Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2: one-minute review

The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II come from the brand that practically invented noise cancellation. However, Bose’s initial venture into the true wireless earbuds space didn’t quite hit the same mark as its over-ear cans did, quickly losing out to the likes of Sony and Apple. 

However, the master is back in form, with Bose’s second-gen QuietComfort Earbuds II (let’s call them QCE II for simplicity’s sake) getting a lot of what is important just right.

And it starts with a completely overhauled design that makes the new model so much more comfortable to wear as compared to the predecessor. The gen 2 is smaller, lighter and finally seems to be competing with Sony… although there are smaller buds out there.

Size definitely matters when it comes to true wireless earbuds, but so does the performance and Bose has actually improved on what it had with the older QC Buds. In fact, we thought the first-generation Bose QuietComfort Earbuds had pretty good active noise cancellation (ANC), and we weren’t entirely sure how the adaptive nature would perform in the new buds, but it’s remarkably effective. High frequency sounds like sirens still get through, but not as much as they did with the older model.

And the improvements to ANC haven’t come at the expense of overall sound quality. In fact, we’d go so far as to say it’s even better this time round. Each bud adapts the sound to the contours of your ear canal to make what you hear beautifully balanced with very clear details and textures.

While there’s a lot to commend Bose on, there’s not been a huge improvement on battery life – with the case only getting a bit more juice than before – and call quality is also nothing to phone home about.

The big improvements, however, come with a higher price tag than the first-gen’s launch price. And although it matches the launch price of the Sony WF-1000XM4, the rivals can now be had for a lot less in several markets.

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 inside open case

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 review: price

  • Announced September 2022
  • Launch price: $299 / £279 / AU$429
  • Costs more than Apple and Sony rivals

It might have gone unnoticed, but the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II were announced on the same day as Apple debuted the iPhone 14 range and the AirPods Pro 2 – September 8, 2022 to be precise. Still, it got some fanfare at the New York Fashion Week where the launch event was held.

At the time of writing, only a single color option is available – Triple Black – with the Soapstone edition to arrive at a later undisclosed date. At launch, the QCE II will set you back $299 / £279 / AU$429, which is a lot more than the current, now-reduced price of the Sony WF-1000XM4 and the launch price of the AirPods Pro 2, both of which can compete with the Bose. 

While it’s easy to justify the premium price tag in relation to the QCE II’s upgrades over its predecessor, we could also take into account inflation rates around the world. That said, it didn’t take long for the Bose QC Buds to get discounted during big sale events, and we’re expecting the same to happen with the second-gen model as well. So if you’re not in a rush, you could wait for sales like Amazon Prime Day or Black Friday to pick up for less.

Value score: 4/5

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 case beside a phone

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 review: Design

  • 30% smaller than previous generation
  • More compact and lighter charging case
  • May not fit everyone too well

Unlike the original QuietComfort Earbuds, which were – let’s not be coy – absolute units, the new QC Earbuds II are altogether more realistically sized. This reviewer has been using the older model since it launched as her everyday earphones and the new ones are an absolute revelation to her ears in comparison!

Bose claims that the second-gen buds are 30% smaller than the previous model, which in itself indicates that there’s been a complete design overhaul. The QCE II are from the ‘dangly stem’ school of design, but the stem is brief and, thanks to three different eartip and ‘stability band’ options, they’re comfortable and secure. That said, they didn’t feel very secure when we first started using them and it took some physical shakes and jumps to convince us that the buds weren’t going to fall out.

Key Specs

Colors: Triple Black; Soapstone yet to arrive
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3; 9.1m range
Codec support: SBC, AAC
ANC: Yes; adaptive
Water resistance: IPX4
Battery life: 6 hours (buds); 3 extra (charging case)
Weight: 6.2g (per bud); 59.8g (charging case)

Of course, there’s a fit test on the Bose Music app to help you, but it takes a little while to build up that sense of security. While you might know what ear tip size works for you from previous buds you’ve used, it’s not easy to figure out which stability band is right for you. We found we had to try them all with our choice of ear tip, while also repositioning each bud with each band to come to a decision. This might sound tedious, but it doesn’t take long to find the right fit.

Perhaps it’s the all-in weight of 6g per earbud (as compared to 8.9g previously) that gives the false sense of insecurity, but it doesn’t do any harm either – that’s fairly light for this kind of bud. Even the ear tips and stability bands are super soft, so the QCE II are really quite comfortable to wear for long periods of time.

And the build quality is everything you’d expect from a product costing a premium and, well, from Bose, including the IPX4 water resistance rating we saw previously.

Even the charging case has been given a revamp – it’s now taller, thinner and lighter compared to the one holding the older QC Buds, despite having a slightly bigger battery inside. Even with the size change, it’s still a sturdy case and much easier to open than its predecessor.

Design score: 5/5

Hand holding a Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 fitted with ear tip and stabilizer band

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 review: Features

  • CustomTune audio
  • Excellent ANC prowess
  • Bluetooth 5.3

Bose has figured out a way to customize both the audio response and noise cancellation of the QCE II to the individual user’s ear canal. The company calls this proprietary tech CustomTune and it uses an audio signal – which is picked up by a mic inside each bud – to automatically calibrate ANC and sound frequency that best suits your ear. Bose doesn’t specify the details of the frequency response, but after having used the QCE II for a while now, we’re estimating they go from ‘extremely deep’ to ‘very high indeed’.

The sound itself is delivered via a couple of 9.3mm full-range dynamic drivers – one per bud, obviously – and the buds use Bluetooth 5.3 for wireless connectivity. The only codecs supported are SBC and AAC, which is a little surprising as we were expecting Snapdragon Sound compatibility because of Bose’s involvement with Qualcomm (the QCE II use the Qualcomm S5 Audio chipset). Perhaps that might change in the future via over-air firmware updates – Bose did say updates will come over the next months, but wasn’t specific on what we can expect.

Another missing feature we were hoping would have made its way to the QCE II is multipoint connectivity which allows you to pair with two Bluetooth devices at the same time. To be fair, though, this is more common in wireless over-ear headphones and hasn’t quite made its way to the true wireless models, but it would be nice to have.

As would wireless charging. This also is a bit of a surprise considering rivals have cases that now support wireless charging and the Bose is a pretty premium set of buds to forgo this feature.

One Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 outside its case with one inside

The new earbuds have a slimmer case and redesigned app. (Image credit: TechRadar)

Where the QCE II really shines, however, is noise cancellation. Bose boldly claimed that the QC Buds II have “the world’s best noise cancellation from any headphone”, and we will have to agree wholeheartedly. So, how has Bose managed to achieve this? With some fancy mic work – four in each bud (one inside) that sense unwanted noises – and an “exclusive” algorithm in a “proprietary” chip that’s able to cancel out the sounds in “a fraction of a millisecond”. While we can’t measure this claim, we can vouch that it works remarkably well. The QCE II will score top marks from us just on its ANC performance.

Another feature we really like is the ActiveSense technology that comes into play when the QCE II is in ‘Aware’ mode. This automatically adjusts the noise cancellation so your music isn’t entirely drowned out by loud environmental noises, while also letting you hear what’s going on around you. Auto Transparency is also pretty neat to have when you need to talk to someone. This comes automatically into play when you remove any one bud and the ANC level on the other is adjusted to its lowest level. Put the bud back on and you go back to how your ANC was set without you needing to do anything else.

The Bose Music app hasn’t changed at all but, not that long ago, received an equalizer to help you adjust the music to your liking, something that was missing when the older QC Buds first launched. Pairing the QCE II is super easy, and the app lets you save ANC modes (up to four) and reconfigure some touch controls – it’s full of instructions and very simple to use.

Features score: 4.5/5

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 review: Audio performance

  • Beautifully balanced sound
  • Very clear details
  • Not the best call quality

Excellent ANC aside, Bose has also improved on the sound quality with the QCE II. When we tested the older model, we thought it lacked bass, which Sony handled really well. Now, however, that’s been rectified and whatever CustomTune is doing behind the scenes makes the serenading of the new buds very enjoyable indeed.

Branding on the stem of a Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2

Generous 9.3mm drivers are hidden in the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II’s body. (Image credit: TechRadar)

The soundstage is beautifully balanced and you can pick up an exceedingly high amount of detail that wasn’t possible in the older buds. This is particularly evident when it comes to the low end, where bassy elements like kick drums and double bass get a pretty good amount of attention. For example, when listening to Miles Davis or John Coltrane you can pick out the double bass among the piano (mids) and the saxophone or cymbals. Bass drums when listening to the blues, pop or rock don’t get drowned out, with pretty much every instrument holding its own against the vocals. And at no point did the vocals get drowned out by the instruments. 

We even upped the bass on the EQ to see how it would handle the change and listening to Klergy’s Caught In The Fire was glorious. From JJ Cale to Royal Deluxe, Sarah McLachlan to Beth Hart, even Beethoven and Mozart… there was nothing we could fault. Strings don’t drown out the lows, winds hold their own and the piano sounds wonderful – there were times when it felt like we were in a concert hall with great acoustics sitting right in front of the orchestra.

What exactly CustomTune does is not unclear as there’s no way to switch it off for a point of reference, but that’s fine by us. Honestly, we didn’t need to adjust the EQ at all, we did it out of curiosity – in short, you put on the QCE II and let them just do their thing.   

Call quality, however, is a little lackluster. In fact, we found the older Bose QC Buds does a slightly better job in comparison. Even though Bose claims external sounds are filtered, this doesn’t happen in real-world use, particularly when it’s a little windy. The Sony WH-1000XM4 handle wind a little better, and other external sounds like traffic and loud chatter does seem to filter through.

The SelfVoice feature, which you can adjust on the app, lets you hear yourself quite well, but most people we spoke to while using the QCE II said that we sound like we’re on a speakerphone.

Sound quality score: 5/5

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 review: Battery life

  • Up to 6 hours in buds
  • Additional 2 full charges in case
  • No wireless charging

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II worn in man's ear

(Image credit: Simon Lucas / Future)

According to Bose, the QCE II offers up to six hours per charge on the buds alone, with an additional three top-ups in the case. That’s not really a huge improvement over the previous generation, which also gave you up to six hours on the buds, but just two additional top-ups in the case. 

We didn’t quite get to wear the Buds for a full six hours, but we had ANC at full bore every time we used it and, after two hours of use, we lost 20% of battery on the buds (down to 80% from a full charge).

Bose promises that the charging case will juice up the buds in an hour if they’ve been fully drained, while a quick 20-minute top-up will get you about two hours of playback if you’re impatient.

We were expecting the case to support wireless charging, but we’re quite disappointed that Bose decided not to bother. Bose’s rivals now offer this feature, as do cheaper models, so we’re surprised a premium set of buds lack wireless charging.

Battery score: 4/5

Should I buy the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2?

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 case in black

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Buy them if…

Don’t buy them if…

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 report card

Value The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II are some of the most expensive true wireless buds on the market today, and it does get a little hard to justify their premium price point when rivals can be had for less. 4 / 5
Design Sure, there are smaller buds out there, but the fact that Bose has been able to shrink its flagship buds by 30%, and make the case more compact, is an achievement. A little smaller would be nice, but we like the fit and comfort in comparison to the older model. 5 / 5
Features On ANC and sound alone we score the Bose QC Buds II full marks. These are some of the best-sounding earphones we’ve tried and hands-down the best ANC performance. Full stop. 4.5 / 5
Audio performance Bose’s CustomTune feature does exactly what it promises. The details in each song are remarkable, no matter what genre you prefer. Of course, how well it works depends on the fit and, for us, the sound quality was excellent and makes up for the lack of high-def codec support. 5 / 5
Battery life This is where it gets a little disappointing – six hours on the buds are nothing to write home about and there are other true wireless options that offer more top-ups via the case. And the lack of wireless charging is a glaring omission. 4 / 5
Total If you can do without wireless charging and more codec support, then there really isn’t much to fault the Bose QCE II on. They’ve put Bose back on top of the ANC game and sound so darn good too. 5 / 5

Also consider…

[First reviewed November 2022]

How we test

Here at TechRadar, we hold ourselves to a high standard when it comes to reviewing and testing products. Not only do they undergo an initial thorough review, but if it’s still on the market, we’ll update and maintain our reviews to ensure they still maintain correct information.

Find out more about how we test