A Step Forward for Noise Cancelling Audio

For years, Bose was the undisputed king of noise cancellation. Eventually, the company saw competitors like Sony take the lead, but they were never far behind. Now, with the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, the company is ready to carry the noise-canceling crown once again.


After the initial wow of the company’s small but big-sounding home stereo systems, Bose became synonymous with noise cancellation. With that in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this is the company behind the most recent leap forward in noise-canceling tech.

While the noise cancellation here is truly impressive, Bose has made some curious decisions with other aspects of the QuietComfort Earbuds 2. Is the noise cancellation powerful enough for you to overlook the faults here? Mainly, that depends on what you’re looking for.


The Design: Refined and Modern

Person holding an open Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 case
Hannah Stryker / How-To Geek

  • Dimensions: 1.2 x 0.68 x 0.88in (30.48 x 17.27 x 22.35mm)
  • Dimensions (case): 2.61 x 2.34 x 1.05in (66.29 x 59.43 x 26.67mm)
  • Weight (per earbud): 0.22oz (6.23g)
  • Weight (with case): 2.11oz (59.81g)
  • IP rating: IPX4

The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 are noticeably smaller than the original QuietComfort Earbuds. They also have a more modern look, definitely inspired by but not overly similar to Apple’s AirPods. There is certainly more of a pronounced stem with the updated model compared to the larger bean shape of the earlier model.

Like the original model, the QuietComfort Earbuds 2 feature IPX4-rated water resistance. This means they’re effective against rain and sweat, but you want to avoid completely submerging them in water.

Related: Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) Review: The Best Earbuds for Apple Fans

As with the earbuds, the case is designed and much smaller than the original. While this case will fit in your pocket much easier than the originals, it’s still on the large side compared to many other earbuds. This makes the lack of wireless charging on the case quite surprising.

One area where the redesign doesn’t seem to have improved is when it comes to actually getting the earbuds out of the case. I never found a way that let me get both out quickly, and instead had to slowly and carefully place them in my ears one at a time to make sure I didn’t drop them.

My review unit was the black model, but the QuietComfort Earbuds 2 are also available in a lighter Soapstone variant.

A Bose QuietComfort Earbud 2 with an ear tip and a stability band
Hannah Stryker / How-To Geek

  • Included tip sizes: Small, Medium, Large
  • Included stability bands: Small, Medium, Large
  • Tip and stability band material: Silicone

If you were a fan of the original QuietComfort Earbuds’ fit, you’re in for an adjustment period with the follow-up. These drop the one-piece silicone tip/ear fin combo that the originals shipped with, opting for a two-piece approach instead.

You get ear tips and stability bands in small, medium, and large varieties. You can mix and match them with each other, giving you nine different options per ear. Not everyone has perfectly symmetrical ears, so the ability to use different combinations in each ear helps you get a better, more customized fit. This is key for the best sound and noise cancellation.

If you’re concerned that you may not get the best fit because your ears are smaller or larger than average, don’t worry. Bose offers an additional kit that features extra-small and extra-large tips and stability bands, it just isn’t included in the box (and costs $10).

While these are slightly heavier than most true wireless earbuds, it shouldn’t be a problem. During testing, I noticed the weight when first trying them out but quickly forgot about it. I never quite forgot I was wearing them, but this had little to do with the weight.

Connectivity: Surprisingly Spare

The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 and their accessories
Hannah Stryker / How-To Geek

  • Bluetooth version: 5.3
  • Bluetooth codecs: SBC, AAC
  • Chipset: Qualcomm S5 Audio SoC

Pairing is simple but quite different from how you normally pair Bluetooth earbuds. Instead of putting them in your ears and waiting for them to appear in the Bluetooth menu, you need to scan a QR code in the setup guide. This takes you to your device’s app store to install the Bose Music app, which is available for iPhone¬†and Android devices. This handles the pairing process.

While the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 feature Bluetooth version 5.3, they keep it simple when it comes to codecs. Especially in this price range, many wireless earbuds feature support for aptX or higher-res codecs like aptX Adaptive or LDAC. The QuietComfort Earbuds 2 only feature SBC and AAC codecs.

Bose’s second-gen QC earbuds also lack multipoint Bluetooth, a feature more and more earbuds are using, even on lower-end models. Instead, Bose opts for its own feature to swap between two previously paired devices. This will be enough for most, but true multipoint support would be nice.

Related: What Is a Codec?

Bose has hinted that a future update may bring the aptX codec. The Qualcomm S5 Audio chipset that the QuietComfort Earbuds 2 uses is compatible with multipoint Bluetooth, so it’s possible that support for this could arrive in the future as well. That said, considering Bose already has its own similar feature, I wouldn’t count on multipoint coming anytime soon.

A future firmware update could theoretically add support for Bluetooth LE Audio, but Bose has said nothing to indicate this could happen.

Controls and Software: A Step Forward

A person holding the left Bose QuietComfort Earbud 2
Hannah Stryker / How-To Geek

The QuietComfort Earbuds 2 take the approach of putting the important controls on each earbud, rather than one. This means that tapping to pause and resume playback and swiping up and down to adjust volume works on either earbud.

The earbuds also feature an auto-pause function that pauses playback when you remove a bud from your ear, which is practically a must-have at this point. Less commonly, the QuietComfort Earbuds 2 also feature an auto power-off, which helps save battery life.

Since you require it for setup, you’ll probably have the Bose Music app installed already. That said, if you were planning on removing it, it’s worth leaving installed. Not only is the app required for firmware updates, but it lets you control some key features of the earbuds.

Rather than toggling through preset noise cancellation options, Bose lets you create what it calls “Modes.” These let you customize just how much noise cancellation you want, or how much outside sound you want to let in. By default, the earbuds ship with a few default Modes like Quiet and Aware, but it’s nice to be able to customize them.

You can also change two controls on the earbuds. Pressing and holding on each earbud activates a Shortcut. By default, this is set to cycle through noise-canceling modes on each earbud. You can also change this to use your built-in voice assistant on one or both earbuds.

In an uncharacteristic move, Bose actually integrated a three-band equalizer into the app. For years, the company didn’t put EQ into any of its products, so it’s nice to see here.

Sound Quality: Tailored to Your Ears

An open Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 case
Hannah Stryker / How-To Geek

If you’ve used Bose earbuds or headphones before, you’re probably familiar with the signature sound that plays every time you put them on. When you place the QuietComfort Earbuds 2 in your ears, you’ll hear that sound, but now it’s actually going to good use thanks to Bose CustomTune.

Companies like Apple and Sony offer personalized audio with the second-gen AirPods Pro and the Sony WH-1000XM5. While both of those have a more complex setup that involves taking photos of your ears, Bose’s approach is simpler, and if the sound is anything to go by, it’s just as effective.

One of the first songs I listened to on the QuietComfort Earbuds 2 was Kurt Vile’s “KV Crimes.” Even though Vile’s voice is drenched in echo, it sounds like he’s singing right into the earbuds. The dry, 70s-style drums sound suitably big as well. As is often the case with Bose, there’s a slight “airbrushing” of the sound, but it’s not nearly as noticeable as in past models.

Related: Sony WH-1000XM5 Review: The Best ANC Headphones Just Got Better

By the time I listened to Supersystem’s “DEFCON” and noticed that the intro sounded comparatively harsh, I was actually glad because I was starting to think that these earbuds were taking the edge off everything. When the bass kicks in, it’s powerful, but not overwhelmingly so.

The Beat Is Too Original” by the Eternals shows how surprisingly wide the soundstage is, at least as far as earbuds go. On some earbuds, the bass swallows up the other elements of the song, but the QC Earbuds 2 keep it in check.

When I first looked at the EQ in the Bose Music app, I noticed that the treble had been turned down by one notch. I’m not certain if this is a Bose recommendation or if this setting persisted from a previous reviewer, but I can see why they made that choice. I set the EQ completely flat, but I could definitely see these sounding a little too trebly for some out of the box.

Noise Cancellation and Voice: A New Standard

A person wearing the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2
Hannah Stryker / How-To Geek

CustomTune isn’t just used for music, but also for improving noise cancellation. Maybe that has something to do with just how effective the ANC (Active Noise Cancellation) is in the QuietComfort Earbuds 2.

I simply haven’t heard better noise cancellation in earbuds. I may not have even heard better noise cancellation in over-ear headphones. Comparing the QuietComfort Earbuds 2 to the second-generation AirPods Pro, the AirPods perform admirably, but simply can’t keep up with the noise cancellation of the second-gen Bose earbuds.

With noise cancellation enabled, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 nearly muted a loud TV, while it remained audible with the AirPods Pro. This was without anything playing on either set of earbuds. Bose has said that the noise cancellation here is aimed at midrange to high frequencies, where most annoying frequencies live, and it’s very effective.

The Aware mode, which is Bose’s answer to Apple’s Transparency mode, gets closer than most to working as well as the AirPods Pro. Apple still has the advantage here, as the Aware mode sounds unnatural at times, but it’s nice to see that Bose has gotten so close. These also feature ActiveSense, which keeps sudden loud noises from potentially damaging your hearing.

The built-in microphones (four per earbud) capture your voice fairly well and do a solid job of blocking moderate wind noise. I haven’t had the chance to try them in a strong wind, but they performed impressively in the conditions I did test them.

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 Microphone Sample: Indoors

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 Microphone Sample: Outdoors

Battery and Charging Case: Stuck in the Past

The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 with their case
Hannah Stryker / How-To Geek

  • Battery life: Up to 6 hours
  • Earbud charge time: 1 hour
  • Charging case charge time: 3 hours
  • Quick-charge time: 20 minutes for 2 hours

Bose claims that the QuietComfort Earbuds 2 offer up to six hours playback per charge, with the case adding three more charges for a total of 24 hours. This is with noise cancellation enabled (as it can’t be disabled, just replaced with Aware mode), which puts these on the same page as Apple’s second-generation AirPods Pro.

I found that I easily got more than six hours of playtime every session—often getting seven hours or more. Now, I do tend to listen more quietly than some people, but it’s still nice to get more out of the battery than the company claims. Some of that is probably due to the auto-shutdown feature, but honestly, I never noticed the earbuds turning themselves off, so I’m not sure how much it contributed.

The earbuds take around an hour to juice up in the charging case. Charging the case from completely empty takes around three hours via USB-C. If you’re in a hurry, a 20-minute charge can get you up to two hours of playback.

I mentioned it earlier, but when we’re seeing wireless charging in earbuds that cost around $100, like the 1MORE Evo True Wireless, it seems like an odd feature to leave out for the QuietComfort Earbuds 2. Even though wireless charging is slower, its convenience more than outweighs the longer charge time.

Should You Buy the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2?

The noise cancellation is the star of the show, but it’s not all the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 have to offer. As the name implies, they’re also comfortable for hours at a time and have better battery life than Bose claims on their official specs.

I can overlook that only the basic SBC and AAC codecs are included here, somewhat because aptX is likely on the way, but mainly because they sound good enough using those codecs. That said, it’s harder to overlook the missing multipoint Bluetooth and the absence of wireless charging for the case. Both of these features really should be here at this price.

The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) may be a better choice if you’re a full-time Apple user, but the noise cancellation, while good, doesn’t hold a candle to the QuietComfort Earbuds 2. If you’re after the best ANC you can find, these are the earbuds you’re looking for.

bose-quietcomfort-earbuds-ii

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2

$249 $299 Save $50

Pros

  • Noise cancelling is the best you’ll find in earbuds right now
  • Tip/Ear Fin options make it easy to find a perfect fit
  • CustomTune makes for good sound quality
  • Battery life outlasts Bose’s claims
  • Aware mode is nearly as good as the AirPods Pro’s Transparency
Cons

  • No multipoint Bluetooth
  • No wireless charging
  • Lacking support for higher quality Bluetooth codecs

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