(Pocket-lint) - Bose was among the first big-name audio brands to get onboard the true wireless earphones bandwagon when it first kicked off in earnest following the increase in interest after Apple's AirPods launched. The SoundSport Free was an excellent running companion, but the design was a little awkward, and there was no noise-cancelling - the tech for which Bose is so well-known.
For 2020, Bose has built two new pairs of true wireless buds, with the QuietComfort Earbuds taking on the iconic brand name of the company's noise-cancelling headphones, and using inspiration from those to deliver what we think is among the best noise-cancelling in-ears on the market. Here's why.
- Large tapered, soft tips and in-ear fins
- Finishes: Triple Black, Soapstone
- Weight: 8.5g per earbud
Bose's SoundSport Free was one of the chunkiest pairs of wire-free earphones around, and so for the QC range Bose has slimmed things down a bit. But at the same time, when you compare the external casing of the earbuds to other similar products, these in-ears are still comparatively large - even bigger than the Sony WF-1000XM3, which isn't the tiniest around either.
A lot of the reason for the size is the way the components are organised inside. The battery is relatively large, and attached to a circuit board featuring some advanced noise-cancelling and wireless connectivity components. There's also quite a large touch-sensitive panel in there.
Regardless, once you put these 'buds in your ears we find them to be one of the best-fitting pairs around, predominantly because of how the soft silicone tips and fins are designed. Bose's ear tips are cone-shaped and spread quite wide, so you don't need to shove them into your ears invasively in order to block out noise. That means there's no pressure, while still being effective for sound delivery. The soft, bendy fins grip the underside of your ear's ridge and hold the 'buds in securely.
With our pair, we were able to just stick with the standard tips and fins that came pre-installed on the QC Buds, but there are other sizes that come in the packaging if that doesn't work for you. Plus, Bose has a handy guide showing how to check if your selected option is a good fit. For us, it was that perfect balance of a secure fit and a lightness that's not too snug, but never felt like it'd come loose.
There are no buttons to speak of on these 'buds, just a touch-sensitive surface on the outside. One the right 'bud, you can tap twice to pause or play music, or touch-and-hold to launch your phone's assistant. On the left bud, you can double-tap to cycle through your favourite noise-cancelling settings, or touch-and-hold to launch a shortcut of your choosing. We chose to have it skip forwards, but you can have it read your earphone battery level instead if you want, which needs needs activating within the Bose app.
As for the included charging case, that's quite chunky too, which is understandable given that it needs space for both buds and the battery to recharge. It's largely plastic, and while it's not especially tiny, it is very practical. The earphones snap in easily, and crucially, aren't fiddly to remove. Plus, the hinge on the cover that flips open isn't loose or rattly - it's smooth and requires a button to release the latch that holds it down, ensuring it's secure when shut. As a little extra practicality, you can charge up the case using a Type-C connector as usual, or plonk it on a Qi wireless charging pad and do it wirelessly.
- Adjustable active noise-cancelling (ANC)
- Tap to hear the environment
- Bespoke acoustic design
One thing we've always loved about Bose is the instant loveability of sound profile and quality. With QC-branded headphones, you just put them in and melt into this lovely quiet environment where your music just sounds wonderful. And that's the exact same feeling we get from the QC Buds. It places you in this divine, quiet place where you're isolated from the world around you in a cocoon of great sound that we could stay in all day.
If there's one element of the sound that stands out it's the natural feel of it. By default, you get more of a feeling of space, like the music is playing near you, not just being pumped into your years from a small driver that's wedged into your ear canal. That's not a feeling you get from most other earbuds, without enabling some form of artificial 360-degree spatial audio feature.
A big part of this is that the bass notes and low-end tones give the feeling that they're breathing more and more expansive. It's not just that the QC Buds can reach those low notes, but there's a certain timbre and width to them like the notes are moving through space before reaching your ears. It's really impressive.
That impact is heard really clearly in Selebrities' cover of the Fleetwood Mac song Everywhere, which already has quite a reverb-heavy sound to it, but the bass at the backend supporting the song is given the room it needs to support the clear vocals and bright electric guitar plucking.
It's also a particularly good pair of earphones for any acoustic music. Anything recorded using an acoustic drum kit will allow you to almost hear the air moving around the bass drum skin as it's pumped by the floor pedal. The sound is particularly good for any singers who have that breathy, almost husky voice. Listen to Cough Syrup by Young the Giant, and you'll get a great feel from the lead vocals in the verses, and the supporting violins before it rocks out a bit more with the electric guitar and drums after the first chorus.
For a more extreme example - put on Jack Garratt's Mara. It starts with that low-end synth bass and bass drum pedal, but with the high wooden click, some stripped back and bright clean guitar and vocals. The bass is so low and deep on combination with the drum, before it expands in the first chorus with some epic harmony and then strips it back again for the second verse before layering up the instruments. With swelling brass work and additional percussive synth stuff building in, you can hear clearly as each layer is added until it climaxes with a short burst of high-gain guitar. QC Buds let you feel all of it, giving each element the prominence it should have at the right time, and it's just perfect.
For our own personal preference Bose has absolutely nailed the sound balance on these, the bass sitting perfectly without having to sacrifice any clarity or feel from the higher frequencies or mid-range.
TL;DR version: all of our favourite songs sound better in the QC Buds than in any true wireless earbuds we've used all year. These 'buds let you fully appreciate why you put some of those songs in your top playlists and why you love them so much.
Now, the QC Buds have excellent active noise-cancelling (ANC) too. Thanks to the design of the tip and the seal it forms, added to the ANC, it completely gets rid of ambient noise around you. You can use the Bose Music app to adjust just how much ANC you want. That means you can hear as much, or as little, of the environment around you as you want. Even - as previously mentioned - enabling a clearer environment mode by just long-pressing the touchpad on the left earbud.
This ANC extends to calls too, ensuring that the environment around you doesn't interfere with what the other person hears, and is powered by four external microphones to help beam-form a noise-free area for speech.
Performance + Battery
- Bluetooth 5.1
- 6 hours of music playback
- 18 hours total including case
If there's one area that's not quite as impressive on the QC Buds as in some of their rivals, it's overall battery life. You get about 6 hours of continuous music playback from a fully charged pair, which is fairly standard in the industry. Most will give you somewhere between 4.5-6 hours. So that's not a worry in everyday life.
However, the charging case only offers an additional two full charges, taking your total up to 18 hours. Some will give a few more. Again, in everyday use it hasn't been a problem. We've been able to listen to a couple of hours of music each day for a full work week and still have plenty left in the tank overall.
There are plenty of useful features that make these 'buds really convenient though. For instance, if you take them out of your ears while playing music, the music pauses. Auto-play ensures sound resumes when placing the 'buds back in your ears again.
If, however, you only take one out because you want to hear what someone else is saying so you can respond, the other earphone kills its noise-cancelling and lets in environmental noise, so you can hear clearly and not feel like you're speaking to someone with a finger stuck in one ear.
There's a Bose Music app that lets you control various features and give you hints at things you can change. So there's a slider for adjusting the level of ANC that goes from 0-10. Plus you can set up to three favourite noise-cancelling settings. It's automatically set at 0, 5 and 10, but that can be changed if you want. Then you cycle through them with the touchpad on the left bud.
What you can't do - because it's Bose - is adjust equalisation (EQ). Bose has its own idea about the perfect sound balance, and in this particular instance, we don't feel we need to argue with it. However, we can understand there might be frustration from those who might want a bit more bass, or a bit less, or a flatter sound.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds offer everything that's important in a pair of earphones. The name says it all really. These 'buds keep ambient noise at bay, while the comfort is supreme for a pair of in-ears. Add that to sound that'll make all your favourite songs sound amazing, and you've got a winning pair of earbuds.
Sure, touch controls could be more useful and the overall battery performance could be better, but if it's a choice of acoustic performance and noise-cancelling efficiency over a slightly better battery, we'd take the former every time.
Overall, it's hard to think of a more complete pair of true wireless in-ears in terms pure music enjoyment. Bose has an all-round winner on its hands.
Sony's top-spec noise-cancelling earphones offer great sound and - being slightly older than the Bose buds - can be found at cheaper prices. We don't find the sound quality or comfort to be quite as good, but the noise-cancelling is great and there are lots of advanced features on offer with Sony's offering.
Apple AirPods Pro
AirPods Pro is the obvious king of convenience for iPhone users. These 'buds are easy to pair, easy to use, and block out ambient noise really well too.