, one on each earbud and on the right you’re able to cycle through different modes and access the mobile device’s voice assistant; and on the left, well, it’s exactly the same choice.
Perhaps more actions could be added in the future (like battery life as it was on the previous buds) as that would give the wearer more scope to customize to their preferences, rather than simply associate an action to the left or right.
The case is less chunky, more pocketable and with a smooth finish. The earbuds come in four colour options in black and soapstone options, joined by Midnight Blue and Eclipse Gray on the Bose website in early March.
- Top-tier ANC and Aware mode
- Improved battery capacity
- Average call quality
The Bose QCE II support Bluetooth 5.3, which is the most current Bluetooth standard, and the wireless performance is excellent. I’ve walked through Waterloo and Victoria stations, as well as through busy thoroughfares such as Soho and Piccadilly and come through with not even the slightest hint of a dropout. The only issues I’ve come across were early on when the buds wouldn’t play sound or connect to my mobile phone from time to time, but those temperamental issues appear to have been put to bed.
The QuietComfort Earbuds II support SBC and AAC, but that’ll change with an update that adds compatibility for the Snapdragon Sound platform, enabling Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive format and bringing lossless and low latency audio support.
Battery life is not as extensive as rivals at a quoted six hours per charge and carrying out a few battery drains listening to Spotify would confirm six hours is about right. An hour of listening sees the QuietComfort Earbuds II drop to 90%, and a further hour sees them fall to 70%, so you could squeeze just over six hours (depending on what you’re listening to and the volume) before popping them back into the charging case.
The case does offer a bigger capacity than the original QuietComfort buds despite being smaller in size, boosted from 18 to 24 hours which is competitive compared to the Sony WF-1000XM4.
If the thinking was that Bose couldn’t advance further on the noise-cancelling, then I’m pleased to say that it has upended those expectations. The original QuietComfort buds were nigh on perfect in my estimation but you can improve upon perfection.
Whatever sounds in the near vicinity that tries to disrupt these earphones, the QuietComfort Earbuds II lays waste to them. That’s not to say all sounds are removed but the Bose approach is at a point where they’re not far off. Groups of people in Soho and Piccadilly are easily kept at bay, and walking around, in general, is something close to serene.
Cars and vehicles don’t disappear but are hushed resoundingly, the stutters of motorbikes are reduced to a barely threatening splutter. Improvements have been made to shushing people’s voices, too; wearing (and comparing) the original and sequel on a train back from Bristol and voices in the carriage were more distant and quieter with the QCE II, with ambient sounds reduced even more.
The effect is of wonderful isolation and a surreal dislocation from what’s around me. There have been times I’ve taken them out and I couldn’t believe how noisy London is. The only issue here is that in blustery conditions there’s still some minor wind noise to contend with.
Just as good is the Aware mode, which is clear, detailed, and natural. The effect is as if you’re not even wearing a pair of earphones, so high are the levels of detail and clarity afforded. Conversations can be had in Aware mode with music still on in the background, and perhaps most interesting about the transparency mode is Bose’s ActiveSense technology.
This works in a similar manner to the AirPods Pro 2’s transparency mode where the earphone automatically silences background noises to keep them at a manageable level. I found it to be most potent when used on the Underground, as soon as the wind on the Central line began, the Bose dialled it back down to less egregious levels, returning to normal when the sound ceased. I still managed to have a conversation with another person with this happening in the background, able to hear most of what was said.
There is the Bose Music app, which has had a few changes over the years but still retains the same sleek and simple visual impact. There’s a 3-band EQ for adjusting the QuietComfort Earbuds II’s sound, as well as being able to adjust bass and treble levels on their own.
There’s greater customisation available, though still not to the same level of detail (or perhaps complexity) as Sony or JBL’s headphone app. You can create up to four noise-cancelling profiles (and give them names) and manually switch between them. Although there’s not the same automation that Sony or Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 3 can provide.
Not too sure about the fit? Well, there’s a Fit Test to make sure, and that sound you hear when you first put the earphones on? That’s the CustomTune tone that measures the quality of the seal and optimises the sound and you’ll hear it again during the test.
Call quality is not quite as good as it could be. In terms of vocal clarity and pickup, the Bose are perfectly fine; the issue comes in that they let all ambient sounds in as well, and while the person on the other end could hear my voice above the noise, it becomes a problem in busy areas and roads as it becomes altogether too distracting.
- Not quite the levels of dynamism as hoped
- Bigger, punchier bass performance
- Neutral presentation
Bose has always opted for a neutral, uncoloured approach to audio, which mostly continues with the QuietComfort Earbuds II.
I say mostly as Bose has ushered in a raft of changes that don’t necessarily transform the sound but give music more impact and weight.
A play of GoGo Penguin’s Atomised and the treble is brighter than on the original, the keys of the piano rendered with more brilliance and distinctiveness that makes them stand out from the rest of the frequency range; sharp but not overly keen and with enough dynamic variation (just) to describe the piano’s ascending notes. There’s a little more dynamism and sharpness to the top end here than there is on the WF-1000XM4.
What’s most noticeable is the boost to the low end of the frequency range. Bass is bigger, weightier and punches like a heavyweight boxer, but it doesn’t distract from the detail and clarity found in the midrange.
Mitski’s Stay Soft is a good example of this balance – the track has more presence and body to the low end, but the soundstage on the QCE II is portrayed in bigger terms than it is on the original QuietComfort Earbuds, and that allows more space for detail to exist, to which the new Bose earbuds show a better grasp of uncovering that detail better than the older pair.
That midrange/treble performance extends itself to weightier vocals in Noah Cyrus’ Stand Still, isolated and described with a bigger presence in the soundstage that again gives the track more weight than could be heard on the original. There’s also a more acute sense of depth to the track in terms of the imaging of vocals and instruments, which leads to a more convincing stereo image.
The QuietComfort Earbuds II offer a slightly more pronounced sense of dynamism, though it’s not exactly bounding from quiet to loud but more steady and easygoing. The bass is what gives these buds their sense of energy rather than dynamic swings.
The original does feel a little more neutral in tone, giving away less in terms of colouration but I’d say it also feels more muted and constricted compared to the new pair, which overall offer the better listen.
Should you buy it?
For class-leading noise-cancellation: The QuietComfort Earbuds II eke a fraction more performance with their ANC, but given how good the original one was, that ensures this sequel continues to be at the top of the class.
There are better-sounding earbuds: While not an Achilles’ heel as such, the improvements to the QCE II’s audio do register as being better than the original, but the likes of Sony, Sennheiser and Bowers & Wilkins are more musical in their approach.
I didn’t think it would be possible to improve on the original QuietComfort Earbuds’ noise-cancelling, but the QuietComfort Earbuds II have dispelled that expectation just as easily as they clear away noise. This sequel sees improvements in every area, from the design to battery life and the audio performance, they are a better pair of earphones than the original.
There are still areas of improvement, they’re surprisingly still vulnerable to some wind noise despite the new design, and the call quality performance isn’t best suited to busy areas.
Though they are more expensive – a jump of £30 – I’d say that is just about justified. The best earbuds for noise-cancelling have gotten better, and it’ll be some true wireless pair that knocks them off their perch.
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We test every headphones we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
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Tested for two months
Tested with real world use
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At the time of review (March 2023), the Bose only supported SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs, but there is a update arriving in Springtime 2023 that will add support for the Snapdragon Sound platform and aptX Adaptive audio.
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