There’s a reason why Bose is considered by many as one of the best audio companies in the world and maker of many of the best headphones and best earphones. Not only does it manage to cobble well-made and stylish-looking audio gadgets, but it’s constantly innovating to deliver features not yet seen in rival products.
That’s certainly the case for the brand’s new flagship over-ears, the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones (which many will abbreviate to 'QC Ultra', no doubt), which were unveiled at a flash event in New York on Thursday 14 September 2023. Replacing the four-year-old Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, they boast a fresh design alongside a host of innovative audio technologies.
But how do the new QC Ultra Headphones compare to their 700 predecessor? Can you justify paying extra for these new cans, and are they a worthy upgrade if you’ve already got a pair of the much older 700?
Besides a slightly different, perhaps more cumbersome design, the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones bring users a completely new audio experience through a technology called Bose Immersive Audio. But more on this later.
Bose has also loaded the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones with a fresh beamform array (antenna) that the firm says enhances voice pickup, ensuring crystal-clear calls in any environment.
Price & Availability
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 officially hit the shelves in June 2019 retailing at £349/$379/AU$599, which was about on par with most other noise-cancelling headphones of the type in this market at the time.
However, those older cans can now be picked up on sale for a bargain price of £199/$329/AU$499 - a lot less than the ‘phones original recommended retail price.
While the new model isn't available at the time of writing, the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones will cost £449/$429 when they hit the shelves in early October.
So, if you want to buy the best headphones that Bose has to offer, you’re going to have to fork out an extra £250/$130 on the Ultra compared to their predecessor.
On the other hand, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are over four years old now, so bear in mind that you will be missing out on quite a lot of fresh tech if you opt for the older model instead of the brand-new Ultras.
The QC Ultra Headphones sport the same top-quality build and minimalist design as their predecessor but they are slightly more clunky-looking, with thicker bands connecting the left and right earcups.
While not as slim as previous models, the QC Ultra Headphones still maintain an overall sleek design and are able to fold flat into a carry case, which is included.
Controls on the earcups have been designed to make operating the headphones as easy as possible. You’ll find physical controls for power, volume, mode toggling, and playback control.
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700’s controls are of the touch-control variety. Controls include double-tap for play/pause, swipe for volume adjustment and track navigation, and tap and hold for battery status (although these can be customised in the Bose app). There are also three low-profile buttons: on/off/Bluetooth and smart assistant controls on the right, and noise cancellation presets on the left.
Both pairs of headphones also feature LED indicators, a 2.5mm jack for wired connection, and USB-C charging.
As mentioned earlier, the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones deliver a completely new audio experience through its Bose Immersive Audio tech.
This standout innovation is all about creating a more expansive, multi-dimensional soundstage for more realistic and thus immersive listening. Utilising custom signal processing, the audio feature can be switched off to preserve battery - but when it’s on it will work to position sound 'in front of you' for an authentic audio experience, which will work especially well when watching movies and other video content.
Bose Immersive Audio offers two modes: 'Still' for fixed sound and 'Motion' for on-the-go. This technology collaborates with Bose’s CustomTune tech, optimising sound and noise-cancellation to individual ears.
The tech also works in conjunction with Bose’s CustomTune - a tech the brand launched last year in its QuietComfort Earbuds 2 that fine-tune both sound and noise-cancellation to the shape of every individual ear.
The two technologies work together to deliver enveloping noise-cancelling sound that’s fully optimised for your ears.
As for the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, you’ll not find Bose’s Immersive Audio but they do sport a pretty wide soundstage, which is particularly noticeable during movie and show playback, offering excellent sound imaging.
The older cans also feature controllable ANC with 11 settings, including conversation mode, effectively blocking outside noise.
When it comes to battery life, the QC Ultra Headphones promise up to 24 hours of battery life on a single charge (while Bose Immersive Audio is turned off), and up to 18 hours (when it’s turned on).
The Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 offer a little less, providing 20 hours of juice after a full charge, as per our review.
However, we’ve not had the chance to test the Ultra Headphones’ battery performance yet. It might be that we find they don’t live up to Bose’s promises when conducting a full review.
If you’re in the market for either of Bose’s flagship over-ear headphones, there are a fair few things to consider.Do you opt for a much cheaper yet significantly older device over a much more innovative and feature-rich offering for almost double the price?
In my opinion, it depends entirely on how much you value your audio experience. If you’re looking for a decent pair of noise-cancelling cans but not too fussed about fancy spatial audio experiences then, of course, go for the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. But if you’re desperate to have the latest and greatest in personal audio tech and don’t care how much it costs to get it, then you know what to do…