The best Bose headphones have always been massively popular, because the company leads the way with balancing excellent active noise cancellation and sound quality. And its designs usually hit the nail on the head for comfort and style.
The best Bose headphones are synonymous with great active noise cancellation, and this is a feature that's only becoming more and more desirable. But while that means active noise-cancellation is becoming more commonplace, that doesn't mean it's always effective. But Bose consistently ranks among the very best noise cancelling headphones and best noise cancelling earbuds. It did invent the technology, after all.
Battery-life is a consideration, too – especially if you do a lot of travelling and/or commuting. And what if you want to be able to adjust EQ settings, or vary the amount of external sound your headphones allow in, or rearrange the way their touch-controls work? There’s probably an app for all that - but is it any good?
Ideally, of course, your headphones will do all the things you need them too and sound great at the same time. And as the cherry on the top, they’ll carry a prestigious and well-regarded brand name too. Which brings us, not especially coincidentally, to the best half-dozen pairs of headphones that Bose currently makes. And you can be sure that if they’re Bose’s best efforts, they’ll be among the best headphones you can buy. Period.
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Best Bose headphones 2022: the list
When it comes to noise-cancelling earbuds, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are untouchable. Use the exemplary control app to ramp ANC all the way up to ‘10’ and the Bose simply don’t let any external sound in. None whatsoever. And they can do this without introducing any sensation of the sound being interfered with or ear-pressure, as so many less accomplished designs do.
Any they sound deeply impressive: they have the sort of body and low-end presence Bose is (in)famous for, but they’re deft and articulate at the same time. They express rhythms properly, extract plenty of detail from a recording and can organise a soundstage convincingly.
There are caveats, of course - aren’t there always? - but in the case of the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds they’re very minor when compared to the positives. These are big, borderline-ostentatious, earbuds (39x26x27mm) and no one will be in any doubt whatsoever as to whether or not you’re wearing them. At 8.5g each they’re a fair bit heavier than most nominal rivals. Their size dictates a large charging case (89x51x32mm) – and yet their battery life is a staunchly ordinary 18 hours (six from the ‘buds with a couple of full charges held in the case).
Despite their girth, though, the QuietComfort earbuds are very comfortable in situ. The silicone ‘nozzle and wing’ arrangement keeps them secure and comfy for hours on end - certainly long enough to exhaust the battery.
As a package, then, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are among the most complete and competent designs around – as our full Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review details. If you want to know more about the differences between them and the Bose Sport Earbuds (below), here's our handy Bose QuietComfort Earbuds vs Bose Sport Earbuds guide.
The ‘Bose’ brand has a number of stereotypes associated with it, and not all of them flattering. But when the word ‘Bose’ is invoked, the word ‘stylish’ is generally nowhere to be heard (unless it’s very close to the words ‘not at all…’). With the clunkily named Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, though, Bose took a significant leap out of its comfort zone – and the results are almost entirely positive.
Check out that design, first of all. Elegant, understated, sophisticated… and really about as un-Bose-like as things ever get. Yes, that finish is quite easy to mark and no, they’re not the most luxuriously padded design around. But they’re comfortable over the long haul, lightweight, easy to operate thanks to a well-implemented combination of physical and touch controls, and can be used with a cable if the (very ordinary) 20 hours of battery life proves insufficient at any point.
As is customary with Bose headphones, the sonic signature here is on the ‘lively and energetic’ side. That’s preferable to ‘dull and boring’, of course, but anyone interested in a more neutral balance may find the 700 a bit on the relentless side. The rest of us, though, for whom "up and at ‘em" is an entirely positive thing, will revel in the well-controlled attack, implacable momentum and impressively high detail retrieval of which the Bose are capable.
Add in very effective active noise-cancellation that’s adjustable through 11 steps, and the 700 make an extremely strong case for themselves. It’s not easy to compete in a market like this, where everyone from Bowers & Wilkins and Sennheiser to Sony and Beats has a dog in the fight – but these Bose are now available for much cheaper than their original price, and the balance of comfort, strong noise cancellation and sound quality is excellent for the reduced price you can now regularly find them for. Here's our full Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review.
‘Evolution’ rather than ‘revolution’ is what we’re getting here. Bose enjoyed plenty of success with its QuietComfort 35 (versions one and two), after all – so there obviously didn’t seem any need to tear up the plans and start all over again. And so let’s meet the QuietComfort 45 and indulge in a game of Spot The Difference compared to the last version.
There’s USB-C for charging now, which brings them up to date. Those earpads are now smooth, rather than pleated. And unless you take them to pieces, that’s about it for significant differences. Which means the QC45 are a manageably light 240g, fold properly flat and small, use physical control buttons (rather than a touch-surface) and will run for around 25 hours between charges.
Noise-cancellation here functions in either the ‘on’ or ‘off’ position (or just in the ‘on’ position if you’re listening wirelessly), which compares badly to the 11-step adjustment available with Bose’s Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. But then this is Bose we’re talking about, so of course the noise-cancelling here is outstanding: the QC45 simply eliminate external sound almost entirely, and so so without sacrificing any of their tonal balance or introducing any additional elements to the sound you hear.
And the sound itself is an evolution of that of the QuietComfort 35 II, too. Which means plenty of brawn, no little insight and a very enjoyable way with rhythms and tempos. You’re probably giving away some fine detail to other, more capable designs, but you’re certainly not short-changed where drive or dynamism is concerned. There’s a great deal to enjoy here, as our full Bose QuietComfort 45 review explains.
Bose's most recent fitness earbuds are essentially a refinement of the Bose SoundSport Free (further down this list), adding current-gen connectivity and – most importantly – reducing the slightly ridiculous bulk of those buds. They're still pretty bulky compared to some of the best true wireless earbuds, but the difference is still a huge improvement.
IPX4 sweat resistance means they can stand up to exercise, and they're extremely comfortably and lightweight for longer-term wearing. The sound is excellent too, with Bose's Active EQ tech rebalancing the sound depending on the volume you have it, so that if you need to crank it up when walking near roads, or if you want to keep it low in the office, you still get the right mix of bass, mids and treble. Impactful bass is helped by the solid fit of the in-ear tips – what keeps them stable and comfortable also ensures a seal that helps keep the music full and rich.
The lack of active noise cancellation is a bit of a shame, since gyms or running along streets can get pretty noisy, but we don't hold it against them. The 10 hours of battery life in the buds alone (with more from the case) is great, though, and means they'll last you through any kind of exercise, or even a full day in the office without pause. Here's our full Bose Sport Earbuds review, where we push them to limit for exercise as well as for music.
Like all Bose in-ear headphones, the SoundSport Wireless are relatively bulky, yet unarguably comfortable. Like any worthwhile sports-orientated earbuds, they’re IPX4 rated as an indication of their resistance to moisture. Unlike many alternative Bose designs, the SoundSport Wireless are extremely keenly priced. And unlike the overwhelming majority of wireless earbuds, these Bose feature a wire. Admittedly it’s only a cable to join the left earbud to the right, and admittedly it’s useful for positioning a little few-function remote control… but nevertheless, it may not be the totally wireless design people are looking for these days.
That’s it for complaining, though, because once you get over the wire/wireless thing, there’s more than enough about the Bose to make them worthy of strong consideration. First and foremost, that sound great in that typically Bose manner: punchy and full-figured, with plenty of low-end momentum and presence. They’re not devoid of subtlety, though, and can liven up your workout no end with the finer details of your favourite music. And while six hours of battery life looks a little underwhelming on paper, in practice it’s more than enough to see you through the longest workout.
The rubberised remote control can be a little fiddly to operate, especially if your fingers have become a little sweaty during the course of your exercise… but have another look at that asking price. Even if the SoundSport Wireless hadn’t been specified as activity-orientated earbuds, they’d be worth the money in sound-quality alone.
As surely as night follows day, a pair of Bose true wireless in-ear headphones will be among the bulkiest designs around. And as if by magic, here are the company’s SoundSport Free. Bigger and beefier than average for the best running headphones, and yet somehow with the sort of ergonomic excellence that means they’ll stay secure and comfortable for hours on end. IPX4 rated for those of us whose workouts are always sweaty, and all in a charging case that’s – hey! – quite a bit chunkier than the norm.
Battery life isn’t on the bulky side, though - five hours from the ‘buds, plus another couple of charges from the case, is hardly a catastrophe but neither is it anywhere near class-leading. And, while we’re having a moan, this sort of money buys active noise-cancellation from quite a few rival manufacturers – but not Bose.
Otherwise, though, the SoundSport Free are entirely fit for purpose. In the inimitable Bose manner, they sound big-boned and deliver the lowest frequencies with ample weight. There’s a distinctly ‘up-front’ tonality on display here, a sense of fun and energy that doesn’t always square with ‘absolutely fidelity’ but almost always comes off as ‘entertaining’. And where dynamism is concerned, the Bose could give lessons.
You’re far from short of options where true wireless in-ears for runners at this sort of money are concerned (do check out our Beats Fit Pro review for a strong rival). But if you genuinely want them to withstand the rigours of even a mild work-out, your options suddenly become a little more limited – and they’re more limited still if you want hefty, enjoyable sound at the same time. Which is why we’re such big Bose fans. It's worth noting here that Bose seems to have discontinued the Bose SoundSport free as of early 2022, but it's still available to buy in lots of stores.
Bose is nobody’s fool, which is why the QuietComfort 35 II are still available, five years after they launched and long after the QuietComfort 45 hit the market. After all, a great pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones doesn’t become junk just because it’s a bit long in the tooth.
We’ll concede micro-USB charging is nobody’s idea of modernity. And we’ll admit that three-stage active noise-cancellation (‘low’, ‘high’ or ‘off’) is a bit remedial too. But in pretty much every other area that counts, the QuietComfort 35 II remain relevant and likeable – and given that they’re now available at their lowest-ever price, they look increasingly like a bit of a bargain.
They’re properly made, of course, from decent-quality materials, and they’re put together to last for the long haul. They’re reasonably light, fold flat and are consequently handily portable. And they make that sound that all the best Bose headphones make: a sound of implacable weight and presence, with plenty of low-end body and warmth.
There’s ample detail through the midrange, a stack of drive and attack at the top end, and a very naturalistic way with tempos and rhythms. They can put a fair amount of distance between ‘quiet’ and ‘loud’, and the active noise-cancelling (binary though it is) is very effective.
So if you’re not hung up on owning the very latest model, find a pair of QuietComfort 35 II for a great price, and congratulate yourself on a sound purchasing decision. Here's our full Bose QC45 vs Bose QC35 II if you want an in-depth comparison of the two models.
How to choose the best Bose headphones for you
This, it has to be pointed out, is not rocket science. If you’ve decided Bose is the brand for you, a) good choice and b) you don’t have many more questions to answer.
First of all, do you prefer in-ear headphones or those that sit on, or over, your ear? There’s a comfort issue involved here, of course - but there’s also a self-consciousness issue to be considered. The question is much more about how you want to look rather than how you want your music to sound - because all Bose designs tend to sound pretty good. Do you want to draw attention when you’re sitting on that bus, or train, or plane? Or discreet?
Then ask yourself about the niceties. Do you want active noise-cancellation? A control app? Touch-controls? And are you such a frequent (or long-haul) traveller that battery life comes into the equation? Once you know the answers to these questions, your ideal Bose headphones are sure to reveal themselves…