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Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 Review: Noise-Canceling Champs

Rating: 8/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $299
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds in open black case above black desk
Ryan Waniata / Review Geek

Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds 2 were crafted for one primary purpose: to kill all the noise. While they may not quite reach those heights, they succeed as the best noise cancellers on the market. Their polished package also includes good customization, excellent sound, and a new, slimmed-down design.

The QuietComfort Earbuds 2 follow in the footsteps of the original QuietComfort Earbuds, which sat atop most lists of the best noise-canceling earbuds for years. The second-gen buds take things to a new level, but they’re not entirely alone in the marketplace. Apple’s AirPods Pro (gen 2) made its own quantum leap in noise canceling, standing as the QC Earbuds 2’s top competitor—and the best option for iPhone lovers.

With a price tag that’s $50 more than Apple’s pair—and without some of today’s most coveted flagship features like 3D spatial audio and multipoint pairing—the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 won’t be for everyone. But if you’re looking for the noise-canceling equivalent to the T1000, look no further.

Here's What We Like

  • Class-leading noise canceling
  • Excellent sound performance
  • Good call quality
  • Comfy design
  • Solid customization

And What We Don't

  • No multipoint pairing
  • Case can't charge wirelessly
  • No earbuds tracking

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Slimmer and Sleeker (but Still a Bit Hefty)

Bose Quiet Comfort 2 Earbud in between fingers with stem back showing
Ryan Waniata / Review Geek

  • Dimensions:
    • Earbud: 1.2 x 0.68 x 0.88in (30.48 x 17.27 x 22.35mm)
    • Case: 2.61 x 2.34 x 1.05in (66.3 x 59.4 x 26.67mm)
  • Weight:
    • Earbud: 0.22oz (6.24g) each
    • Case: 2.11oz (59.8g)
  • Dust/Water Resistance: 
    • Earbuds: IPX4
    • Case: No IP Rating

Perhaps the biggest knock on the original QuietComfort Earbuds is that they’re honkers, especially when compared to the nimble AirPods Pro. Their long, pill-shaped housings mainly work through a deft feat of ear tip innovation that makes them comfy and secure, but at 8.5 grams per bud, they’re still a lot to haul around.

The QC Earbuds 2’s new design is 30% slimmer, according to Bose, and the difference is monumental. The buds swapped the oblong housings for AirPods-style stems, which are much easier to carry in both your ears and, thanks to a much smaller case, your pocket as well.

At over 6 grams per bud, the new pair falls shy of that “forget they’re in” feeling found in the AirPods Pro and Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Pro 2. They also tended to jostle a bit when I took them on the treadmill.

That said, their combination of three ear tips and three stability bands helped me find a comfy and stable fit that mostly alleviated the issue. I wore them all day for multiple days with few complaints. The style is also properly premium for the price, blending glossy and matte plastic for a sleek look.

In the box, you’ll find two extra sets of ear tips and bands, a small USB-C to USB-A power cable, and a packet of instructions. A QR code wrapped around the case that says “Start here” downloads the Bose Music app (available on iPhone and Android), and I highly recommend you take heed for the initial setup or the earbuds may not properly auto-pair to your device going forward.

Good Controls and Features, With Some Omissions

Bose QuietComfort 2 earbuds in hand above black desk
Ryan Waniata / Review Geek

The QuietComfort Earbuds 2 offer most of the features you’d expect from a pair of flagship earbuds, but as we’ve seen from Bose in the past, they don’t worry too much about keeping up with the Joneses.

You’ll get standards like sensors to auto-pause audio when you pull a bud out (adjustable through the app) and an auto-shutoff feature after a few minutes. (That makes it tougher to test the battery, but that’s the reviewer’s cross to bear.) The touch controls (mirrored on each bud) offer all the essentials, including play/pause and calling, forward and backward song skip, and a swipe gesture that raises or lowers volume.

Holding on either bud’s exterior cycles through ANC or Transparency modes by default, and you can swap either side for your phone’s Voice Assistant in the Bose Music app. The app holds the key to plenty of other features as well, from creating your own noise cancellation presets to lowering (or removing) your voice in phone calls. There’s even a three-band EQ to adjust the sound signature, something Bose has shied away from in the past.

But there are some notable gaps that you wouldn’t expect at this decadent price point. As mentioned, there’s no form of 3D spatial audio such as you’ll find in the AirPods Pro, Samsung’s Galaxy Buds 2 Pro, and even LG’s latest Tone Free earbuds.

There are also more practical omissions, such as a lack of wireless charging for the case (an odd one at $300), and no high-quality streaming codecs—though Cnet reports the aptX codec may be coming in a firmware update. But perhaps most notable is the lack of multipoint pairing, something we expect in costly, office-friendly buds.

In its place, Bose adds the ability to swap between previously paired devices with a switch, and frankly, that’s enough for my purposes. But if you’re a big device hopper, the lack of multipoint or Apple’s auto-switching is worth keeping in mind. It’s also unfortunate that there’s no way to track down your earbuds in the app as you can with a lot of today’s best earbuds.

Overall, while there are a few headscratchers, the package offers just enough customization to keep most folks satisfied, even if you do have to plug in the case to charge it like a Luddite. And unlike either Apple or Samsung’s pairs, all the features work equally for Android or iPhone.

The World’s Best Noise Canceling

Man Listening to Bose QuietComfort 2 earbuds in yard with gold jacket
Ryan Waniata / Review Geek

  • Microphones: 4 MEMs microphones per earbud
  • Modes: Noise canceling, Aware, Custom (up to four presets total)

Customization is the name of the game for the QuietComfort Earbuds 2, not just within the app, but as a daily listening ritual. Each time you put the earbuds in, you’ll get a symphonic blast that’s both an audio logo and a measurement that customizes noise canceling and audio performance to your ear canal via internal microphones. This is officially called CustomTune Technology, and while I wasn’t able to isolate it directly for comparison without the customization, whatever Bose is doing, it’s working.

The noise canceling is truly out of this world—so good it’s actively fun to play with. Taking the earbuds on my daily errands, I found myself aurally disintegrating vehicles at the corner stop sign, neutralizing my noisy robot vacuum as I passed through the living room, even zapping away nearly all audible traces of my wife’s Emily in Paris season 3 marathon.

The QuietComfort Earbuds 2 are first-class killers of lower-frequency drone sounds, but their most impressive feat may be how well they suppress upper register noises. It’s as close to true silence as I’ve experienced in a pair of earbuds. No headphones can erase all the noise, of course, and when noises do appear—the drop of gym weights or my dog’s mail-carrier bark frenzy—it’s almost a shock of annoyance. How dare you let sound through?

Bose QuietComfort 2 earbuds and original QuietComfort earbuds in hand for size comparison
Ryan Waniata / Review Geek

For objective testing, I pitted the QC Earbuds 2 against the original QuietComfort buds and Sony’s WH-1000XM4 over-ears in my home studio, playing my usual simulations of airplane drone and voice chatter through professional monitors. The QC Earbuds 2 bested both rivals, once again showing particular triumph in the upper register. Even when playing both videos together, Bose’s latest buds masked the sound entirely with some light music.

I wasn’t able to pit the QuietComfort Earbuds 2 against the AirPods Pro (gen 2) directly, but I’m confident the Bose pair has the edge based on its notable advantage over the previous QuietComfort buds, which was more apparent than even Apple’s pair in my testing. The AirPods Pro are still very good noise cancellers. It’s clear that as this technology continues to evolve, brands will increasingly need to decide how earbuds intelligently process which sounds are let in or kept out—for our own safety.

On that note, the QuietComfort Earbuds 2’s Aware Mode now offers a feature similar to Apple’s Adaptive Transparency mode, called ActiveSense. It’s designed to protect your ears by suppressing loud sounds that sneak through while you’re listening to your environment.

However, here Apple has the advantage. Not only does its transparency mode sound more natural, but the adaptive tech seems to translate the info in real-time, allowing you to naturally wear the buds in loud environments. Bose’s version seems a bit delayed and, at times, over-eager. I found myself activating the feature with my own voice, temporarily suppressing ambient sound in a strange effect, as though a compressor was engaged on that great soundboard in the sky.

That said, while I don’t love ActiveSense, it could come in handy for those living in noisy neighborhoods or traveling downtown.

Excellent, Customizable Sound

Close up of man listening to Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 in yard wearing gold jacket
Ryan Waniata / Review Geek

  • Bluetooth Codecs: AAC, SBC
  • Bluetooth Version: 5.3
  • Chipset: Qualcomm S5 Audio SoC

The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 also actively adjust audio performance for each listen with CustomeTune technology. Bose claims this will compensate for all sorts of personal traits, including the different shapes of your own ears, to tailor the sound directly for you. And while I can’t verify that it’s key to the sound signature, the results are impressive.

You’ll hear a lot of reviewers talk about Bose’s “sculpted sound,” and if you’ve heard Bose products before, you probably identify. To my ears, many Bose headphones can make instruments sound a bit less organic, with some extra pep in the upper midrange and a glossy sheen.

While that’s still the case to some degree, my listening sessions were very enjoyable. I still prefer Sony’s WF-1000XM4 and the upgraded AirPods Pro overall, but Bose has crafted a lovely soundstage here that lets you set yourself adrift in clear and present instrumental attacks, crisp percussion that’s rarely sharp or piercing, and mesmerizing reverb tails.

Even stringed instruments, like the playful clicks of Chris Thiele’s mandolin or the golden glow of Sean Watkins’ guitar solo in Nickel Creek’s “Reasons Why,” are tactfully presented. Paul’s dusty laser-beam bass in “Something in the Way” loses maybe a shade of its texture, but it comes through bold and booming without ever rolling over the other instrumentation.

The bass response isn’t overwhelming, but it’s big enough to get the job done, and you can easily extend its efforts or (as I did) back it down a bit with the EQ. Occasionally, twangy instruments like the affected piano in the Racounteurs’ “Carolina Drama” can sound a bit sharper than I’d like, and snare and toms can sometimes sound less full and natural than expected.

Still, the clarity, balance, and detail are all worthy of a flagship pair of earbuds, and I think most will be quite satisfied with the sound.

Clear Calling

While I didn’t have the ability to test the earbuds in massively windy environments, I had a great calling experience throughout my review. Callers were clear with no complaints on either end, and Bose has added some wind buffering that should help the earbuds better compete with Apple’s top pair.

Bose QC2 Microphone Sample: Quiet Room

Bose QC2 Microphone Sample: Light Wind

Battery Upgrade

Bose QuietComfort 2 earbuds case charging on piano
Ryan Waniata / Review Geek

  • Earbuds Battery Life: ~6 hours per charge (with ANC)
  • Case Battery Life: ~18 hours (three charges)
  • Earbud Charge Time: 1 hour
  • Quick-charge Time: 20 minutes for 2 hours

Bose’s earbuds battery has never been top of the class, which may go hand-in-hand with top-tier noise canceling. But the QuietComfort Earbuds 2’s estimate of 6 hours per charge, and 24 hours total with the case, match up nearly exactly with (say it with me) Apple’s AirPods Pro (gen 2). And while the buds’ auto shutdown makes the battery life tough to track, I consistently seemed to get more battery than advertised, possibly because the potent noise canceling allowed me to keep the volume low.

Most notably, those 6 hours of playback are well over the hump of what I’d consider the comfort zone for wireless playback time. No one is likely to be listening to music for 8-9 hours straight in a sitting, even on a long flight. If you do, there are likely to be enough breaks in the action to quick-charge the buds.

You can do much better, even with some earbuds that cost much less, but what’s presented should be enough for the majority of use cases.

The Best Wireless Earbuds of 2023

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II
Soundcore by Anker Life P3
Best Wireless Earbuds Under $100
Soundcore by Anker Life P3
Soundpeats T3
Best Wireless Earbuds Under $50
Soundpeats T3
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation)
Best Wireless Earbuds for iPhone
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation)
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro
Best Wireless Earbuds for Android
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro
JBL Reflect Flow Pro
Best Wireless Earbuds for Workouts
JBL Reflect Flow Pro
Sony WF-1000XM4
Best Noise Cancelling Wireless Earbuds
Sony WF-1000XM4

Should You Buy the Bose QuietComfort 2 Earbuds?

If you want the absolute best noise canceling you can get, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 are the earbuds to buy. While they leave out some big features like multipoint pairing and earbud tracking, there are plenty of other reasons to sign up, including excellent sound, good controls, and ample ways to customize your experience.

If you’re an iPhone user, you’ll still probably be happier with the AirPods Pro (gen 2), especially if you use a lot of Apple devices. They’re simply more intuitive and offer better overall usability thanks to features like Auto Switching between Apple devices, earbuds tracking, and their impressive Adaptive Transparency mode.

But they also don’t offer as much flexibility as the QC2 when it comes to both device compatibility and overall fit. If you love the idea of the best noise canceling, alongside great sound and premium design, the Bose QuietComfort 2 Earbuds are worth the price of admission.

Rating: 8/10
Price: $299

Here’s What We Like

  • Class-leading noise canceling
  • Excellent sound performance
  • Good call quality
  • Comfy design
  • Solid customization

And What We Don't

  • No multipoint pairing
  • Case can't charge wirelessly
  • No earbuds tracking

Ryan Waniata Ryan Waniata
Ryan Waniata has been a professional writer, editor, and product reviewer since transitioning from the wild world of audio engineering in 2012. His portfolio spans the gamut, from entertainment op-eds and trends pieces to gadget how-tos and reviews on TVs, audio gear, smart home devices, and more. His work can be seen on Digital Trends, Reviewed, How-To Geek, and others. Read Full Bio »