All the best earbuds you can get anymore have active noise canceling — they use a combination of software and hardware techniques to identify and neutralize sound in your environment before it reaches your ears. But it’s always been an immutable fact of ANC that over-ear headphones, by virtue of being larger, can provide better ANC than earbuds can.
The new QuietComfort Earbuds II fly in the face of that conventional wisdom. Bose is pitching the $299 earbuds as having the best ANC money can buy today — in any earbuds or headphones. It’s a positively outlandish claim, but after using the buds for more than a week, it actually seems like it might be true. Despite some missteps, I think the QC Earbuds II are my new everyday-carry favorites.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II don't come cheap at $299, but they feature excellent audio quality and ANC that can go toe-to-toe with what you'll get in leading over-ear headphones. If you're in the market for premium earbuds, the QC Earbuds II need to be on your radar.
- Battery Life: 6 hours, 24 hours with case
- Noise Cancellation: Yes
- Mono Listening: Yes
- Bluetooth : 5.3
- Microphones: 4x per earbud
- IP rating: IPX4
- Supported codecs: SBC, AAC
- Weight (earbuds): 7.7g each
- Dimensions (earbuds): 31.2 × 20 × 24.3mm
- Material: Plastic, silicone
- Charging: USB-C only
- Driver size: 9.3mm
- Price (MSRP): $299
- Spatial Audio: No
- Earbuds battery life: Up to 6 hours
- Charging case battery life: Up to 24 hours
- Dimensions (charging case): 63 × 59 × 27mm
- Class-leading ANC
- Very natural sounding transparency mode
- Detailed, clear audio
- Very pricey
- No wireless charging
- No multipoint connectivity
Design, hardware, what’s in the box
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II extend out of your ear and down toward your mouth a bit the way buds like the Nothing Ear (1) do, though the stem that points down on the Bose buds is wider. The QC Earbuds II aren’t inconspicuous by any means, but they’re considerably lower profile than the notoriously bulky first generation, which almost looked like a pair of 2010-era Bluetooth earpieces. There’s prominent BOSE branding on each bud’s touch-sensitive surface, which is a little showy for my taste.
Bose stresses the importance of a secure fit in getting thorough noise cancelation — any gaps in the physical seal between your ear and the outside world are potential avenues for noise to sneak in. To that end, the QuietComfort Earbuds II come with three sizes of ear tips and three sizes of gasket-like "stability bands." Mixing and matching the different sizes of each individual component, you can get a total of 54 unique fits, which seems like it should cover a pretty broad selection of ears. (According to Bose’s fit check, which you can run at any time in the Bose Music app, both the preinstalled tips and rings work just fine for me. I guess I have average ears.)
The QC Earbuds II’s charging case is a little chunkier than what you’ll get with a lot of other earbuds, but it’s still small enough to fit in the change pocket of my jeans. Smoothly getting the earbuds in and out of the case takes some practice and, frustratingly, the case doesn’t support wireless charging — it’s USB-C-only. It also just doesn’t feel as premium as it should, snapping shut with a plasticky clack. That’s admittedly nitpicky, but for $299, earbuds really should get every little thing right.
Along with the buds and their case, you’ll get two additional pairs each of ear tips and bands, the usual literature, and a short USB-A-to-C cable.
Sound quality, features, and battery life
Sound out of the QuietComfort Earbuds II is clear, detailed, and well balanced. Mids and highs sound fantastically crisp, and I have no complaints about compression or instrument separation.
Out of the box, low-end frequencies — bass and sub-bass — are a little restrained compared to options from the likes of Samsung, which means that while the QC Earbuds II may technically produce more accurate audio by default, they can sound just a bit thin compared to other popular high-end earbuds, especially if you listen to a lot of bass-heavy music like hip hop or EDM.
The Bose Music app lets you tweak the EQ, though it only gives you three sliders to play with: Bass, mid, and treble. I like Bose’s prebaked Bass Boost tuning, which brings the QC Earbuds II’s frequency response more in line with what we’re used to from similar earbuds from other manufacturers. You’re not going to get the exaggerated, rumbly, movie theater-style bass you can find in buds from, say, Beats, but there’s plenty of low-end oomph here once you bump the bass up in software.
Unfortunately for audiophile types, there’s only support for AAC and SBC codecs — no LDAC, no aptX. Personally, I’m not great at picking out the subtleties between different codecs by ear, and I’m generally of the opinion that if you’re streaming music, AAC and SBC are enough. But if you were hoping for high-bitrate audio, it’s not here. Audio-video sync performance is going to vary depending on what device you have the buds connected to, but across my Pixel 6, Galaxy S22 Ultra, and Mac Mini, I couldn’t pick out any appreciable delay.
The real show-stopper here is the QuietComfort Earbuds II’s ANC. Bose is selling it, in no uncertain terms, as the best noise canceling you can get in consumer-grade earbuds or over-ear headphones, bar none. It’s hard to assess the accuracy of that claim scientifically — I don’t have access to an audio lab — but having used the buds for more than a week at home, in public, and on transit, I can confidently say that it’s not entirely without merit.
At a preview event, Bose gave me a pair of QuietComfort Earbuds II and blared simulated environmental noise in surround sound, mimicking the din of coffee shops, subways, and airplanes. The buds’ ANC worked so well in that setting that I almost wondered whether it was some kind of trick. But after the demo, walking around a real-life, loud city environment with noise canceling on and my music at about 70 percent volume, not much aside from car horns and jackhammers managed to burst my ANC bubble.
It’s hard to say whether the QC Earbuds II’s ANC bests every pair of over-ear headphones out there in every situation, but it’s definitely competitive. They have the edge over the Sennheiser headphones I wore on the plane to the demo event; on my return trip, both engine noise and fussy toddlers were more thoroughly muffled by Bose’s earbuds than the over-ear Sennheiser cans. Compared directly to the Sony WH-1000XM5, a high-water mark in the ANC space, the QuietComfort Earbuds II are noticeably more capable of tuning out human voices, typically a sore spot in noise canceling. It’s no gimmick: the ANC here is unreal.
Bose largely chalks the QuietComfort Earbuds II’s ANC prowess up to the fact that the earbuds are custom-tuned to the wearer’s ear: every time you put the buds in, they play a tone and measure the reverberations to fine-tune their ANC to your unique ear shape. On its face, that smacks of tech marketing snake oil, but with results this positive, I’m inclined to believe there’s something to it.
The QC Earbuds II also feature a great transparency mode, which is easy to switch to with a long-press on either earbud (a gesture you can reassign to summon the Google Assistant, if you prefer). By default, a feature called ActiveSense adjusts how much external sound makes it in when using transparency, selectively lowering the volume on your environment when the buds decide your surroundings are too noisy. I recommend turning ActiveSense off in the Bose Music app. It’s a fine idea in theory, but it can make sounds that’d be easy to hear if you weren’t wearing earbuds at all unnaturally quiet in some circumstances, which I find can be disorienting.
Mic quality is very good; listening to recordings taken with the QuietComfort Earbuds II, my voice sounds exceptionally clear. Placing phone calls from an intentionally noisy environment, people on the other end said they could hear me well, and one described the background noise as “very faint” (it wasn’t in real life).
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II don’t support Bluetooth multipoint or Fast Pair. At $299, these things are among the most expensive mainstream wireless earbuds you can buy, which makes the absence of such handy features a real shame — especially when they can be found in cheaper alternatives like Google’s Pixel Buds Pro.
Bose quotes the QuietComfort Earbuds II’s runtime at six hours per charge, which, so far, feels about right to me. That’s six hours of music playback with ANC or transparency on — there’s no way to turn both off completely. That annoys me on principle, but I also never use the off option on ANC buds that have it, and I don’t know why the QC Earbuds II would be any different. Their ANC and transparency modes are so darn good, I can’t imagine wanting to shut both off. It’s also impressive that this generation manages to hit the same battery life as the first while being so much smaller.
The QC Earbuds II’s chunky charging case provides three additional full charges, for a total runtime of about 24 hours before you’ll need to find a USB-C cable to top up. It’ll have to be USB, too; the case doesn’t support wireless charging. Curiously, it also doesn’t report its charge level to the Bose Music app, even when the buds are nestled inside it. You’ll have to gauge how much juice is left in the case by a single color-changing LED on the outside. In my experience, this hasn’t been too onerous so far, but I can imagine finding myself unexpectedly short on battery and annoyed I can’t use reverse wireless charging from my phone to top up. Again, hardly an insurmountable problem, but at such a premium price point, I expect more features than the QuietComfort Earbuds II offer.
Should you buy them?
Yes. The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II are built entirely around the concept of super-thorough, super-portable noise canceling, and they positively knock that vision out of the park. Pitting the QC Earbuds II toe-to-toe against industry-leading over-ear headphones, the buds don’t just hold their own, they actually outperform the best ANC headphones from big players like Sony and Bose itself in some cases — all while fitting comfortably in your pants pocket. These things are a technical marvel.
For the QC Earbuds II’s super-premium $299 MSRP, I wish there were more nice-to-have features on offer. Multipoint connectivity would’ve made these an easier replacement for the over-ear Bose 700 I typically use at home, and wireless charging is practically table stakes for high-end earbuds in 2022. But QuietComfort Earbuds II sound so good, and their noise canceling works so well, it’s not hard to overlook those shortcomings. If you want the best ANC you can get in this form factor, these are the earbuds to buy right now.
Buy them if…
- You’re tired of packing full-size headphones for flights.
- ANC performance is your top priority, and you don’t mind paying for it. The QuietComfort Earbuds II are class-leading.
Don’t buy them if…
- You’re not in a position to drop a car payment on a pair of earbuds.
- Multipoint connectivity or wireless charging are essential.
Q: How do the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II compare to the Sony WF-1000XM4?
Sony's WF-1000XM4 are another leader in the true-wireless ANC space. The XM4s also boast great audio quality, but their ANC isn't quite at the same level as the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II, which are competitive with even premium over-ear headphones. Sony's earbuds are less expensive, though, at an MSRP of $280 (plus they're frequently on sale). The WF-1000XM4 have better battery life — rated at eight hours per charge to the Bose earbuds' six hours. The WF-1000XM4's charging case also supports wireless charging; the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II's does not.
Q: How do the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II compare to the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro?
The $230 Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro are considerably less expensive than the $300 Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II. Samsung's earbuds are smaller than Bose's, which could mean they fit more comfortably in more people's ears. While both pairs of earbuds come with ANC, Bose's is in another league compared to Samsung's. But the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro's case supports wireless charging (the QC Earbuds II's doesn't), and when paired with a Samsung phone, the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro can play 24-bit audio in certain apps.