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Bose QuietComfort 45 review: Still the kings of comfort but lacking innovation

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
320
inc VAT

The Bose QuietComfort 45 deliver on their promise of quiet and comfort but are light on smart features and audio customisation

Pros 
Class-leading comfort
Highly effective noise cancellation
Aware mode works well
Cons 
ANC can’t be adjusted
No EQ options
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The Bose QuietComfort 45 are the latest entry in a series of headphones that has been helping consumers enjoy distraction-free audio for over two decades.

Bose first pioneered noise-cancelling headsets designed to reduce the impact of aircraft noise in the late 1980s but it wasn’t until the release of the original QuietComfort in 2000 that its ANC tech went mainstream.

Since then, we’ve seen a number of iterations of the company’s flagship noise-cancellers, with the most recent model, the stunning QuietComfort 35 II scooping our coveted Best Buy award in 2017.

Four years is a long time in the audio industry, however, and Bose’s over-ear noise-cancelling crown has since been wrestled away by the Sony WH-1000XM4. The QC 45 seek to snatch it back and are more than a match for their rivals in a couple of key areas, but in a couple of others, still have a fair bit of catching up to do.

Bose QuietComfort 45 review: What you need to know

The Bose QuietComfort 45 are the follow up to the American audio manufacturer’s hugely successful QuietComfort 35 II and are a very similar proposition to their predecessors.

The big attractions remain twofold: high-grade active noise cancellation and an ultra-comfortable over-ear fit that lends itself perfectly to long listening sessions. Both are areas in which the QC 45 have received updates but these amount to small tweaks rather than wholesale changes.

There’s also a new “Aware” mode: a setting that passes ambient sound from the headphones’ external microphones through to the headphones so you can hear what’s going on around you without having to remove the headphones. However, a couple of the noise-cancelling options available on the QC 35 II have been scrapped: you are no longer able to choose between high and low levels of active noise cancellation or turn off ANC entirely.

Battery life has received a decent boost, a fourth external microphone has been added to improve call quality and the microUSB charging port has been replaced with a USB-C port. Elsewhere, the Bluetooth version the headphones operate over has been updated from 4.1 to 5.1, although codec support remains limited to AAC and SBC.

If these seem like minor, albeit welcome, improvements, it’s because they are. Bose was always unlikely to completely overhaul what was a winning formula, but its decision to release such an incremental update is a risky one given the progress made by its rivals over the past few years.

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Bose QuietComfort 45 review: Price and competition

Comfort doesn’t come cheap, with the QuietComfort 45 costing £320. That price places them among the most expensive noise-cancelling headphones around but there’s no shortage of alternatives in what is one of audio’s most competitive categories.

The QC 45’s biggest competition comes from our favourite over-ear ANC headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM4, which deliver a triumvirate of supreme comfort, excellent noise cancellation and sensational sound quality. Having launched at £350, the WH-1000XM4 are currently available for a very reasonable £279.

Among the numerous other premium options out there are the Apple AirPods Max. At £549, they’re the priciest mainstream ANC headphones we’ve reviewed but there’s no denying their appeal, particularly if you’re an Apple user able to take advantage of their stunning 360-degree Spatial Audio.

There are also a couple of older pairs of Bose headphones worth considering: the QC 45’s direct predecessors, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II, and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. The former can often be found for under £200 on Amazon, while the latter are also frequently discounted from their £350 RRP, with the black version available for £265 at the time of writing.

Bose QuietComfort 45 review: Design and features

As touched on above, not much has changed in terms of the QuietComfort 45’s design. They remain extremely lightweight at 240g, in part due to their compact oval earcups, which are smaller than you’ll find on a lot of over-ear headphones.

The headband is reinforced with glass-filled nylon to help protect it and prevent it from becoming misshapen, while soft, pleat-free synthetic leather cushions line the inside of the headband and earcups. The earcups connect to the headband via a cast-metal hinge that enables them to be folded up easily for storage in the hard-shelled carrying case or a coat pocket.

I can’t fault the craftsmanship or build quality. The QC 45 are well made and they live up to the Comfort part of their name, too. The relatively small ear cups may prove an issue for those with larger ears but they fitted over mine perfectly, creating an effective seal against external sound without pinching them.

Bose hasn’t tried to do anything fancy with the physical controls offered by the QC 45. In fact, the layout remains exactly the same as their predecessors. The sliding power switch on the outside of the right earcup makes a welcome return, while three buttons on the underside of the cup handle music and call controls.

The centre button of the trio has multiple functions: a single press plays/pauses audio, a double press skips to the next track, a triple-press skips back a track and holding it down summons your phone’s voice assistant.

Volume controls are handled by the buttons on either side and protrude slightly further than the central button, which helps you identify which is which when the QC 45 are on your head. Located on the left earcup is a single button used solely for switching between the Quiet (noise cancelling) and Aware (transparency) modes.

As was the case with the QC 35 II, the QC 45’s left earcup also houses a 2.5mm jack to facilitate wired listening and you’re provided with a 2.5mm to 3.5mm audio cable in the box. The charging port can still be found on the right earcup but this time it’s of the USB-C variety rather than micro USB, which is a positive change.

Stated battery life now clocks in at up to 24 hours per charge with ANC on while listening to audio at 50% volume. That’s four hours longer than the QC 35 II, which is nothing to be sniffed at, but still leaves the QuietComfort 45 six hours short of the Sony WH-1000XM4.

And the unfavourable comparisons to our favourite over-ear noise-cancellers don’t stop there. There’s nothing akin to Sony’s Speak-to-Chat function, which automatically pauses your audio when it detects your voice, nor is there any wear detection to halt proceedings when you take the QC 45 off your ears.

What you do get is the ability to pair with two Bluetooth devices simultaneously, which is great to have. There are also a couple of extra functions available via the Bose Music app: you can have the headphones power off automatically after a certain period of inactivity and you can control how loudly you can hear your own voice when on calls.

These are both useful but, overall, the Bose QC 45 feel rather light on features compared with the Sony WH-1000XM4.

Bose QuietComfort 45 review: Sound quality

So despite being incredibly comfortable, the Bose QC 45 are a touch disappointing when it comes to features. But can they make up some ground on the competition when it comes to sonic performance?

In some respects, yes. The Bose QC 45 are, on the whole, a fine-sounding pair of headphones. Unlike many over-ear headphones, they avoid the temptation of going all-in on a sound profile characterised by excessive bass. Low-end frequencies feel a tad restrained but are cleanly articulated and that means you never feel overwhelmed.

If anything, the Bose QC 45 overplay their hand in the upper registers. Mid-range and treble frequencies are most prominent in the sound signature and this lends itself very well to podcasts and songs with a strong vocal component.

However, I did find the headphones became grating when I pushed the QC 45 to their volume limit. This is despite Bose’s “Active EQ” feature, which is designed to ensure consistent bass and treble performance at every volume level, and worked extremely well with the company’s QuietComfort Earbuds.

At moderate volumes, I had no such issues, and the QC 45 attenuate external sound so well I rarely found myself needing to venture higher than 80% volume. At these levels, the QC 45 deliver sound that’s superbly balanced and it’s easy to enjoy an eclectic mix of music genres for hours with no listening fatigue.

There’s also plenty of detail, instrument separation is impressive (without being reference-headphones level) and, best of all, they don’t feel overbearing in any way. What they lack in sparkle, they make up for with consistent and, dare I say it, comforting sound.

Sadly, those that don’t find that sound to their taste have no way to customise the audio. You can’t create your own EQ, nor are there any preset EQ options within the Bose Music app. You don’t even get the option to boost treble or bass. It’s a particularly odd omission given that the Bose NC 700 do offer EQ options via the app, as do the QC Earbuds.

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Bose QuietComfort 45 review: Noise cancellation

The same criticism can be levelled at Bose’s implementation of active noise cancellation on the QuietComfort 45.

As we’ve come to expect from noise-cancelling pioneers Bose, the ANC on offer is superb. It does a top job at minimising the impact of low-end frequencies and cuts out a surprising amount of mid-range noise, too. Even higher-pitched sounds have a decent dent put in them, placing the QC 45 right at the top of the list of the best noise-cancelling headphones I’ve tested when it comes to ambient noise attenuation.

But unlike their predecessors and in-ear stablemates, the QC 45 don’t offer different levels of noise cancellation catering to different situations. The QC 35 II feature “High” and “Low” ANC levels and let you turn it off entirely, while the QC Earbuds offer ten different levels of ANC and allow you to assign three of them to presets. The QC 45 would undoubtedly benefit from a similar system but whether that’s something Bose can add via an update remains to be seen.

The new “Aware” mode is very welcome, however, and works effectively. The amount of external sound they allow into your ears genuinely enhances your ability to keep up to speed with what’s going on around you and doesn’t sound too artificial either.

Despite this addition, the Bose QC 45 can’t compete with the level of smarts offered by the Sony WH-1000XM4, which allow you to create bespoke sound profiles that automatically implement certain levels of noise cancellation based on where you are and what you’re doing.

Bose QuietComfort 45 review: Verdict

I have to admit that I’m a bit disappointed with the Bose QuietComfort 45. Not because they’re bad headphones, they’re most certainly not, but because I’d hoped for so much more.

They continue their predecessor’s legacy of delivering best-in-class comfort along with highly effective noise cancellation and they offer sound quality that’s eminently listenable. But a lack of customisation options, both in terms of audio and ANC, and any groundbreaking functionality make it difficult to recommend them over their big-name rivals.

Apple’s AirPods Max may be a lot more expensive but have Spatial Audio support going for them, while Sony’s WH-1000XM4 remain the over-ear noise-cancellers to beat thanks to their superior sound quality, smarts and user-friendly convenience features. The QC 45 may be the pick of the bunch for comfort, but as an overall package, they come up a little short.

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