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Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 Review: Sorry, Sony

Sony and Bose have been battling it out for noise-canceling supremacy the last few years. Bose has taken the lead once again with its new $300 flagship earbuds.

You may well have missed it, but Bose's new QuietComfort Earbuds 2 were announced on the same day that Apple introduced the AirPods Pro 2 and iPhone 14 -- and promptly ended up getting a bit overlooked. New Apple products, especially much-anticipated ones like the AirPods Pro 2, are like a black hole that pretty much sucks up any and all other news in that week's tech solar system. But after getting my hands on the QuietComfort Earbuds 2 -- or QC Earbuds 2 as they're apt to be called -- I can say they're easily among the best earbuds of 2022.

Not only did they fit my ears really well, but they have great noise canceling, excellent sound and improved voice-calling performance. Many folks will think they're too expensive at their list price of $299 (£279, $AU429), or $20 more than the original QuietComfort Earbuds. But I'll save that value debate for the end of the review after I go through all their strengths, along with a few weaknesses. 

Read moreBest Wireless Earbuds for 2022

8.8

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2

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Like

  • Excellent sound and best-in-class noise canceling
  • Significantly smaller than their predecessors
  • New Fit Kit ear tips and stabilizer system gets you a secure, comfortable fit
  • Improved voice calling with better noise reduction

Don't Like

  • Pricey
  • No wireless charging
  • No multipoint Bluetooth pairing or aptX audio support (yet)

For starters, you can only get them in black -- or "Triple Black," as Bose calls it -- at launch. Soapstone is coming later in the year. Personally, I like the lighter color a little better, but the black's just fine and a lot of people prefer it.

More importantly, though, the earbuds are about 30% smaller than their predecessors. Their case is about 40% smaller and truly pocketable (though it's still about 25% to 30% bigger than the AirPods Pro 2's case). The smaller size corrects a big downside of the original QuietComfort Earbuds, which featured excellent noise canceling and very good sound quality, but were pretty hefty and protruded from your ears. The new buds each weigh a little less than 0.25 ounces, or 7 grams, according to Bose -- still not svelte but significantly smaller.

Wearing the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2

The buds are significantly smaller and lighter than the originals.

David Carnoy/CNET

The other big change is to the ear tips. Bose has ditched its one-piece StayEar wing tips for a two-piece Fit Kit system that features separate ear tips and "stability bands" in three size options. That's supposed to give users more flexibility to get a secure fit and tight seal. I liked the StayEar wing tips, but after trying the new two-piece system, I'm sold on it. I ended up going with the large tips and medium stability band, and that really locked the buds in my ears. I can't tell you that this will fit everyone's ears equally well, but if you're someone who can't get a secure fit with the AirPods Pro 2, which are lighter and quite comfortable to wear, this new two-piece Fit Kit may be a reason to give the Bose a go over the new AirPods Pro. 

A handful of new premium earbuds feature a kind of auto custom tune feature that takes into account the shape of your ears -- and ear canal. Following that trend, Bose has developed a new CustomTune sound calibration system that aims to optimize noise canceling and sound quality for your particular ears. Every time you place the buds in your ears, a proprietary tone is played and a microphone measures your ear canal's acoustic response. It takes about half a second or so and you definitely notice that the noise canceling has undergone some optimization. 

The earbuds in the Soapstone color. The case isn't as small as the AirPods Pro's case, but it is now considerably more compact. 

Bose

While the design improvements are a nice step forward, the QuietComfort Earbuds 2 really shine on the noise canceling front. It's really impressive just how much the sound around you is muffled. Bose says it's targeted frequencies that were previously difficult to reduce in the mid and high range, like the voices of nearby co-workers, screaming babies and family distractions in your home office. I used the buds in my home next to a relatively loud HVAC unit, and the noise canceling basically silenced it completely.

But I was more impressed with how much sound it reduced when I walked the streets and rode the subway in New York City. You can still hear people's voices, but they seem to be muffled by about 60% and maybe even slightly more. It's a little startling when you take the buds out of your ears or put them into transparency mode -- Bose calls it Aware mode -- and realize how much sound is being filtered out.  

And yes, that transparency mode is also improved -- it does sound more natural and lifelike. The best transparency modes, like that of the AirPods Pro, make it seem as if you're not wearing earbuds and can hear the world as it would sound without earbuds in your ears. These do a good job of getting you close to that sensation.

While the drivers appear to be the same or very similar to those found in the original QuietComfort Earbuds, Bose reps told me that thanks to the CustomTune technology, the sound is noticeably improved, with more "nuance, clarity, depth" and better accuracy. And that's pretty much what you'll hear if you were to compare these to the originals. Everything is a little more clear and natural sounding. Their predecessors also had relatively big sound -- and by that I mean they have a pretty wide soundstage. But the bass has a bit more definition and punch, and there's a bit more detail and separation between instruments so you can hear them more distinctly. I also thought they had just the right amount of warmth, particularly with both men's and women's vocals. Their tonal balance is overall very good.

bose-quietcomfort-earbuds-2-splash-test

The earbuds are IPX4 splash-proof and are suitable for sporting activities like running and gym use.

David Carnoy/CNET

While software and advanced algorithms play a big part in the QuietComfort Earbuds 2's performance, they feature four microphones in each bud, two of which are beam-forming microphones to focus on picking up your voice. Voice-calling performance was a weak point in the original QuietComfort Earbuds and Bose has clearly made an effort to improve it with better noise reduction -- and voice pickup -- during calls. I think it's significantly better now (you can hear a sample call in my companion video review).

As for battery life, it's rated at 6 hours with noise canceling on -- that's the same as the new AirPods Pro 2 -- and you get about three extra charges from the new trimmed-down charging case, which features USB-C charging but not wireless charging. That latter shortfall is a bit unfortunate since most earbuds in this price range, including the AirPods Pro 2, feature wireless charging.

Like their predecessors, the QuietComfort Earbuds 2 are splash-proof with an IPX4 rating. They also have similar touch controls with a swipe gesture for volume control that I like. I thought the touch controls worked well, and they are slightly customizable in the companion app for iOS and Android (you have the option to select certain "shortcuts").

The new fit test in the companion app for iOS and Android.

Bose

As for Bluetooth flavors, these are equipped with Bluetooth 5.3. They use the AAC and SBC audio codecs but currently have no support for Qualcomm's aptX Adaptive audio codec or multipoint Bluetooth pairing (I manually switched between an iPhone 13 Pro and a Galaxy Z Flip 4). In theory, you may be able to get slightly better audio quality if you use a device like an Android phone that supports aptX Adaptive and wirelessly stream high-resolution music files using services like Tidal, Amazon Music and Qobuz that deliver high-resolution music.

I was disappointed by that, particularly by the lack of multipoint Bluetooth pairing. But there's some hope that may change in the future. That's because a Bose rep told me these earbuds are equipped with a 5 Series Qualcomm chip. That chip supports multipoint Bluetooth pairing and has aptX support, so I think there's a good chance we'll see at least multipoint Bluetooth pairing added in the future and perhaps other features. Bose didn't mention anything about Bluetooth Audio LE and Auracast, a new Bluetooth audio broadcasting technology that's coming to earbuds and headphones, but some new earbuds like the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro are listed as being "ready" for LE Audio. 

It's worth noting that while the noise canceling is of the adaptive variety, you can adjust its levels between three settings. Also, the earbuds have adjustable equalizer settings so you can tweak the sound profile. And finally, you can use a single bud independently and leave the other one in the charging case though certain touch controls are available only on the right bud.

Bose vs. Sony and Beats

I'll finish by saying that I did compare these to some other top earbuds, including Sony's WF-1000XM4, which were released in June 2021 and list for $20 less. The XM4s are still excellent, but these QuietComfort Earbuds 2 have surpassed the Sony buds not only in terms of sound quality and noise canceling but voice calling and fit as well. The Bose buds are superior.

bose-quietcomfort-earbuds-2-vs-original

The original QuietComfort Earbuds are substantially larger compared to the second-generation model on the right.

David Carnoy/CNET

I also like the Beats Fit Pro ($200) for both everyday use and as sports earbuds (they also stay in my ears very securely). They're probably the better value, particularly as we're starting to see regular discounts on them. But the Bose offer better overall performance along with a comfortable, secure fit in comparably sized earbuds. 

I can't get into all the details on Apple's new AirPods Pro 2 just yet, but I'll update this review with more in-depth comparisons as soon as I can. But for now, I can say that if you're someone who can't get a really secure fit from the AirPods Pro, these are a compelling alternative. However, the performance improvements to the AirPods Pro 2 make them a pretty safe and enticing choice for iPhone users for $50 less than the Bose. That doesn't mean you shouldn't consider the QuietComfort Earbuds 2 if you're an iOS user, but the AirPods Pro have their own set of advantages for iOS users, including spatial audio, automatic switching between your Apple devices on your iCloud account and hands-free Siri. 

The same can be said for Samsung's excellent Galaxy Buds 2 Pro buds and Samsung Galaxy device owners. Those buds have certain features that only Galaxy owners can take advantage of, including high-resolution audio over Bluetooth if you have the right setup.

But again, the QuietComfort Earbuds 2 may offer a better fit for you, and I do think they sound a touch better than both the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro and Pixel Buds Pro and have better noise canceling. If you can get a tight seal with these buds, the noise canceling is really impressive. Probably the best out there right now. And ultimately, that's the reason why they may be worth $300 to some people.   

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 key features, per Bose

  • 30% smaller buds and 40% smaller case
  • New CustomTune technology for optimizing sound and noise canceling
  • Improved sound, noise canceling and voice-calling performance
  • Touch controls with swipe gestures for volume control
  • New two-piece Fit Kit system that features separate ear tips and stability bands in three size options
  • 4 microphones on each earbuds, two of which are beamforming for voice calls
  • 6 hours of battery life with noise canceling on 
  • Bluetooth 5.3
  • Support for AAC and SBC audio codecs
  • Customizable EQ settings
  • Price: $299 (£279, $AU429)
  • Colors: triple black ships first, with soapstone to follow later in the year