The technology also lends a hand with ANC and ambient sound. For active noise cancellation, CustomTune calibrates the noise reduction signal, which is noticeably better at blocking voices and crying babies than the previous model. For transparency mode, the QuietComfort Earbuds II can pick up harsh noises and apply a level of sound blocking so that they don’t startle you or damage your hearing. It’s an aspect of CustomTune called ActiveSense.
For Aware mode, CustomTune helps keep those wanted environmental sounds “as natural and lifelike as possible.” I don’t understand why most headphone companies are bad at transparency mode, with Apple being the lone exception. Almost always, the sound is muffled and far from “natural” as it’s obvious you still have something crammed in your ears affecting volume and quality. Bose doesn’t best Apple, but it’s a marked improvement. While you’ll still notice you have the buds in, the overall audio is clearer, which also helps you keep from shouting your cortado order at the barista.
The biggest leap on the QuietComfort Earbuds II is the ANC, but we’ll get to that shortly. First though, you should know that Bose has also made strides in the audio department. Since CustomTune does its thing automatically and I haven’t found a way to disable it, I don’t have a frame of reference for whether or not that fraction of a second makes a difference in overall sound quality. What I can tell you though is that the QuietComfort Earbuds II are a big improvement over the first version.
I’ve always thought the audio on Bose’s headphones was fine. It never blew me away, but it did a good enough job to complement the company’s noise blocking abilities. On the QuietComfort Earbuds II, the sound is much more dynamic and open. I notice it most in the nuance of the low-end, specifically when it comes to things like kick drums and synths. There’s texture and detail to those bassy elements – they aren’t just generic boomy thumps. This is apparent on tracks like Russian Circles’ “Tupilak,” Dua Lipa’s “Levitating” and Hardy’s “Wait In The Truck.”
There’s also an increased dimensionality to the sound on the QCE II. I talk about open sound a lot, a term I use for audio quality where things seem to exist in space rather than being a compressed mess. Here, instruments stand on their own, creating depth in addition to even-handed tuning. The drums on Boz Scaggs “Lowdown” and the thunder and sirens in the aforementioned Hardy track are good examples of this, and the effect is heightened even more when details are actually moving across channels.
Gallery: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II review | 16 Photos
Gallery: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II review | 16 Photos
When it comes to active noise cancellation, that’s where the QuietComfort Earbuds II really shine. Sure, it’s to be expected with a Bose product, but the improvements the company has made from one generation to the next are night and day. The first QuietComfort Earbuds were plenty good at reducing distractions, but version 2.0 can fully block out the world – to the point you’ll forget anyone else is around. In fact, I’d argue this is the best ANC performance you’ll find in a set of true wireless earbuds right now.
Things like vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, dryers and white noise machines are all completely canceled out. True to its promise, Bose has improved its ability to block human voices too. Even if someone is taking a call right behind you, that conversation is much less of a distraction on the QuietComfort Earbuds II. You’ll still hear them, but not nearly as much.
For calls, Bose says microphones on the QuietComfort Earbuds II can filter environmental noise to keep the focus on your voice. Lots of companies make claims about call clarity that ultimately end up with you still sounding like you’re on speakerphone, even if the earbuds do manage to reduce the background clamor. Performance is slightly improved thanks to that Self Voice feature allowing you to adjust how much of yourself you hear during calls, your voice still sounds muffled coming through the buds, though.
Overall call quality is pretty mediocre here. You sound like you’re on speakerphone and background noise like a television or running water comes through clearly. This is another case of yes you can use these for calls, but they’re not great and you’ll want to be in a quieter spot when doing so.
Bose promises up to six hours of battery life with ANC on, and three additional full charges via the case. It doesn’t support wireless charging though, which is a major bummer on a set of $299 earbuds. There is however a quick-charge feature that will give you up to two hours of playback in 20 minutes. During my tests, the results were just below Bose’s figures, and I managed five and a half hours before having to doc the buds in the case.
The closest alternative to the QuietComfort Earbuds II are that debuted last year. They too are much smaller with great sound quality, solid ANC, wireless charging and support for 360 Reality Audio. I wasn’t a fan of the new ear tips and the redesigned buds are still plenty big, but Sony consistently offers the most robust set of features. Plus, even at full price ($280) they’re cheaper than Bose’s latest, and we’ve seen the M4s which could be enough savings to sway your opinion. For all the work Bose has done on ANC, Sony’s flagship buds are still better in terms of pure sound quality.
If audio is your primary concern, should be your other consideration. The company is consistently at the top in terms of sound, with a mix of clarity and detail on top of a bassy punch that is rarely rivaled. At $250, they’re cheaper than both Bose and Sony, but you’ll have to sacrifice the best-in-class noise cancellation on the QCE II and the deep feature set of the 1000XM4.
If it’s supreme noise blocking you’re looking for in your next set of true wireless earbuds, the is the choice. With the updates Bose delivers here with the help of CustomTune, not only is the ANC noticeably better than the previous model, but overall audio quality and ambient sound mode are also improved. Sure, I’d like more than six hours of battery life and conveniences like multipoint connectivity and wireless charging should be standard fare at this point. For $299, I’d expect some of those basics to be included and Bose passed on them.
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