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Noise-cancelling headphones promise to block out the world around you. And over the years, the best noise-cancelling headphones have gotten to a point where they work very well. However, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II ($299.00) take it to a whole new level, blowing away the competition with the company’s new CustomTune technology. After testing noise-cancelling headphones for more than a decade, I was amazed at how much of the world the buds can block out.
To get the best audio quality in any environment, you need to understand the acoustics and tailor the sound to that space. That’s what CustomTune does. It uses a tone to map your ear canal and create a model of acoustic properties, and then uses that information to tune the sound, including noise cancellation, specifically for your ear. The result is a personal listening space, free from life’s annoyances, where you can enjoy music in peace or just enjoy the (almost) total silence.
The only downside I found in my testing is that the QuietComfort Earbuds II struggled to cancel out noise in noisy urban environments to keep it from entering my mic during calls. My colleague complained that my voice often didn’t protrude above ambient noise, and that the buds sometimes amplified ambient noise, such as when driving. B. Children screaming in a playground as if I were speaking. This wasn’t a problem for calls I made in my far quieter office.
For most people, I would highly recommend the QuietComfort Earbuds II for their amazing noise-cancelling abilities.
In a year where tiny earbuds and cases have become the norm, I was immediately struck by the size of the QuietComfort Earbuds II buds (1.2 x 0.68 x 0.88 inches) and case (2.61 x 2.34 x 1.05 inches) are. The buds have a chunky tip and a short and broad stem. Along the way, however, most of the bud is largely hidden. And despite its size, the case’s rounded shape makes it easy to slip into your pocket.
There are three pairs of earbuds and three sets of stabilizers in the box, the minimum I would expect from high-end earbuds. There is also a USB-C to USB-A cable.
You can use the QuietComfort Earbuds II right out of the box – they’re ready to pair when you open the case and you can use your device’s Bluetooth settings. However, it’s worth downloading the Bose Music app for access to useful tools for customizing your listening experience and checking the correct fit of your earbuds.
Bose now has an in-app eartip fit test. So once you’ve selected ear tips and stabilizers and the buds feel good in your ears, the app can verify that the buds seal well.
The default sound is well balanced, but you can use the three-band equalizer in the app to manually boost and cut the bass, mid and treble frequencies from -10 to +10, or from the Bose presets for Bass Boost, Treble select boost, bass reducer and treble reducer.
The buds come preloaded with Quiet mode, which offers full noise cancellation, and Aware mode, which lets through ambient noise and automatically adjusts as noise levels change. The app lets you set up two additional modes with a custom level of noise cancellation on a scale of 0-10. The earbuds cancel sound evenly across all frequencies, and sliding the noise-cancellation bar lets you hear the volume from the outside world raise and lower for the best sound mix. Once you’ve set up the modes, they’ll be added to the earbuds and you can select them using the controls on the earbud.
Using the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II
The QuietComfort Earbuds II are easy to use once set up. Equally important, they are comfortable to wear for hours.
The experience starts with pulling them out of the suitcase. A rib on the back of the earbuds makes it easy to find a good grip. You’ll need it because the magnets that hold the earbuds in place are pretty strong.
The buds have presence detection and automatically pause or play audio when you remove or reinsert them. You can also answer a call automatically by using a headset. If you don’t like these features, you can turn them off in the app.
The QuietComfort Earbuds II feature capacitive touch controls for the usual play/pause (single tap), volume (swipe), and track skip forward and backward (double and triple taps). You can also use the app to assign one of the headphones with a long press and hold to access your voice assistant or switch between noise-cancelling modes. The capacitive controls are very responsive and easy to use. I especially like the swipe motion to increase and decrease the volume. However, I would occasionally accidentally turn off the sound when adjusting my mask or pinning my hair up.
Although the buds are large, they are comfortable to wear for longer listening sessions. In my week-long test, I wore them for six hours in one day and felt no ear fatigue.
The QuietComfort Earbuds II are IPX4 certified and therefore sweatproof. However, I wouldn’t recommend using them as everyday workout headphones and constantly exposing them to high humidity.
Unfortunately, there is no multi-point pairing. However, the buds remember pairing with six devices, and you can easily switch between them using the app.
The QuietComfort Earbuds II produce great sound complemented by the best noise cancellation I’ve ever experienced. However, the same level of excellence is not achieved when making calls in noisy, urban environments.
To test the audio quality, I listened to music that I downloaded to my iPhone in lossless CD quality and streamed through the Apple Music app. The buds have Bluetooth 5.3 with support for AAC and SBC codecs – no aptX for Android. I compared the QuietComfort Earbuds II to the Jabra Elite 85t ($229, on sale for $179) and the SoundCore Liberty 3 Pro ($169, on sale for $129.99). I also tested call quality with these models indoors and on busy New York City streets.
The earbuds handle all sounds, whether you’re listening with full noise cancellation or blending in ambient noise. Because the earbuds use CustomTune to tune the sound to your ear canal, the earbuds are better at canceling noise than any other earbuds I’ve tried. At home, with the air conditioning on or the window open, there was almost silence. When my colleague spoke in a normal tone, I could only see his lips moving as the music played – no sound at all. Busy city streets and a full noisy train challenged the buds more, but they still did an admirable job. Without music, it was like turning down the volume on the world. And when I was listening to music, I could enjoy it instead of being annoyed by loud conversations and other noises around me.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II make listening to audio a pleasure, with plenty of rich bass and detail in the mids and highs. I like Bose’s flat EQ, but if you like more bass or treble, boosting it won’t result in thump or brass.
Call quality is good when you are in a relatively quiet environment. However, the QuietComfort Earbuds II don’t excel at applying noise-cancellation to the microphone when making calls in noisy environments. The buds seemed to have trouble deciding when I was speaking at times, amplifying outside sounds that weren’t my voice. This problem was compounded by the fact that the audio is completely muted when you’re not speaking, so the person you’re calling will be silent from your end when you’re not speaking, and then make noises when you speak, including background noise.
The battery life is average for the QuietComfort Earbuds II. They run for up to six hours, which is average for noise-cancelling buds. A full charge takes 1 hour and a 20 minute quick charge gives 2 hours of use. In addition, the case offers three additional charges for up to 24 hours of listening time.
An LED on the inside of the case indicates the charging status of the earbuds, and an LED on the outside indicates the charging status of the case. You can charge the case with a USB-C cable, but not with a wireless charger, which is disappointing for buds at this price point.
The final result
If you’re looking for the best noise-cancelling listening experience in a true wireless earbud, look no further than the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II. The noise-cancellation is next-level and the sound is impressive, detailed and backed by solid bass. The only major downside is poor microphone noise-cancellation for calls in noisy urban environments – for Zoom calls in the office and calls in quieter environments, the buds work well. So, for most people, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II would be my pick for the best noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds.
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For the past 20+ years, Techlicious founder Suzanne Kantra has researched and written about the world’s most exciting and important science and technology topics. Prior to Techlicious, Suzanne was Technology Editor for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and Senior Technology Editor for Popular Science. Suzanne has been featured on CNN, CBS and NBC.