Are Bose headphones any good? (With recommended models)


Bose 700 Noise cancelling headphones

People automatically associate Bose with great sound and good headphones even though they had a market share of just 8 percent in the third quarter of 2019. Everyone from my friend Joe to audiophiles and reviewers on all platforms sings praises of the brand. However, all that sound makes you wonder if it’s all clever marketing or do they really meet the hype?

The short answer is that Bose headphones are undeniably good with a well-balanced soundstage and great noise cancellation on many models. They also pay close attention to ergonomics and have a high build quality that makes them very comfortable and durable. 

A brief history

With a legacy of over half a century, Bose has come a long way from its early days. While their speakers have a reputation of their own, their headphones also stack up quite well with a legacy of over 3 decades. Bose ventured into headphones by making aviation headphones with active noise canceling for pilots in 1989.

While the patent for active noise canceling existed since the 50s, Bose was the first to come up with a working product for consumers. Their aviation headsets helped pilots enjoy music, communicate properly, and reduce the risk of hearing loss due to the loud noise of jet engines. However, for the first few years, Bose focused on Aviation headsets until the first Quiet Comfort headphone was released in 2001. 

Since then they have improved their technology and have created an impressive lineup of headphones and earphones. 

Types of Bose Headphones/Earbuds

Bose has quite a few headphones for all kinds of users. Some of them even come in the form of glasses. From my testing, I also felt that the balanced sound stage and comfort justified their premium price tag. Let’s check them out:

1. Aviation Headsets – Bose started with these and still makes some of the best aviation headsets for pilots. They are light, comfortable, and provide impressive active noise canceling for a long and peaceful flight. These include the A20 Aviation Headset and the ProFlight Series 2 Aviation Headset.    

Bose A20 Aviation Headset
Bose A20 Aviation Headset

2. SoundComm Headset – Bose also creates special headsets for live event professionals, sports support staff, and production crews. They are highly durable, weather-resistant, extremely comfortable for long hours of use, and have other features required by industry professionals. Their SoundComm B40 Headset belongs in this category. 

3. Over-the-ear Headphones – Their over-the-ear headphones are targeted towards regular consumers, you and me who like to listen to high-quality music in peace. Most of them have active noise canceling that lets me drown out the traffic, flight noise, and other types of ambient noise. These include the Bose QuietComfort 35 II and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 and more.  

4. Earbuds – Since the purge of the headphone jack in most smartphones and portable computers, Bose has purged their lineup of wired earphones and has gone completely wireless. Despite their bulky design, I love to work out with my Bose Sports Earbuds and I can’t go back to earplugs after trying out the Bose Sleepbuds II

5. Audio Sunglasses – While they aren’t really headphones, they are a weird combination of glasses and headphones. However, I’m not a fan. They have poor battery backup, look funny, aren’t practical, and don’t sound great since the tiny speakers sit out of your ears. Don’t expect noise-canceling either. They may be a glimpse into the future, but nothing more. If you’re interested, you can check out the Bose Frames Tenor and other audio sunglasses from Bose.   

Types of HeadphonesModels
Aviation Headsets A20 Aviation Headset
ProFlight Series 2 Aviation Headset
SoundComm HeadsetSoundComm B40 Headset
Over-the-ear Headphones Bose QuietComfort® 45 headphones
Bose QuietComfort® 35 Series 2 Gaming Headset
Bose QuietComfort 35 II
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
Bose SoundLink® Around-Ear Wireless Headphones II
Wireless EarbudsBose QuietComfort® Earbuds
Bose Sport Earbuds
Bose SoundSport Wireless Earbuds
Bose Sport Open Earbuds
Bose Sleepbuds II
Audio SunglassesBose Frames Alto
Bose Frames Tenor
Bose Frames Tempo
Bose Frames Soprano

While Bose has an impressive lineup of headphones for various industries and some wacky products like audio sunglasses, I’m interested in headphones and earbuds that I can use regularly and I’m sure you want the same. 

That’s why I tested quite a few headphones and earbuds and shortlisted the best of the bunch. Before you move further into the article for the reviews, check out the following table to have an overview of the best headphones from Bose:

HeadphonesBose SoundSport Wireless EarbudsBose Quiet Comfort EarbudsBose Quiet Comfort 35 IIBose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700Bose QuietComfort 45Bose Sport Earbuds
PriceCheck price on AmazonCheck price on AmazonCheck price on AmazonCheck price on AmazonCheck price on AmazonCheck price on Amazon
Weight0.80 ounces5.92 ounces0.52 lbs0.55 lbs0.97 lbs0.30 ounces
Form FactorBluetooth wireless earbudsTruly wireless earbudsOver-the-ear HeadphonesOver-the-ear HeadphonesOver-the-ear HeadphonesTruly wireless earbuds
Noise CancelingNoise IsolationANCANCANCANCNoise Isolation
Combined Battery Life6 hours 18 hours20 hours20 hours24 hours15 hours
Total microphonesOne integrated microphone4 microphonesMicrophone array8 total microphonesMicrophone arrayDual-Microphone array

Bose SoundSport Wireless Earbuds (Best Budget earbuds)

Bose SoundSport Wireless Earbuds

Bose SoundSport Wireless Earbuds remind me of the early days of Bluetooth “wireless” earphones. Even when it has wireless in the name, the earbuds are connected by a cable. Even after so many years since its release, these earbuds are delightful. 

Starting with the physical features and overall design, these earbuds are quite bulky. They are large enough to make me anxious that they might fall off anytime. However, it comes with multiple soft ear tips and soft yet firm fins to create a solid fit in my ears. Even after a stressful workout, they didn’t fall out. I wouldn’t even bother if one of them falls out, since it’s connected to the other earbud with a cable. 

It has a single control button on the right earbud to keep things simple. Tap that to control pairing and powering on. On the other hand, you get an in-line mic and playback controls on the cable and they have amazing build quality. They don’t feel flimsy like the Beats Flex Wireless Earbuds and aren’t as intimidating and impractically long as the Shure SE215SPE-W-BT1

While there is no IP rating for these pairs of earbuds, Bose claims they are sweat-resistant. I’ve used them for multiple workout sessions and they still work. However, the exposed audio ports don’t evoke confidence in me.  

While these earbuds are the budget option when you buy Bose earphones, they cost much more than the competition. However, Bose in its unique fashion makes up the difference with sound quality. The sound signature isn’t brash or loud. Instead, I got nice and clean audio that is very easy to listen to even at loud volume. Bose doesn’t commit the classic mistake of dramatically emphasizing bass reproduction in their sport-oriented earbuds either. 

While it doesn’t have any active noise canceling, the StayHear+ ear tips do a splendid job of isolating noise. With NFC, the earbuds are also very convenient to pair with my phone. Tapping once is enough. But all is not sunshine and roses. Since the earbuds were released so many years ago and haven’t been revised or improved, the technology inside these earbuds is old and has its shortcomings. 

It has Bluetooth 4.1, which has poor range and battery backup compared to Bluetooth 5.0. I was able to get around 6 hours of battery life with 60 percent volume and my phone was more than 10 meters away, there were signal drops and poor connection. These drawbacks make them a hard sell in 2020. However, if you want a pair of Bose earphones with high-quality sound on a budget, this is the best option.  

Pros

  • Simple controls
  • Great Fit
  • Better sound quality than the competition
  • Nice build quality

Cons

  • No IP rating
  • No aptX codec support
  • Bulky design

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds (Feature-rich earbuds)

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

Everyone holds their breath when Bose releases a new QuietComfort headphone. The same holds for their earbuds. The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are their flagship earbuds that are packed with numerous features and sensational noise-canceling capabilities. 

The flagship earbuds were designed to compete with the likes of SENNHEISER Momentum True Wireless 2 and the AirPods Pro and they deliver exceptionally well. No, they aren’t the sleekest-looking wireless earbuds. Even the Momentum True Wireless 2 are smaller than these. Bose justifies the size with the high-quality drivers and the ton of features that they have packed in these buds. They also feel phenomenally more premium than both the AirPods Pro and Momentum True Wireless 2. 

You get three ear tips and with the right size, they provide excellent noise isolation without the need to jam them into my ears. Removing and installing them is also very easy. It took me a few seconds. While they aren’t light, they aren’t uncomfortable either. I used them for 6 hours straight to drain the battery life and didn’t feel the need to take them off. 

To juice them up, I put them in the charger for 15 minutes and got a couple of hours of playback. However, the charging case supports two more full charges, which brings the total battery life to 18 hours. 

While it’s enough for real-world use, I expected more since the charging case is rather bulky and the earbuds are much more expensive than the competition. You have a button to open the charging case, something I found far more convenient than snappy magnetic lids that tend to be quite loud. It also features LEDs that let you know about the remaining battery capacity. 

Noise-canceling and sound quality are the highlighting features of these earbuds and Bose has done such a good job, that only the Sony WF-1000XM4 has a fair fighting chance. When I set up the earbuds with the companion app on my phone, Bose provides 10 levels of active noise canceling spectrum where 10 is “Quiet” and 0 is “Aware”. They are apt names since things go really silent when I set noise cancelation to 10. 

Moreover, Bose also added their Active Sense technology to these earbuds. This automatically triggers an even higher level of active noise canceling during external harsh sounds and stays on as long as the external noise lasts. 

The fantastic noise-canceling lets the amazing audio quality shine through the earbuds. I tested all kinds of tracks on these earbuds. The bassy notes sound full and deep and preserve every little detail. They aren’t just warm and rich, but dynamic and versatile enough to pick up the tricky details in a subtle track and make the vocals and strings believable.  

Pros

  • Well-balanced sound
  • Very impressive noise canceling 
  • Great call quality

Cons

  • Battery life could be improved
  • Chunky earbud and charging case 

Bose QuietComfort 35 II (Most comfortable headphones)

Bose QuietComfort 35 II

If you’re familiar with the original Bose QuietComfort 35, then this headphone isn’t for you. The Bose QuietComfort 35 II is a great pair of headphones if you’re a new headphone buyer, but provides very little incentive to upgrade from the previous generation. 

Compared to the older generation, this one has a few perks. There’s an action button that can be used to trigger the Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa when connected to your phone. I was also delighted to find out that the same button could be used to toggle between a few levels of Active Noise-Canceling. In the previous generation, I had to fire up the app to turn off ANC.  

Pairing the headphone is also easy due to the companion app. A voice prompt guides you throughout the experience. Bose also worked directly with Google to make the headphones highly compatible and convenient to use when used with Google Assistant. I didn’t need to wait for a couple of seconds for the Assistant to hear my command. 

In terms of design, the headphones carry over the slim profile from the original QuietComfort 35 II and are still one of the lightest noise-canceling headphones on the market. Even when compared against the feature-rich Sony WH1000XM3, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II feels sturdier and the cushions have the perfect amount of rebound to fit my head nicely. After a few hours of use, I forgot I was even wearing them on my head. 

I love how the ear cups are angled and have a small recessed shape inside. This allows my ears to breathe and the soft plush cushioning feels fantastic against the skin. You can also remove and replace the earpads with ease. While the comfort and durability are top of the line, Bose could have improved on the battery life. Bose claims a battery life of 20 hours on this pair. However, Both Sony’s 1000XM line and the Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless have better battery backup. 

This headphone also lacks Bluetooth codec support. Even if your phone or computer supports LDAC or aptX codec, it won’t work unless the headphones support them as well. So I was surprised when the Bluetooth audio codec defaulted to SBC and AAC. That just means I get better audio response and connectivity when I connect them to my iPhone and other Apple devices while my Samsung Galaxy phone sulks in the corner.  

Before they released the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, they were a bit lacking in noise-canceling compared to Sony and other competitors. The Bose QuietComfort 35 II was released half a decade ago and lacks a bit in noise cancelation when compared to the competition. It makes up for it with a neutral sound signature. Lows have a minor boost and trebles are emphasized while the vocals are pronounced and clear. 

Pros

  • Very comfortable
  • Decent ANC
  • Strong connectivity

Cons

  • Sound quality doesn’t justify the price
  • The microphone could be better

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 (Best High End)

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 have a terrible sounding name and that’s where most of the negatives end. Bose nails it in every other aspect. I’ll have to admit that the new minimal looks are very polarizing. They look very different compared to the QuietComfort series. The design is unique enough to set them apart and people will instantly know what you’re wearing when you’re out in public. I mean I didn’t mind the glances. 

While the headphones look rigid and Bose has done away with any visible hinges or cracks, they are highly flexible and as durable as most of their other headphones. The earpads are also cushioned with the right type of material and combined with the perfect clamping force, the headphones create an impressive seal on my ears without creating any discomfort. Clamp force and headband adjustment were also very unique. Push the slider up and down the earcups.   

Bose has also added plenty of features in their headphones to outshine all the competition that was eating into their sales. The 700s have USB type-c and can also connect to two different Bluetooth devices at once. Switching between them is also quick. I also love the touchpad on the right earcup for media controls. There are two physical buttons for powering, pairing, and for using digital assistants and a third one for adjusting active noise cancelation. 

Bose also refreshed their music app with a sleeker and more user-friendly design with the release of these headphones. If you don’t like the flat sound signature of these headphones, you can tune up the EQ according to your preferences. While the case is neat and has a magnetic flap compartment to hide your cables, it isn’t compact. It may be comparable to the Microsoft Surface headphones, but Sony WH1000XM4 wins the bag on this one.  

However, unlike the other headphones in this category, it has an IP4 rating that is splash resistant and would do fine in light rain. But I won’t be comfortable if they are submerged in water. 

Like the QuietComfort 35 II, Bose remains conservative with a battery life of 20 hours in the 700s. I also feel that these headphones are top of the line in terms of noise cancelation. Bose has redesigned their microphones for noise cancelation and the software updates keep making it better.   

Pros

  • Great noise canceling
  • Touchpad gestures work smooth
  • Sleek and minimal design

Cons

  • No folding hinges keep the size large during travel
  • Quite expensive

Bose QuietComfort 45 (Best Noise Canceling)

Bose QuietComfort 45

The Bose QuietComfort 45 is the embodiment of “Don’t fix what ain’t broke”. The QC 45 looks almost identical to its predecessors with a few minor design tweaks here and there. The earcups are larger for better ergonomics and while it is heavier than the QC 35 II, the weight is distributed splendidly to keep it comfy on my head. They also stack up quite well against my favorite noise-canceling headphones, the Sony WH1000XM4

Bose refuses to be generous with the battery life and this one will last you around 24 hours on a full charge at a decent volume. The greatest highlight of these headphones is the noise-rejecting mic system and it improves the calling capabilities of these headphones dramatically. While Sony does a good job at noise-canceling, calls are terrible when I’m in a windy environment.  

On the other hand, the Bose QC 45 can isolate my voice and share it with other people on the call. I had a great experience while using these headphones for my Zoom meets and Microsoft Teams chat. The QC 45 also borrows most of its design and build quality from the QC 35 II and does a great job of making itself stealthier. 

The microphones are less noticeable and the playback controls are integrated on the right earcup. I love the physical buttons since they blend with the design and I don’t have to get used to new gestures. The left earcup houses the ANC and smart assistant toggle. While we are on the topic, the ANC is pretty good, the best I’ve heard in a Bose headphone. They’re even better than the 700s and give a tough competition to the XM4s from Sony.  

While the ANC is great, I’m not a fan of the sound signature. While the lows and mids are balanced, the highs are overemphasized and that makes the vocals sound terrible. Surprisingly, they are great for podcasts and improve intelligibility dramatically. I guess it has to do with the dominant use of second formant speech in podcasts. 

Pros

  • Top-notch ANC from Bose
  • Supports both wired and wireless playback
  • USB-C port 

Cons

  • Sound quality doesn’t justify the price
  • Still no aptX support 

Bose Sport Earbuds (Best for sports and workouts)

Bose Sport Earbuds

Bose Sport Earbuds are the successor to Bose SoundSports and are made for a more active lifestyle. While the earbuds look bulky, they are quite light due to the use of plastic. It has an oblong shape that protrudes from your ear, but the soft ear tips(StayHear Max) are even better than the Bose SoundSports and make for a great fit during workouts. 

Fortunately, there are no buttons on these earbuds. I like physical buttons on my headphones, but not on earbuds. They make my ear hurt every time I need to press them. Instead, Bose has equipped the Sport Earbuds with touch panels and swipe gesture controls. The earbuds also support mono listening. However, it can only be activated on the right earbud. 

The Sport Earbuds take a note from the Google Pixel Buds and use a button and lever mechanism to open the lid. No magnetic snaps here. While the Bose Music app didn’t have an equalizer and other features on launch, the latest firmware and software updates add those features. 

After tinkering around a bit, you can create your custom EQ settings instead of relying on the Active EQ control. However, it would be nice if I could switch between different paired devices with touch control. It can only be done through the app. 

I don’t know why Bose refuses to provide aptX support. Yes, they have to license it from Qualcomm, but it shouldn’t eat up too much into the profit margins given the price of these earbuds. It only supports AAC and SBC.  While AAC works great with iPhones, it struggles to maintain high-quality streaming on my Android phone. 

When it comes to sound quality, Bose has taken a balanced approach with these earbuds. High frequencies aren’t annoying and low frequencies aren’t overcooked. Bass notes are rich and full and that gives these earbuds a warm tone, perfect for the oomph tracks I listen to on my daily runs.    

However, at this price, the Sony WF-1000XM3 provides active noise canceling and Bose doesn’t. That makes it a hard sell. They also lack dynamism compared to the Sony earbuds. But you can take them on a run even in the rain since it is sweat-resistant with an IPX4 rating. 

Pros

  • Balanced sound stage
  • Bass is very agile
  • IPX4 rating
  • Mono listening
  • The right bud sensor automatically pauses or plays music when you wear them on or off

Cons

  • You need the Bose Music app to switch between paired devices
  • No ambient aware mode

Conclusion

Bose is synonymous with premium build and sound quality. While Sony and other manufacturers have been leapfrogging them on noise-canceling, they have made a comeback with their latest headphones. I also put a bit of weight into brand legacy and after-sales support during my purchase and Bose has a reputation for that. 

I hope I was able to clear your doubts about Bose headphones in this article. They are undoubtedly great with their unique strengths and weaknesses. You should be able to pick one up that matches your budget and needs.

Rune Bearson

As you can see, I love my headphones! I use them every day when commuting, watching YouTube videos, playing guitar/piano and doing chores. I'm a podcast addict and I like all kinds of music from metal to chillout ambient.

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