Lead Bose QuietComfort II

Two years after launching its beloved noise-canceling QuietComfort Earbuds, Bose is finally giving us a second act with its superb QuietComfort Earbuds 2. These upgraded headphones offer a stunning level of noise-canceling technology and are set to compete with popular, comparable earbuds like the Sony WF-1000XM4 and the second-gen AirPods Pro.

The recent addition to the Bose lineup offers an almost unthinkable level of active noise cancellation (ANC) against all sorts of noise, all with a secure fit and the company’s new customized spin on Adaptive ANC. Bose’s latest buds make this big upgrade without skimping on audio quality, and are decidedly sleeker than the previous QC earbuds.

I’ve spent a full week wearing these earbuds around the house, to the gym, out for walks and even on the subway. Here’s what you need to know before you invest in a pair of the powerful, $299 Bose QuietComfort 2.

If you're willing to splurge on the best noise cancellation you can get on a pair of earbuds, the $299 Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 are for you. If you'd rather have longer battery life, wireless charging and more advanced audio, go for the Sony WF-1000XM4 or the new AirPods Pro.

What we liked about them

Less bulky, better fit

Bose QuietComfort II 4

Let’s start with style. It makes sense that these headphones were announced at New York Fashion Week because Bose ratcheted things up a few levels from its previous, much bulkier design. In fact, I handed off my former QuietComfort earbuds to my 6-foot, 5-inch-tall husband because they were too unwieldy for my everyday listening needs. He, in turn, could pull off the larger size and so reaped the, even then, excellent sound quality.

In comparison, the QuietComfort 2 have evolved, taking a more populist stem-type design with a basic oval shape, though the thicker stem is short and sweet and each earbud weighs in at just 6 grams each. They also lose the wings of the last iteration, and though I was worried that would make the earbuds less stable, I was rewarded with a comfortable, secure fit even in the gym. Just stick them in your ears and give them a brief twist to lock them in.

Bose claims the QC 2 are one-third smaller than their original design and they come with a kit of three different sized tips and stability bands to help you find the perfect fit. I tried them all and found that no matter which one I wore, the sound quality and ANC remained the same — though the midsize tip felt most comfortable for me.

And though they are significantly smaller and lighter, each earbud is loaded with four microphones in total, with two that deal with ANC and a pair that helps recognize voices for making and receiving calls.

Touch controls are intact out of the box, so you can tap or swipe to control playback and volume, and take or reject calls. But if you’re interested in customizing shortcuts, you’ll have to head into the Bose Music app for iOS or Android. Here I was able to easily add the ability to switch from Quiet to AwareMode (more on that below) by long-holding my right earbud and activating my voice assistant with my left. I found all of these controls to be simple to set up and reliable to use consistently.

The app also lets you do things like customize the sound balance with an equalizer and four different presets (two for bass and two for treble), and choose up to 10 different additional ANC modes like Commute, Relax, Run and Work. I use the Work preset when I have to join Zoom meetings at home, and I never have to worry about the sounds of traffic, construction or those pesky kids.

Oh, and they also happen to have an IPX4 sweat- and water-resistant rating, which is a nice addition for workouts, running/exercising outside or just lounging by the pool or at the beach.

For the $299 price tag, they also come in a flip-top charging case and you can choose from a matte Triple Black at launch with an offwhite Soapstone coming on Oct. 14.

CustomTune is personalized noise cancellation

Bose QuietComfort II 1

The biggest update on the new QuietComfort 2 is the noise cancellation, and since Bose originated this technology, we tend to hold the brand to a higher standard. Fortunately, the ANC on the QC 2 is outrageously good — in fact, it’s the best I’ve ever used.

This is due to the way Bose riffs on Adaptive ANC, which it terms as CustomTune technology. This process simply calibrates the noise cancellation of your earbuds each time you take them out of the case and put them into your ears. Once the earbuds are sealed correctly, which you can check on in that Bose Music app, a small chime lets you know that the one microphone inside the bud is measuring your ear canal, then instantaneously customizing the audio response and noise-canceling filters — all for this specific use. Bose claims that if you put them back in the dock and someone else decides to don them, the ANC will automatically recalibrate and they will get their very own CustomTune profile. Of course, one never knows what anyone else is hearing, but for now we’ll take their word for it.

In real life, this means I enjoyed near total silence in the Quiet Mode, with CustomTune continuously adapting to whatever environment I happened to be in. On a walk around my Brooklyn neighborhood, it blocked out construction work, traffic and general chatter at prime Trader Joe’s shopping time equally well. And when I used them at home, I could mute the ambient TV noise and TikTok sounds from my teens’ phones, and enjoyed silence pretty much anytime anyone asked me for anything, which in my house can be a blessing.

I did notice that it did not completely block out the noise of a subway train when it pulled in, though when I took one earbud out, I realized it muted it significantly and I definitely couldn’t hear the rest of the general noise at the station. Though I’m not expecting a problem with the ANC and airplane engine noise, I am curious to see how comfortable they feel for extended periods of time on my next long-haul flight.

The other component of this new ANC is called AwareMode. And though most noise-canceling headphones include something like it, which lets you hear your surroundings more naturally while you’re listening, the QuietComfort 2 earbuds personalize it even further using the default ActiveSense feature. The idea is, when I’m waiting for that subway, it will only smother the sound of the train pulling in and then taking off, then go right back to its normal transparency. Though it didn’t thoroughly do the trick with the train, it did work better with outdoor noise like construction or large trucks on the street. Though I haven’t had a chance to review them extensively, Apple’s newly announced second-gen AirPods Pro offer this as well, and we’ll be performing a more in-depth comparison of the two soon.

I loved being able to easily switch from Quiet to Aware by simply long-holding my right earbud, and I did it frequently when it came to things like speaking to the Trader Joe’s checkout clerks, listening for changes to my subway and chatting with friends I ran into on the street.

Banging audio quality

Bose QuietComfort II 3

As mentioned, I was super bummed to give up my last pair of QCs because of their heft. And my husband still likes to remind me how much better his music sounds on them than his AirPods. So now that the QuietComfort 2 are all mine (he has strict hands-off orders), I am thrilled to report that the audio quality for music, movies, TV and podcasts all sound terrific.

Listening to my gym playlist, hip-hop tracks like Kanye West’s “Power” offer dynamic sound with a serious kick on the bass and percussion. The moodier, more complex “Bring Me to Life” by Evanescence delivered nuance and texture on the piano solo and higher-end vocals, while the pop anthem “Faith” by George Michaels swelled gracefully from its opening organ notes and smoothly transitioned to the sharp, compelling staccato guitar throughout the song.

Better battery life and Bluetooth

Bose says the QuietComfort 2 offer up to six hours of battery life, the same as the new AirPods 2 and a few hours less than our current best noise-canceling earbuds pick, the Sony WF-1000XM4. I got nearly four days of listening on one charge with my low to moderate use, but the charging case pumped things up with another 24 hours. This should get you through most flights and travels, but the case also offers about two hours of playback on a 20-minute charge and a full charge in one hour. The case itself fully recharges in three hours.

The included Bluetooth 5.3 may not make your heart go pitter-patter, but it does extend to a range of 100 feet from the previous 30 feet of the original QuitComfort earbuds, and connects you instantly to already paired devices. Which is nice, because I tend to flip-flop from my MacBook to my iPhone for listening and never had a problem doing so with the QC 2.

What we didn’t like about them

Battery life still lags and no multipoint

Bose QuietComfort II 2

In my time using the Bose QuietComfort 2 earbuds, I never ran out of battery. However, even with the charging case’s extra 24 hours, it still lags behind the second-gen AirPods Pro’s promised battery life by six hours and the Sony earbuds by nearly 10 hours. That’s quite a sizable chunk of time.

I was also disappointed that the Bluetooth 5.3 didn’t offer multipoint so I could connect to more than one device at a time, but my guess is that Bose wanted to do one thing best — and that ANC just cannot be beat, at least to my ears.

And lastly, for the $299 price tag, I was expecting wireless charging for the case, which the QuietComfort 2 do not offer.

No 360-degree audio

As a fan of the Beats Fit Pro, especially when I’m at the gym, I miss Apple’s Spatial Audio feature, which gives a 3D surround sound feeling when listening — also upgraded on the new AiPods Pro 2. Sony also offers a similar feature with its 360 Reality Audio. Unfortunately, you won’t find a comparable feature on the QuietComfort 2.

Bottom line

As the arbiter of noise-canceling technology, Bose has overachieved with the QuietComfort 2 headphones. And though the CustomTune ear mapping may sound like marketing gobbledygook, it hits the bull’s-eye if you’re serious about finding the highest level of ANC. And, in addition to blocking out all that noise you don’t want to hear, the earbud’s Aware Mode is simple to switch to with just a tap, and gives a natural-sounding entry into external sound when you need it — like commuting, shopping or even at home.

Though the QC 2 aren’t leaders in battery life or software extras (you’re better off with the $279 Sony WF-1000XM4 or $249 AirPods Pro 2 if those are a priority), they do cancel noise better than any other wireless earbuds we’ve used to date — all in a sleek, comfortable design. And if that’s worth $299 to you, it’s nothing to sneeze at (though unless I have Aware Mode on, I won’t hear you).