The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II deliver the best noise cancelling around and great sound too but aren’t without their weaknesses
- First-rate noise cancellation
- Superb sound quality
- Improved design
- No Bluetooth multipoint
- Some connectivity issues
- No wireless charging
Bose has developed a well-deserved reputation for delivering the best noise cancelling in the business and the Bose Earbuds II do nothing to change that. They’re even more effective in this regard than their predecessors and the American brand has also nailed how the QC Earbuds II sound, despite a lack of high-resolution codec support.
A refined, more compact design leaves them looking significantly better in your ears, while the Bose Music app provides a decent number of ways in which you can personalise your experience. That’s a compelling offering but the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II suffer from a few issues that prevent them from becoming a must-buy.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II review: What you need to know
Bose was surprisingly late to the noise-cancelling earbuds party when it released the QuietComfort Earbuds but they proved worth the wait, delivering the best ANC I’d experienced from a pair of in-ear headphones. Two years on and those buds still attenuate external sound better than many newer, similarly priced alternatives.
The QC Earbuds II seek to improve on that successful formula, making basic upgrades you’d expect of a second-generation model, including better charging case battery life, faster earbud charging time and support for a newer Bluetooth standard.
The case now provides three full charges of the buds lasting up to six hours rather than two, bringing total battery life to around a day. Once the buds and case are empty, it’ll take three hours to fully charge both, while topping up the buds takes just an hour. There’s still no wireless charging functionality, however.
Bluetooth connectivity now comes courtesy of version 5.3, although codec support is, disappointingly, still limited to SBC and AAC. Once connected to my source, the QC Earbuds II maintained a stable connection but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. There were a number of occasions when the buds simply failed to connect to my phone when removed from their case, an issue I was only able to resolve by forgetting them and re-pairing via my Bluetooth settings. I tested with an iPhone XR and a Google Pixel 6a.
While the above changes are relatively minor, there’s been a significant improvement in the design department: the buds are 30% smaller than their predecessors and gains have also been made when it comes to sound quality and noise cancellation.
The latter advances are largely down to Bose’s new “CustomTune” technology, which sees the buds’ microphones measure how acoustic waves move through an individual’s ear canals and balance output accordingly. As a result, Bose says you can expect optimised audio no matter the size or shape of your ears, while the efficacy of noise cancellation is also improved in hard-to-attenuate frequency bands.
READ NEXT: Our favourite Bluetooth headphones
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II review: Price and competition
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II are available in either “Triple Black” or “Soapstone” and will typically set you back £280, which is more expensive than the majority of Bose’s key rivals, though at the time of writing they were available for a cut-price £249.
Apple’s excellent AirPods Pro 2 cost £249, Sony’s WF-1000XM4 can currently be picked up for £190, while our favourite buds of 2022 – the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 – have a list price of £220 but are often found below £200. You could even pick up the Bowers & Wilkins PI7 for less, thanks to a hefty discount on their list price of £350.
There are plenty of other even cheaper alternatives available, with options including the Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2 (£179), House of Marley Redemption ANC 2 (£150), Beats Studio Buds (node/1415141) (£160) and Oppo Enco Free 2 (node/1408478) (£89), all of which feature on our roundup of the best wireless earbuds.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II review: Design and features
Where the original QC Earbuds looked rather like miniature Bluetooth headsets due to their hefty housings, the second-gen are a lot more streamlined. The buds are more compact and weigh significantly less at 6.2g apiece compared with the 8.5g of their predecessors.
The design is much closer to the stemmed style popularised by the Apple AirPods, although here the stems are thicker and flatter. The overall aesthetic is a more appealing one and the buds retain their IPX4 rating for water resistance but are still a bit blocky.
In addition to being smaller, the Bose QC Earbuds II have ditched the wingtips found on their predecessors in favour of what Bose describes as “stability bands”. These serve the same purpose – they help keep the buds secure in your ears – and three different sizes are included along with three pairs of silicone eartips.
I had no fit issues with the original QC Earbuds and this model proved equally comfortable and stable in my ears. The buds remained firmly in place, regardless of what I was doing; I’m not sure the stability bands were even necessary but they may come in handy for some. A fit test in the Bose Music app can be used to confirm whether you’ve achieved a good in-ear seal and it’s worth doing, as this will impact how effective the CustomTune technology is.
Although the buds are narrower, touch controls remain easy to execute, and Bose has expanded the range of commands. I grumbled about being unable to skip back a track or adjust volume previously and both these issues have been addressed, which is great to see. Touch control customisation remains limited – play/pause (single tap), next track (double tap), previous track (triple tap) and volume adjustment (swipe up/down) are locked – but you can assign noise-cancelling mode switching and voice assistant activation to long presses on either the right or left bud.
The remaining functions are accessed via the Bose Music app. You can have the buds automatically pause when one is removed from your ear, automatically answer calls by putting an earbud in, and choose whether you want to automatically engage transparency mode when using just one bud. At launch, only the right bud could be used fully independently – if you put it back in the case, the left would automatically disconnect. This was rectified in a firmware update in February, and you’re now able to switch between the two buds freely and use one even if the other has run out of battery.
Sidetone (how loudly you hear yourself while on calls) can be adjusted in-app, too, and you can also choose whether you want voice prompts to alert you to various things, including connection status and incoming caller ID. Finally, the app can be used to switch your connection between up to six paired devices. Sadly, there’s no Bluetooth multipoint, so you can only connect to one device at a time and the buds can’t quickly switch between sources without being prompted to do so via the app.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II review: Sound quality
I was a big fan of how the original QC Earbuds sounded and I’m pleased to say that Bose has again nailed it in the audio quality department. The buds sound a little warmer this time around but the extra weight afforded to low-end frequencies doesn’t upset what is a very smartly balanced audio profile.
The QC Earbuds II deliver all the engrossing mid-range and treble detail present in their predecessors while adding more satisfying bass reproduction. Fire up The Hives’ “Hate to Say I Told You So” on both models, and the backing drums on the QC Earbuds II have increased presence, better complementing the delightful timbre of the guitars.
The QC Earbuds II’s improved low-end response shines on hard-hitting dance tracks, too, with the big, bold basslines on 4am Kru’s “Pianos Raining Down” punching out the rhythm. The 2022 release is a homage to hardcore and jungle bangers of yesteryear and the drop hits with all the impact this old-school raver could have asked for without sounding bloated.
Despite that additional low-end oomph, the rest of the frequency spectrum gets plenty of love, too. The high-pitched female vocals and titular pianos on that aforementioned track weren’t overshadowed in any way, nor did they distort with the volume pushed right up.
It’s a little tricky to say exactly how much of an impact Bose’s new CustomTune technology was having on my audio experience as there’s no way to turn it off but, given it’s the big new audio addition and the QC Earbuds II sound better than their predecessors, it seems to be having the desired effect.
The EQ options aren’t the most extensive. All you get are Bass Boost, Bass Reducer, Treble Boost and Treble Reducer presets along with a three-band EQ. However, what is there works well enough, even though it doesn’t feel essential to creating an engaging listening experience. I’d have liked to have seen support for a high-resolution Bluetooth codec and perhaps some form of spatial audio to elevate that experience even further, though.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II review: Noise cancellation
As I stated at the start of this review, the QuietComfort Earbuds II deliver even better noise cancellation than their esteemed predecessors. The margins are pretty fine, especially at the lower end of the frequency range where sound waves are easier to attenuate but I found there was a noticeable improvement in how well voices were dampened. People chatting around me in the office were reduced to a low whisper with the buds in and volume muted – once I’d nudged up the volume a couple of levels those voices completely disappeared.
There are two noise cancellation-related modes available by default: Quiet, which applies maximum attenuation, and Aware, which is your transparency mode and actively pipes sound in. The latter is highly effective, with a naturalness to sounds that are filtered in and only a small hint of microphone crackling, which can only really be heard if you’re sitting in a quiet environment.
Quiet mode can be customised by engaging Bose’s trademarked technology, ActiveSense. This listens out for sudden changes in the volume of external sounds and automatically engages a bit of noise cancellation should things get raucous. This is, effectively, adaptive transparency, and it works, too, softening the harshness of loud noises slightly.
In addition to those two modes, you can create two personalised settings from a list including Commute, Focus, Home, Music, Outdoor, Relax, Run, Walk, Work or Workout. Once you’ve chosen the mode, you select the level of active noise cancellation you wish it to apply on a ten-point scale. Handily, you can switch between the two default and two custom modes by using the left or right shortcut (touching and holding the outside of the bud).
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II review: Verdict
If it’s class-leading active noise cancellation you’re after, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II are the true wireless earbuds to buy. They attenuate external sound better than any in-ear headphones I’ve tested, are comfortable, easy to control and sound great.
The absence of Bluetooth multipoint, some form of spatial sound and wireless charging does see them fall behind key rivals on features, which is disappointing, particularly when they cost more than a lot of the competition. That doesn’t prevent them from receiving a hearty recommendation but it means they fall just short of a Best Buy award.