I have now used the QuietComfort II Earbuds for six weeks.
I am always on the lookout for tools that can effectively reduce noise in a busy, hot city while staying comfortable and in touch with my surroundings.
In the following review, I report on my noise reduction tests, fit and comfort, sound quality, call quality, etc.
In the spirit of this site, this article goes into detail about the noise reduction performance of the Bose QC Earbuds II and whether/how they can help folks with noise sensitivities.
This is most likely why you would consider handing over the cash (or at least why I did).
The QuietComfort Earbuds II are excellent at cancelling noise and they do it without any ear canal or ear drum suck as far as I can tell. To my ears, everything sounds natural.
The ear tips sit at the ear canal entrance and are very comfortable. I can easily wear these for a whole day, or until the battery runs low (after 6 hours 20 min of continuous streaming).
Active noise cancelling (ANC) is adjustable (11 levels), and you can store your own presets (accessible via long-tap).
I can put this flexibility to good use: In addition to the two default settings (Quiet, Aware), I have defined one preset Walk that mimics the noise reduction curve of filtered earplugs for noise sensitive people (for details see below).
I like the sound of these earbuds a lot. They have an emphasized bass that works for everything from EDM to rock while still keeping vocals in front of the mix (without bloating them). The treble is detailed enough, without sounding harsh or sizzling.
They are very good for the office, coffee shop, and shopping mall, as well as public transport, airplane travel, and napping, and good for walking around busy cities.
I can’t use them for jogging or running on a treadmill (I experience loud thumps upon impact).
I currently use the buds with four different devices. Switching between them is easy. Unfortunately, unlike Bose’s over-ear headphones, the earbuds don’t support multi-point connectivity, i.e., staying connected to two devices (e.g., your PC and phone) at the same time.
I find the call quality to be good to very good in moderately noisy (e.g., coffee shop, street with lighter traffic) and quiet environments.
Along very busy streets, I am well-shielded from outside nose, but callers on the other end hear too much background noise: they struggle to understand me. For phone calls amidst loud road noise, there are other earbuds (e.g., the AirPods Pro 2) that work quite a bit better.
Overall, the QC earbuds II are a pleasure to use. They are a great noise and stress reduction tool. I would buy them again.
Ear tip sizes, fit, and wearing comfort
By default, the QC earbuds II come with three sizes of oval-shaped silicone ear tips (S, M, L) plus stability bands (three sizes) for a secure fit. You can freely combine ear tips and stability bands.
The medium-sized tips and small bands are already on the earbuds; S and L tips are in the box:
My ears are on the large side. While some earbuds fit just fine, with others I struggle to get a good seal.
Bose’s L-sized tips worked OK, they passed the app’s built-in fit test, but I felt they weren’t quite secure enough.
The fit would have been OK for budget earbuds, but I wanted more for my money.
Extra sizes available
So I rang Bose and explained my fit issues. It turns out they have an add-on kit with additional ear tips and stability bands (XS and XL).
They sent me the kit, and voilà the extra-large tips provided a very secure and comfortable seal.
I can easily wear these for the whole day, they seal very well (even when I squeeze my ear canal) and I feel no discomfort whatsoever. Also, the XL-tips still fit nicely in the charging case.
I have tried all stability band sizes and so far opted for the smallest one (the most comfy one for me). There wasn’t much of a stability difference for me regardless of which band I tried.
How stable is the fit?
With the XL-tips, the QC earbuds II seal my ears well, and yet they exert virtually no pressure. They are very comfortable.
Also there is no hint of them becoming loose, leaking noise, or falling out regardless of what I do.
They work just fine for me for walking, sitting, and napping.
When I jog or run on a treadmill, however, I experience loud thumps, so I won’t be able to use them for that.
I have read that other people happily use them for running, so your mileage may vary. Perhaps for them the stability bands make the difference.
Sizes compared to other earbuds?
If you include the additional ear tips, these should fit even very large and small ears (XS). XL is larger than anything I have had for other earbuds. Only the XL tips on the 1More ANC Pro are close.
Good on Bose for including a real XL tip when designing their case. What holds back many true wireless earbuds is that you can’t even add third-party XL tips because the case won’t close anymore, preventing the user from charging the buds. Not so with these!
Compared to the AirPods Pro 2 ear tips, the L-size of the Bose is a bit larger than the largest size for the AirPods. The Bose XL-size is a lot larger.
Active Noise Cancellation (ANC)
In a word, the QC earbuds II offer the most effective and flexible noise cancellation of any earbuds I have tried so far. Also, the noise reduction is very natural and I perceive no ear canal pressure or eardrum suck whatsoever.
In the last month, I have almost daily been to an outdoor coffee stop along a very busy inner-city road, where the excellent coffee is greeted by a constant stream of motor bikes, cars, trucks, and concrete mixers.
Normally that place is way too loud for me for comfort, but it makes for an ideal spot to test new earbuds and headphones. Wearing the QC earbuds with ANC set to “Quiet Mode,” it feels almost like I am watching the bustling street from behind a sound-isolated window.
As the traffic passes by, I can still hear faint “woosh” and quiet engine sounds, and the occasional rumble, but everything, including screeching breaks, is mellowed down to the point that I can even enjoy meditative flute music with my coffee.
In terms of noise reduction, my reference earbuds so far have been the 1More Dual Driver ANC Pro. (In my tests, they performed even better than the widely acclaimed wired Bose QC20 earbuds.)
The QC earbuds II, however, are clearly better than the 1More. They are more effective at reducing noise at every single frequency band I tested.
In particular against mid and high frequency noise the difference is substantial. With the 1More, I always felt well equipped against bass noise but exposed when it comes to screeching, crying and speech.
The following chart (the higher the line the better) is the result of a noise reduction test with pulsed noises at increasing frequencies using my own ears.
Up to 100 Hz, while not quite as good as the QC earbuds, the 1More are still competitive. But, in particular against higher mid-frequency noise >1000 Hz (e.g., crying) and high-frequency noise, the QC earbuds were much better.
(For a comparison with over-ear headphones see below.)
Adjustable noise cancellation – a volume knob for noise sensitive people?
In daily life, maximum noise cancellation can be too isolating. You may just want everything a bit quieter.
Moreover, some people cannot tolerate strong or adaptive ANC; they get what is known as ear canal/drum suck.
The alternative many earbuds offer is transparency/awareness mode, ideally allowing you to hear your environment as if you weren’t wearing earbuds. For me, and other noise sensitive people, this is often too much “noise transparency.”
I want a volume knob to make everything just quiet enough so that I don’t get stressed out, while allowing me stay in touch with my surroundings.
Passive earplugs with an acoustic filter are an economical way to fend off excessive environmental noise without isolating too much, and some of them perform very well (they are definitely worth trying).
Filtered earplugs have a few downsides though:
- I experience somewhat more ear canal pressure with earplugs than with these earbuds.
- The amount of noise reduction is typically not adjustable. If the environment is very noisy, I may wish for more and if I am in a quiet place, I want less noise reduction.
- Finally, because I frequently use foam earplugs at night, I’d prefer to give my ears a bit of a break during the day and not have any earplugs sitting deeper in the ear canal 24/7.
The QC earbuds let you store your own noise cancellation modes and can mimic different earplugs for noise sensitivity
In the app (both iOS and Android), you can adjust the noise reduction in 11 steps, ranging from total transparency (0) to maximum noise cancellation (10).
You can store your settings as presets (Modes) and cycle through them with a long-tap on the earbuds, so after setting everything up, you don’t need to use the app or take out your phone.
Two modes are already defined (and you can add two additional presets):
- Quiet – maximum noise cancellation
- Aware – hear your surroundings
I added a third ANC mode, Walk (three steps below maximum), which I use for walking around town, shopping, or when I want to make a café quieter without isolating myself.
The only thing you can’t do with the ANC is to completely turn it off. While I don’t often need that and the self-noise the ANC creates is not excessive, why not Bose? Folks who listen mostly in a quiet environment could potentially get longer battery life and no self-noise.
Back to my personal ANC settings:
I was able to mimic the noise reduction curve of the Vibes earplugs, one of my favorite earplugs for noise sensitivity.
Take a look at the following chart to see how closely the noise reduction in my Walk mode resembles the curve of the Vibes earplugs (green). In the lower frequencies, the earbuds block more noise than the plugs, which I consider an advantage because this cuts out more of the traffic rumble.
I am happy with my Walk mode, but If you need more noise reduction, you’ve got three additional levels to choose from, and if you need less you have seven.
Noise cancellation QC earbuds II vs over-ear noise cancelling headphones
Some reviewers state that the noise cancellation of the QC earbuds 2 is even more effective than that of the best over-ear active noise cancelling headphones. Let’s take a look at the following chart (test with pulsed noises, my ear) comparing them to the Sony WH-1000XM4 and the Bose QC45:
(Again, the higher the line, the better.)
Against the lowest frequencies < 60 Hz, the Sony are somewhat better but overall QC earbuds II are in the same league against bass noise (e.g., traffic rumble) and sometimes outperform the outstanding Sony.
Against higher bass frequency noise (160 Hz to 200 Hz) the Sony and against lower mid frequency noise 250 to ca 700 Hz) both the Sony and the Bose QC45 headphones are still quite a bit more effective.
So, for example, against the lower registers of male and female voices and the barks of large dogs both over-ear headphones perform still better than the earbuds.
Also important, however, for everyday noise reduction are the higher mids from 800 to 2000 Hz, and here the QC earbuds 2 are better than both the Sony and the Bose QC45.
This means that against smaller vehicle horns, crying babies, shouting, and mid-sized dogs, the QC earbuds should work at least as well as the over-ear headphones. Both over-ear headphones rely almost completely on their good passive noise isolation in that range.
The earbuds’ active noise cancellation appears to extend further into the mid-frequencies and hence outperforms the headphones in that range.
Against high frequency noise >4000 Hz (e.g., many cricket species, screeching on the subway), both headphones have an edge thanks to their noise-isolating ear cups, but these Bose buds are still very good (30+ dB), a lot better than my previous earbud reference.
So it is quite possible that the QC earbuds II currently have the best active noise cancellation electronics.
On the other hand, both over-ear headphones have very-well isolating ear cups, giving them a head start, albeit a sweaty one when you are in a hot place. 😉
Overall, the QC earbuds don’t remove more noise than these two over-ear ANC headphones, but they are getting close.
Noise reduction table QC earbuds II (arithmetic averages)
Will these remove all speech, screaming, and barking, or the horn of a car at close proximity?
You often hear, “headphones XYZ blocked so much noise that I couldn’t hear my husband/wife or the people shouting at the next table.”
I want you to have realistic expectations.
This can only be true if the reviewer also cranked up the music and drowned out what the noise isolation of their headphones can’t block.
The QC earbuds II are good at reducing the volume of louder speech, crying, and barking, so good that I often don’t put over-ear headphones in my bag anymore.
But they don’t block that noise to the degree that you can’t hear it (unless you are further away or play music).
No headphones completely block the noise of people who talk loudly or crank up their phone next to you, unless you also play a tailored masking sound or music.
Note: when it comes to overall noise reduction (including speech noise reduction) in earphones, the Etymotic Research ER series still sit on their throne. But they are not earbuds that sit at the ear canal entrance: you need to insert an earplug-type foam tip deep into your ear.
Sound character and quality
To me, the QC earbuds II sound very pleasant with all music genres. They are a lot of fun to listen with. They have an emphasized bass ranging from the sub and low bass important in EDM up to the higher bass produced by kick drums (prominent in rock). So they are not neutral sounding.
I like the extra kick in the drums. More neutral-tuned headphones, while sounding good with many genres, sometimes appear a bit meek with rock music.
With the QC earbuds II, Bose included higher bass frequencies in the emphasized range. Still they managed to take back that bass just before it bleeds too much into the vocals, so vocals sound good too.
Overall, with these earbuds both bass and vocals take center stage. Bose did a good job striking that balance.
The treble is detailed but not excessively emphasized (no harsh s-sounds).
I also compared the QC II to the AirPods Pro 2: those are more neutrally tuned. The Pro 2 sound good too. They are unobtrusive and there is never a hint of “shoutiness.” In some tracks, however, this comes at the expense of recessed vocals.
Comparing the two directly, with most tracks, the QC earbuds II have more “umpf.” I have gotten a bit addicted to that, and I also prefer the vocals on the Bose.
Note: I want to use my headphones in a mixed environment which includes Android, iOS, and Windows. Consequently, I have tried my best to turn off “sound-enhancing” features such as Dolby Atmos (Android) and Spatial Audio (iOS) to compare headphones based on their own merits.
The QC II app (Android and iOS) includes a three-band EQ, allowing you to change their sound character. The EQ settings are stored in the earbuds, so you only have to do it on one device. Moreover, the settings also apply to phones/computers for which you don’t have an app installed/available. This is how I have currently set the EQ:
Transparency/aware mode and ActiveSense
With activated transparency mode, my surroundings appear to me almost like they would without the earbuds in my ear, so I rate the transparency mode as very good. Bose’s voice assistant calls it “Aware.”
Going back and forth between Aware and no earbuds, there is a difference in the way I hear my own voice, but I perceive no major occlusion effect. I am fine communicating with these in my ears.
To toggle between ANC and Aware you long-tap on the earbud’s stem.
This works fine, provided I don’t need to change in an instant to hear someone talking to me.
Since I have defined three modes (Quiet, Aware, Walk) I have to long-tap twice to get from Walk to Aware. If you define a fourth mode, you have to do the long-tap three times.
I’d want to get to Aware with a single tap.
As it is now, it is much faster to take out one of the earbuds when someone addresses me, so that’s what I usually end up doing. Then the second earbud automatically switches to Aware.
When ActiveSense is activated (default) in Aware mode, the earbuds attempt to automatically reduce loud noises by adjusting the level of noise cancelling as needed while keeping you in touch with your surroundings. This function can be turned off and the setting can be saved.
I have tested ActiveSense in a variety of loud environments, and in general, I find it to be quite responsive and effective.
Bose doesn’t state the threshold noise level beyond which ActiveSense kicks in.
In my tests, that level appears to be at around 70 decibels, which I would say is a good choice for it to be helpful for noise sensitive people and to reduce stress.
(In hearing protection headsets with transparency mode, the limiter is often set to 82 or 85 decibels, but that is to protect people’s hearing from excessively loud noise. To accommodate noise sensitive people in every-day life, 70 decibels is a better bet.)
On both busy city streets and at a live marketing event at a shopping center (where the PA system produced sound levels of 90 and sometimes 95 decibels) the tech worked very noticeably.
City streets are a much better use case than the live event though:
- Motorbikes with loud mufflers were effectively subdued.
- Someone shouting in my ear was fended off.
- The small dog unrelentingly barking at a neighboring table (outdoor café) became much meeker.
- Everything was made a bit quieter when it got loud.
ActiveSense did work in the mall at the loud live marketing event ( ca. 90 dB), but here the earbuds repeatedly turned up active noise cancelling to the max, only to fall back to a lower ANC level a few seconds later.
It did the job, but in such a situation, I prefer Quiet mode (or a different fixed ANC mode). I find Quiet mode a lot more stress-reducing than have the earbuds continuously adjust the amount of noise cancelling and fiddle with the level of piped in sound.
Other situations where ActiveSense wasn’t suitable (but switching to a fixed ANC mode worked)
1. ActiveSense is not designed to work for loud concerts, and the earbuds are not marketed as a hearing protector so I don’t recommend them for that.
If you were going to use these earbuds at a concert, you would be much better served by setting them to a high fixed noise cancelling mode (e.g., Quiet).
2. ActiveSense does not seem to turn the ANC up fast enough to shield from an individual short-lasting noise event, such as a single dog bark, door slam, or spoon cling. In contrast, Quiet mode appears to be quite effective against such sudden sounds:
For example, when I slam my freezer door in Aware mode (ActiveSense activated), I hear the impact sound (“bumm”) virtually unchanged. In Quiet mode, active noise cancellation very effectively reduces the door slam to a meek “pep.”
I hope this illustrates both the upsides and downsides that often come with Adaptive ANC (that’s what ActiveSense appears to rely on) and why I am glad the QC earbuds II also have fixed ANC modes:
In contrast to earbuds that only have adaptive ANC, I can set these to the level of noise cancelling I want (e.g., Quiet), and get good and predictable noise reduction even against single events (in both quiet and loud environments).
Making and taking phone calls
The noise cancelling performance of the QC earbuds is so good that it is highly unlikely that even very busy city or street noise will drown out the voice of an incoming caller. Should that happen, your hearing is clearly at risk and you should leave.
So the following focuses on what recipients of a call made with the QC earbuds II can hear.
In a quiet environment the QC earbuds II performed flawless. My voice comes across as clear and pleasant.
They also performed well in a moderately noisy (60-65 dBA) and still OK in a loud coffee shop (70-75 dBA).
I also compared the call quality to that of the Airpods Pro 2, and I would say the performance was about the same in cafés. The QC earbuds II reduced louder background noise a bit less while with the Airpods my voice appeared a bit choppy at times. In any case, I found the QC earbuds perfectly adequate for coffee shops.
I then tried the QC earbuds against road noise. Here the performance was good to OK up to about 70 dB (some traffic to fairly busy).
At a noise level of 75 decibels (very busy street), the call quality was barely acceptable. Most of what I was saying was still understandable, but the background noise became too annoying and distracting. Anything louder than that and the call quality became unacceptable. This is the case with many of my earbuds and headphones, but there are others that do it better:
The mikes of the AirPods Pro 2, for example, suppress street noise better.
Even at very loud road noise levels (75 to 85 dBA) my voice sounded OK with the Pro 2. Sudden honking and screeching did come through and made the experience unpleasant at times, but it worked.
In summary, I found the QC earbuds performed well when making phone calls in quiet and moderately noisy environments. Against loud street noise, they struggled. Call quality with the AirPods Pro 2 is better amidst loud street noise and about the same in coffee shops or a quiet room.
Touch controls and app
The QC earbuds II are easy to operate.
I mostly use the following functions:
- Cycle through the noise cancelling modes via a long-tap on either earbud
- Volume up/down via swipe up/down
- Play/pause/answer call using a single-tap
- End call (double-tap).
You can also define long-tapping one of the earbuds as a shortcut (in the app) to access your default voice assistant. This leaves the other earbud for cycling through the ANC modes.
To skip to the next/previous track, double/triple tap either earbud.
Aware (transparency mode), however, should be accessible via a faster shortcut rather than being part of the noise cancelling mode cycle. It takes too long to long-tap two or three times when someone starts talking to you. For me it is easier to take out one of the earbuds, which switches the other earbud to transparency mode.
The app is available for Android and iOS. It offers almost complete control over the active noise cancelling function and allows you to store your settings in custom ANC modes (accessible via long-tap). You can have a max of 4 modes: Quiet, Aware, plus two user-defined ones. (See section ANC for details.)
There is also a three-band EQ (see section sound quality). The settings are stored on the earbuds, so you don’t have to do them for each device.
Additionally, there is an ear tip fit-test that helps you to check whether you are getting a good seal. This fit-test includes an auto optimizer (CustomTune) which uses a test sound to optimize ANC and sound quality for your ear canal.
CustomTune is redone every time you take out the earbuds from the charging case and put them in your ear.
Note: Some auto re-tuning also appears to be done when you just take out an earbud and reinsert it, tap an earbud hard, or materially change the seal.
I recommend that you install the app on at least one device, to customize the ANC and EQ to your liking and perform the fit test to determine which ear tips work best for you. The settings are stored in the earbuds.
Finally, I didn’t have to create an account to use the app. I just tapped skip and incurred no loss of functionality whatsoever.
What about notebook computers and phones where you don’t have or want the app?
To use the QC earbuds II, you don’t have to install the app at all.
Before using the earbuds with any device for the first time, you have to pair them by long-pressing the button on the charging case (light starts flashing blue) and then clicking the new entry Bose QC Earbuds II on your device.
(The earbuds remember the six most recently paired devices.)
Subsequently, you connect by clicking on the stored entry in your device’s Bluetooth list. (You don’t have to disconnect from any active connection.)
The settings (ANC, EQ, etc.) made via the app from any device are stored in the earbuds. In my experience the settings transfer nicely from one device to the next, even when you don’t have an app installed.
The QC earbuds II can be connected to one device at a time, so to take a phone call (via the earbuds) while you are connected to a laptop, you have to go to your phone’s Bluetooth settings and tap the QC earbuds II entry. This disconnects the earbuds from the laptop and connects them to the phone.
The earbuds use Bluetooth 5.3.
I hoped they would support two active connections at the same time (like the full-size Bose headphones do), but they don’t. I don’t quite get why Bose in 2022 can’t do it in their earbuds when others can.
(But, the ANC is so good; perhaps it needs all the battery it can get?)
Switching between devices is easy though:
Unlike with many older headphones, you don’t have to disconnect from one device before connecting to a second device (to which you have already paired the earbuds). You simply go to your second device’s Bluetooth list and tap the Bose entry to connect.
You can also use the app to switch between devices, but I rarely do that.
Battery and charging case
I am getting 6 hours and 20 minutes of continuous music streaming (with max. ANC) out of the earbuds before I have to put them back in the case, so a bit more than the 6 hours specified by Bose.
This is fine for daytime use and napping. Given that the earbuds are very comfortable, they could also make good noise cancellers for sleeping, but for that 6 hours are a bit short.
The case allows for three recharges, so you can listen for up to 24 hours. Putting the earbuds in the case, it takes 20 minutes to get to two hours of listening time (60 min to 100 %).
The case itself can be recharged via USB-C in three hours. A very short USB-A to USB-C cable is included, but I use my phone’s cable and charger. Wireless charging is not available.
The case fits in my jeans pocket. It is substantially smaller than the case of the previous generation, perhaps about 30% larger than the AirPods Pro case, but it also fits much larger ear tips.
I cringed when I opened my wallet.
But, I like what I got a lot.
I recommend you try the QuietComfort Earbuds II if you are after noise cancellation.
They have the most effective and flexible ANC I have experienced in earbuds so far, they sound very pleasant, and they are very comfortable.
It isn’t only the power of the noise cancelling function. In particular the control I have is what sets these apart: I can determine how much or little I need in a given situation and access my personal presets via a long-tap on the earbuds.
Also, if you want noise reduction but don’t do well with strong or adaptive ANC, you might still do fine with a milder setting.
Considering their price, I would make sure you can try them for at least a few days (better a couple of weeks) before you commit your coin.
Perhaps, like me, you might even get the additional ear tip set, so you need time to play with these buds.
Ear tip fit is crucial and people’s ears are different. With ANC earbuds, if the tips don’t fit you well, you lose most of the benefits and might as well get a budget model.
You need these to be a pleasure to use and become your favorite earbuds.
2 thoughts on “Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II Review and Detailed ANC Test”
Hi, I’d love to know what you think about the loop quiet earplugs, …compared to all the stuff you tried. The noise reduction, is there anything better? If you don’t have them, please consider to give them a try. I have the loop quiet. If you think there’s something better I’d love to know. Thanks. Regards. 🙂
Since you are commenting on a review for the QC earbuds II, I assume you want to know how the Loop Quiet compare to these.
The noise reduction of the Loop Quiet is similar to that of the Vibes earplugs (I used for comparison in this post). I have the Loop, and find them to be good moderate-to-medium noise reduction earplugs, suitable for lowering the volume of everyday noise without isolating too much.
The QC II can simulate the performance of the Loop at about ANC max-3 (my Walk mode in the post above).
In max ANC mode (called Quiet), the QC earbuds II block a lot more noise than the Loop. For example, trucks, speech, honking, and barking are all more effectively reduced.
Also, with the earbuds, there is much less of an occlusion effect: With the Loop, I hear my own voice amplified (boomy). I also hear my heartbeat. Not so with the earbuds. They seem to mostly cancel such noise (they also have microphones that listen for noise in the ear canal).
Further reading for other earplug options:
A while ago, I wrote a post comparing different earplugs for noise sensitivity and one comparing different Loop earplugs.
If you just need effective earplugs for sleeping, foam earplugs (e.g., Moldex Pura-Fit) definitely block more noise than Loop, provided they fit you well. (Check the many articles on this site on foam earplugs for more info.)
All the best.