Wearing any pair of Bose wireless earbuds comes with expectations when it comes to sound quality and noise cancelation. Competition is tight on all sides in this category, but when it comes to the best available options, this is a brand that often comes up.
The QuietComfort Earbuds II set sights for the very top by way of their active noise cancelation (ANC) performance, serving notice to the likes of Sony and everyone else that these are the earbuds to beat. While their comfort level is debatable, the mix of features and functions here, plus a more competitive price, mean you get plenty for what your money.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II: Price and availability
Bose launched the QuietComfort Earbuds II in September 2022 and are easy to find in retail and online stores. They initially started at $300, though you may find them for less during periodic discounts or sales. They come in either triple black or soapstone white variants.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II: What’s good
Given the size of the previous QC Earbuds, there was plenty of room to shave off for this pair, and it shows once you put these on. They're 30% smaller than their predecessors, which makes a big difference in fit and comfort. Now, rather than a thicker bud sticking out of the ear, the thicker portion sits in the concha, redistributing the weight inwards rather than outwards.
It's a design shift that pays dividends in how much lighter and easier they are to manage when twisting them in your ear to get a tight seal. Bose includes three sets each of ear tips and stability band fins to improve fit. The Bose Music app lets you do a test to determine which size suits you best.
Despite the reduced size, they still aren't the smallest earbuds around, and I can see those with smaller ears taking a longer time to figure out the best combination of tips and fins to help them fit right. I have average ears and found the earbuds very comfortable with a great seal.
Finding the best seal for passive isolation helps the onboard ANC do its job, but be prepared because it's always active anyway. The Eartip Fit Test in the app is a good way to gauge whether audio leaks out or not.
Bose made the interesting decision to leave ANC as the default mode for the QC Earbuds II, plus a few others to choose from. Aware mode lets in ambient sound to hear your surroundings. Bose's ActiveSense technology does a good job of raising the ANC level when the surroundings get too loud. Commute is on the default list as well, where you can set the amount of noise cancelation you want in that mode. You can then create a fourth mode under one of the names in a list Bose provides. Whether you prefer “Workout” or “Focus” is up to you, but the gist is you decide how much cancelation or ambient sound you want to hear.
That's as close as you'll get to turning ANC off completely if that's your preference. Otherwise, everything centers on reducing background sound to some degree. Unlike other earbuds, there's no real “off” switch, with the only recourse being selecting a mode that doesn't cancel out anything.
Either way, the ANC in the QC Earbuds II is outstanding. While I've long felt the Sony WF-1000XM4 was the benchmark for earbuds, Bose's latest pair do a better job canceling a wider range of frequencies. At least to my ears, the focus seems squarely on the mid and high frequencies, and the results are truly impressive. I realized it while on a flight, and when walking down a busy street, hopping on a subway train afterward. The earbuds almost completely erased the various sounds going on around me. Voices and high-pitched sounds, like sirens, can still break through, but they're successfully muffled so as to not be a nuisance.
I would argue the same is true on the ambient side as well. The sounds coming in around me felt natural, far more like my own ears than microphones mechanically piping it in. If I removed an earbud, audio playback would automatically pause, something I was forced to do if I had to talk to someone. My only other option was to tap and hold on either bud to cycle through the four listening modes until I got to Aware.
Bose claims it also improved sound quality, though I would suggest the differences there are less profound. Not that the foundation was bad to begin with. The QC Earbuds II has an excellent, balanced sound signature, with punchy bass and warm highs and mids complementing each other well.
The app offers limited EQ options, but you do get some presets and the ability to create your own as well. Whatever sonic route you want to take, odds are really good you will find a mix that works for your ears and the music you like listening to.
All of this helps the cause with phone calls, where the four microphones on either side do a better job than their predecessors in picking up your voice.
Bose doesn't let you customize the earbuds' touch controls, save for a couple of exceptions. By default, you touch and hold to cycle through the different modes on either side. You could also select one side to access your phone's voice assistant instead. Otherwise, controls are standard — a single tap to play/pause/answer calls, double tap to skip a track or reject a call, triple tap to repeat a track. Swipe up along the outer earbud to raise the volume, or down to lower it. They're all pretty responsive and consistent, thankfully.
Battery life isn't spectacular at up to six hours per charge, but what I liked is that they get closer to that number than others do because the ANC is so effective. By reducing background noise further, you don't have to raise the volume as high to drown things out. The case gives you three extra charges.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II: What’s not good
It's unfortunate Bose didn't include all the features it could have when launching the QC Earbuds II. Some key ones are missing, though the company claims they will come in future updates. The earbuds support the AAC and SBC Bluetooth codecs, but not aptX Adaptive, which would befit a pair of this caliber. Bose says a firmware update in spring 2023 will add that support, so time will tell.
The same is true of multipoint Bluetooth connections. The app actually alludes to that under connections settings, but as of now, you can only pair with one device at a time. That means if you're listening to music from your computer and want to take a call on your phone, you would have to manually connect the two. Bose hasn't confirmed it yet, but the earbuds have the technical capability to do multipoint, so it may also come in a future update.
It's also surprising the case doesn't have wireless charging, a standard feature, especially at this price. You'll have to plug in via the USB-C port to fill up again.
It might not be fair to point this out as a con, but the IPX4 rating doesn't make the QC Earbuds II all that rugged. They can handle some minor splashes, though repeated sweaty workouts could be a problem if you don't wipe them clean each time.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II: Competition
I already mentioned the Sony WF-1000XM4 with good reason. They've been the pair to beat since they first came to market, and while they have a couple of years on them, they continue to be formidable. Between the top-class ANC and superb audio quality, there's a lot to appreciate about them, especially now that they often come at a discount.
The best noise-canceling wireless earbuds include great alternatives, like the excellent Jabra Elite 7 Pro. A surprisingly good choice that isn't on that list is the Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2, which proves very adept in how well they can drown out the background.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II: Should you buy it?
You should buy this if…
- You want top class ANC support.
- You want great sound quality.
- You want good app support.
- They fit in your budget.
You shouldn't buy this if…
- You don't want to wait for aptX Adaptive.
- You don't want to wait for multipoint.
- You prefer to have wireless charging.
Bose made a statement with the QuietComfort Earbuds II, positioning them as the best available for noise cancelation. That they fit much better than their predecessors and bring improved sound add to the value you get, even though they are expensive in comparison to others.
They stand to only get better once Bose updates them to include missing features, assuming you have the patience to wait. In the meantime, you could look forward to muffling the sounds around you in ways others can't.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II set a new benchmark for active noise cancelation (ANC), and with an improved design for a more comfortable fit, they also produce better sound than their predecessors.