Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II review: Blocking out the world

Image Credit: Billy Steele/Engadget

The technology also lends a hand with ANC and ambient sound. For active noise cancellation, CustomTune calibrates the noise-cancellation signal, which blocks voices and crying babies noticeably better than the previous model. In transparency mode, the QuietComfort Earbuds II can pick up harsh sounds and apply some sound blocking so they don’t startle you or damage your hearing. It’s an aspect of CustomTune called ActiveSense.

In Aware mode, CustomTune helps keep desired ambient sounds “as natural and lifelike as possible.” I don’t understand why most headphone manufacturers are bad at transparency mode, with Apple being the only exception. Almost always the sound is muffled and far from ‘natural’ as it’s obvious you still have something in your ears that is affecting volume and quality. Bose isn’t better than Apple, but it’s a definite improvement. While you’ll still notice you’ve got the buds in, the overall tone is clearer, which also helps you avoid shouting your cortado order to the barista.

sound quality

The noise-canceling crown is secure. Bose has massively improved the noise-cancellation of the QuietComfort Earbuds II, cutting out more everyday noise, including voices. Sound quality is also significantly improved, and smaller buds offer a more comfortable fit (and less cumbersome look). There's room for further improvement, however, as the company has passed on fundamentals like multi-point connectivity and wireless charging.

Billy Steele/Engadget

The biggest jump with the QuietComfort Earbuds II is the ANC, but we’ll get to that shortly. First, however, you should know that Bose has also made strides in the audio department. Since CustomTune does its thing automatically and I haven’t found a way to turn it off, I have no frame of reference for whether or not that split second makes a difference in overall sound quality. What I can tell you, however, is that the QuietComfort Earbuds II are a big improvement over the first version.

I always thought the audio on the headphones was Bose fine. It never blew me away, but it did a good job of complementing the company’s noise-cancelling capabilities. The sound of the QuietComfort Earbuds II is significantly more dynamic and open. I notice it most in the nuances of the low end, especially when it comes to things like kick drums and synths. These bassy elements have texture and detail – they’re not just generic boomy hits. This is evident in tracks like Russian Circles’ “Tupilak”, Dua Lipa’s “Levitating” and Hardy’s “Wait In The Truck”.

There’s also an increased dimensionality to the sound on the QCE II. I talk a lot about Open Sound, a term I use for audio quality where things seem to exist in space rather than being a compressed mess. Here the instruments stand alone and create depth in addition to the even tuning. The drums on Boz Scagg’s “Lowdown” and the thunder and sirens on the Hardy track mentioned above are good examples of this, and the effect is amplified when details actually move across the channels.

Gallery: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II review | 16 photos


When it comes to active noise cancellation, the QuietComfort Earbuds II really shine. Sure, it’s to be expected from a Bose product, but the improvements the company has made from one generation to the next are day and night. The first QuietComfort Earbuds were very good at reducing distractions, but version 2.0 can blank out the world entirely – to the point where you’ll forget anyone else is around. In fact, I’d argue that this is the best ANC performance you’ll find in a set of true wireless earbuds right now.

Things like vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, dryers, and white noise machines are completely wiped out. True to its promise, Bose has improved its ability to block human voices as well. Even if someone is answering a call right behind you, that conversation is a lot less distracting on the QuietComfort Earbuds II. You’ll still hear them, but not nearly as much.

call quality

For calls, Bose says the QuietComfort Earbuds II’s mics can filter out ambient noise to put the focus on your voice. Many companies make claims about call clarity that ultimately mean you still sound like you’re on speakerphone, even when the earbuds manage to reduce background noise. Performance is slightly improved thanks to this self-voice feature, which lets you adjust how much of you you hear during a call, but your voice still sounds muffled through the buds.

The general call quality here is pretty mediocre. You’ll sound like you’re on a speakerphone call, and background noise like a TV or running water comes through clearly. This is another case of yes, you can use these for calls, but they’re not great and you should be in a quieter place when doing so.

Battery life

The noise-canceling crown is secure. Bose has massively improved the noise-cancellation of the QuietComfort Earbuds II, cutting out more everyday noise, including voices. Sound quality is also significantly improved, and smaller buds offer a more comfortable fit (and less cumbersome look). There's room for further improvement, however, as the company has passed on fundamentals like multi-point connectivity and wireless charging.

Billy Steele/Engadget

Bose promises up to six hours of battery life with ANC on and three additional full charges via the case. However, it doesn’t support wireless charging, which is a big bummer for a set of $299 earbuds. However, there is a quick charge feature that gives you up to two hours of playback in 20 minutes. During my testing, the results were just under Bose’s numbers, and I managed five and a half hours before having to doc the buds in the case.

The competition

The closest alternative to the QuietComfort Earbuds II are the ones that debuted last year. They’re a lot smaller too, with great sound quality, solid ANC, wireless charging, and support for 360 Reality Audio. I wasn’t a fan of the new earbuds and the redesigned buds are still pretty big, but Sony offers the sturdiest features across the board. Plus, even at full price ($280), they’re cheaper than Bose’s latest, and we’ve seen the M4s, which might be enough to sway your opinion. Despite all the work Bose has done on ANC, Sony’s flagship buds are still better in terms of sheer sound quality.

If audio is your primary concern, that should be your other consideration. The company is always at the forefront sonically, with a blend of clarity and detail and a bass punch that is rarely matched. At $250 they’re cheaper than the Bose and Sony, but you’ll have to sacrifice the QCE II’s top-notch noise-cancellation and the 1000XM4’s rich features.

Wrap up

If you’re looking for supreme noise cancellation in your next set of true wireless earbuds, then this is it the Selection. With the updates that Bose delivers here with the help of CustomTune, not only is the ANC noticeably better than on the previous model, the overall audio quality and the ambient sound mode are also improved. Sure, I’d like more than six hours of battery life, and conveniences like multipoint connectivity and wireless charging should be standard by this point. For $299, I’d expect some of those basics to be included, and Bose passed them on.

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Russell Falcon

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