Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 Review: Best Noise Canceling, Bar None
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 $300 flagship earbuds.
Updated Feb. 17, 2023 8:23 a.m. PT
Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
Reviews ethics statement
David CarnoyExecutive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
ExpertiseMobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakersCredentials
Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
Bose headphones and earbuds have always skewed toward the more premium end of the price spectrum and the company's QuietComfort Earbuds 2 are no exception, carrying a hefty list price of $299 (£279, $AU429), or $20 more than the original QuietComfort Earbuds. While that will put them outside a lot of people's budget for wireless earbuds, their design and voice-calling performance are significantly improved from the originals, and they deliver excellent sound and outstanding noise canceling -- arguably the best out there right now. They're easily among our top current earbuds, and a CNET Editors' Choice Award winner.
That award came a few months after the release of the QuietComfort Earbuds 2 following some internal debate -- most notably the earbuds' missing support for the aptX Adaptive audio codec, which is compatible with many Android phones and some other devices. But Bose has since announced that aptX support will be added in the spring of 2023. "The QuietComfort Earbuds 2 will support the aptX Adaptive codec for audio streaming, including Lossless and low-latency capabilities," Bose told CNET, "and enable more seamless and robust connectivity with premium Android devices."
Bose has now pushed out a firmware update that enables independent single-bud use, "so now you can use either just the left or right earbud for listening to content and taking or making calls." Previously, only the right bud could be used as a single bud.
I'll save that value debate for the end of the review after I go through all QuietComfort Earbuds 2's strengths (or QuietComfort Earbuds II, as Bose calls them), along with a few weaknesses. But if you can afford them, these are certainly strong competitors against Apple's AirPods Pro 2 and Sony's WF-1000XM4, the latter of which have been out for a while and are being aggressively discounted at times.
Initially the buds were only available in black -- or "Triple Black," as Bose calls it, but you can now also get the in the lighter soapstone color (basically off-white) and it's possible Bose releases other special-edition colors in the future.
More importantly, 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.
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.
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.
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").
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, which Bose now says is coming in 2023, so I think there's a decent chance we'll see 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, as noted, you can now use either bud independently and leave the other one in the charging case. Previously, you could only use the right bud independently, with certain touch controls available only on the right bud. Bose released a firmware upgrade in February of 2023 that "allows you to seamlessly switch between your earbuds, and if one earbud runs out of battery life or disconnects from Bluetooth, you can continue listening with the other earbud without interruption."
Bose vs. Sony, Beats and AirPods Pro
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.
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.
Apple's AirPods Pro 2, which also earned a CNET Editors' Choice Award, are lighter and smaller and deliver impressive overall performance in a smaller package (that includes the charging case, which does feature wireless charging). But if you're someone who can't get a really secure fit from the AirPods Pro -- or are an Android user -- these are a compelling alternative. That said, 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. As I said, 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 [compared to previous model]
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
Four microphones on each earbuds, two of which are beamforming for voice calls
6 hours of battery life with noise cancellation on
Support for AAC and SBC audio codecs (aptX support coming in 2023)
Customizable EQ settings
Price: $299 (£279, AU$429)
Colors: triple black ships first, with soapstone to follow later in the year
Editor's note: This review was originally published on Sept. 15, 2022 and updated in December to reaffirm our continued positive experience with the headphones and add an Editors' Choice designation. It was updated again in February 2023 to note that Bose has now pushed out a firmware update that enables independent single-bud use.