Review: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones

Bose is back at the top

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are really good and also support lossless audio via Bluetooth.

Published 29 December 2023 - 8:00 am
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones
Geir Nordby

From having long been the king of noise cancelling headphones with the QuietComfort series, Bose has for a while been put in the background, while Sony has been at the forefront with the very best noise cancellation. Bose has never been far behind, but has had to settle for 2nd and 3rd place in noise cancellation – while several others have overtaken if we look at sound quality alone.

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones photo GeirNordby 3
(Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

Bose QuietComfort Ultra

This time around, the manufacturer has come up with QuietComfort Ultra, which is said to have better noise cancellation than before, adapting both sound and noise cancellation to how the headphones fit on your ears and to your surroundings. You can switch between different functions via the Bose Music app. There’s also a feature called Self Voice, which lets you hear your own voice louder through the headphones during calls and video conferences.

Multipoint connectivity allows you to pair with two devices at the same time, such as a mobile phone and PC, and you can press an elevation on the right headphone to start and pause the sound, change the volume level and make calls.

Also check out Bose QC45: Old friend in new packaging

QuietComfort 45 is essentially a QC35 II with ambient sound - and USB-C.

Lossless audio

On the audio side, they now boast aptX Lossless, which provides true CD quality via Bluetooth. If you have an Android mobile phone that supports this. Apple users will have to settle for AAC as the best codec.

Immersive Audio

In addition, the headphones have so-called Immersive Audio. There is a lot of hype about this phenomenon these days, but preferably in the form of the Dolby Atmos sound format. That doesn’t apply here, however, because Bose use their own technology.

Whether a film or music soundtrack has Dolby Atmos or not, the headphones will use the stereo track and scale it up to a kind of 360 sound. I don’t think 360 sound in headphones is a necessity, but if I had to have it, I would prefer that they supported Dolby Atmos. For example, most of the artists on Billboards Top 100-list record in Dolby Atmos.

I would still say that Bose’s feature is worthwhile because films and games have a better and more immersive sound than in stereo. However, I prefer music in stereo because the dynamics are better..

Also check out Sony WH-1000XM5: Goodbye, noise!

Sony have outdone themselves with the new WH-1000XM5. Class-leading noise reduction, better sound and better comfort than ever.

Battery life

It’s debatable how much battery life you need in a pair of headphones. But it’s been a long time since 24 hours was standard, and now most are up to 30 hours or more. Bose, on the other hand, settles for 18 hours when the Immersive Audio feature is enabled and 24 hours otherwise. That’s really enough, but I must admit that I had hoped Bose would make an even stronger statement with the new top model.

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones GeirNordby
Wearing glasses? That’s no problem. QuietComfort Ultra is very comfortable. (Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

Comfort and design

The model marks a step up in design compared to its predecessors. It is more elegant than the more industrial QC35 and QC45, while also being foldable – something that cannot be said about the NCH 700.

When it comes to comfort, QuietComfort Ultra sets a high standard. They are exceptionally comfortable to wear, they fit snugly but don’t pinch. They are also very lightweight and can easily be worn throughout the workday.

Sound quality

The headphones excel in a wide range of musical genres. Caroline Polachek’s Crude Drawing of an Angel demonstrates the headphones’ ability to reproduce a rich electronic soundscape, and Polachek’s voice is both clear and airy. I can’t confirm that it’s actually aptX Lossless playing from my Asus Zenfone 9 because the codec is hidden in the aptX Adaptive protocol. But it sounds really good, and better than from my iPhone 15 Pro Max, which only supports AAC.

The midrange feels somewhat restrained with limited dynamics, but the sound quality is the best I’ve heard from Bose, and I would argue better than the arch nemesis Sony WH-1000XM5, which is slightly less structured in sound. The Sony headphones are more forward in the mid-bass range. Bose, on the other hand, has a more natural fullness in the bass with lots of air around it, while Sony is a bit too thick and sounds more coloured. Bose also handles classical music with clarity and depth.

On the other hand, the Bose headphones are a little too quiet for more aggressive music, such as the song Wish (Skazi Edit) by Infected Mushroom. There are a lot of heavy and fast drums here, and I actually think the Sony WH-1000XM5 is better at keeping up.

A 3-band equaliser in the Bose Music app allows you to adjust the sound to your own taste, and on a lot of music I find that turning up the midrange a few notches makes it even better. But not if I’m playing loud, because then it’s more pleasantly unprocessed.

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones photo GeirNordby
(Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

Noise cancellation

Bose have always been good at noise cancellation, and the QuietComfort Ultra is no different. However, I can’t say for sure that they are better at it than their predecessors. The faint hiss you hear when the noise cancellation is activated is probably a notch lower, but not quite as quiet as the Sony WH-1000XM5. It’s good that Bose, like Sony, customises the noise cancellation to the fit. But Sony’s attenuation is still even better than Bose’s. Sony is still the king of the hill when it comes to noise cancellation. And that’s probably a bitter pill for Bose to swallow.

Bose QC Ultra Heapdhones vs Sony WH-1000XM5 - ANC levels
Noise reduction: Bose QuietComfort Ultra (red graph) and Sony WH-1000XM5 (light green) were measured at different times and with different speakers to play the noise. Sony was measured with Dynaudio Evoke 20 (dark green), while Bose was measured with JBL 4411 (orange). However, you can see that the sound levels of the speakers are pretty much the same and they follow each other well enough to compare the noise cancellation. The Sony WH-1000XM5 clearly lets less noise through, in several places around 15-20 dB less. Measured with miniDSP E.A.R.S. microphone head and REW software.

Bose and the competition

Overall, I like playing music through the Bose headphones better than the Sony. However, the Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2, which has a similar tonal balance to Bose, still sounds cleaner and more “hi-fi” to my ears. Another advantage of B&W is that they have a USB DAC function, so you can connect a cable to your PC or mobile phone and get even better sound than is possible with Bluetooth. Bose lacks this feature.

The speech quality of the user’s voice during calls is well taken care of with the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones. However, the voice is highly compressed and sounds processed, so the Sennheiser Momentum 4 is better. And best of all is the Sony WH-1000XM5, where the voice sounds both clear and powerful. Here, Sony draws from the Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2.

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones lifestyle AI expanded 2
(Photo: Bose)

Conclusion

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra is a successful new top model from Bose. It focuses on sound quality, noise reduction and customisation. Whilst not necessarily setting new standards in all areas, they represent a significant effort by Bose to keep up with and in some cases surpass the competition. A great choice for those looking for quality and reliability in their audio equipment.

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(Photo: Bose)
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Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones
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We think

Full and rich bass, effortless playing style. aptX Lossless! Among the best for noise cancellation. Subdued midrange. Slightly tame dynamics.

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