When Bose took the wraps off its second-gen wireless in-ear headphones - the QuietComfort Earbuds 2 - in September 2022, quickly rising to the top of the best true wireless earbuds option, the company said the release was by no means an iteration of the previous model.
Speaking to me at the launch event in New York, one of the company’s distinguished engineers explained how the QC Earbuds 2 were “a whole new generation” of earphones thanks to some new innovations in active noise-cancelling (ANC) technology.
Fast-forward one year and I find myself at 2023’s equivalent launch event in the same city, where Bose has, yet again, unveiled its latest flagship in-ears: the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds. This time, Bose claims its 'buds will deliver “the most realistic sound ever” thanks to some cutting-edge spatial audio tech.
What’s surprising here is that Bose doesn’t usually roll out an update to a flagship product line so quickly. The original QuietComfort Earbuds, for example, were released two years prior to their successor, in October 2020. They were also a little cheaper.
So the big question now is: are the Bose QC Ultra Earbuds just a refinement of existing tech? And do they bring enough to the table to warrant the price bump? I’ve pitted the brand new QC Ultra Earbuds against their predecessor to compare their features and find out.
While the QC Ultra Earbuds don’t look all too different from the QC Earbuds 2 in terms of shape and size, they do now sport a metallic finish, which gives them a slightly more premium look.
However, it’s on the inside where you’ll find most of the differences. The QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds have been upgraded and instilled with Bose’s all-new Immersive Audio tech (just like the also new over-ears, the Ultra Headphones), which the company says will bring a new dimension to users’ listening experiences. This is something I’ll discuss in more detail in the audio section.
Another big update comes in the form of improved far-end call quality thanks to some major updates to the built-in microphones. Here, dynamic microphone mixing and adaptive filters work together in real-time to prioritise which microphone on each 'bud is experiencing the least interference. They’ll select from a variety of noise filters to ensure your voice sounds clearer to those you’re calling.
Last but not least, the new earbuds’ stability bands have been given a slight update to ensure there’s no chance of them slipping off.
Price & Availability
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 were launched in late September 2023 with an recommended retail price £279/$299/AU$429 and are still available for that price on the brand’s official website.
While they’re not available yet, the all-new QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds will cost £/$299 when they hit the shelves in early October.
That means if you want the best ANC in-ear headphones Bose has on offer, you’re only going to have to spend an extra £20 in the UK and nothing extra in the US when buying the older pair.
Design is one aspect of the Bose Earbuds that hasn’t changed so much. Both the QC Earbuds 2 and their QC Ultra Earbuds successor boast the same size and shape (despite the image top of page looking a little contrary to that - it's all about the angle!).
The only difference is the finish, with the newer earbuds now sporting a more fancy metallic finish, giving off more stylish vibes.
Both 'buds also feature the same responsive touch controls and ingress protection (IP) rating of IPX4 - resistant to water only at a splash level.
Elsewhere, the earbuds’ stability bands have been overhauled and now feature an improved interlocking fit on the newer 'buds. This, Bose says, prevents them from slipping off, which we found could happen on the QC Earbuds 2 from time to time, especially if they were left to rattle around in a pocket, for example.
Nonetheless, I’m a fan of this new earphone design, which has proven to be super comfortable during use, even for longer periods.
Both the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds and their predecessor offer the same level of noise cancellation (ANC) `and Bose’s CustomTune sound calibration tech, which intelligently personalises audio and ANC performance to the unique shape of your ear.
However, this time around Bose has added a cutting-edge audio innovation in the form of Bose Immersive Audio for the QC Ultra. This, the company says, creates an expansive, multi-dimensional soundstage, making audio content feel like it’s “come alive”. It does this by making use of custom digital signal processing software to spatialise what you’re hearing by virtually placing it 'in front of you'. On the connected Bose app, you’ll be able to choose between two Immerse Audio modes: ‘Still’ for a fixed sound when you're stationary and ‘Motion’ ‘for sounds that move with you when you’re on the go.
Bose Immersive Audio is a major feature that's lacking in the QC Earbuds 2. So, if the difference in price between the two models is relatively modest, then it's probably worth opting for the newer Ultra Earbuds.
When it comes to battery life, the QC Earbuds 2 last up to six hours, with three additional charges provided by the case. So 18 hours in total.
You can expect the same from Bose’s latest Ultra Earbuds, which offers up to six hours of juice on a single charge. Although this reduces to four hours when Bose Immersive Audio is turned on, so it's between 12-to-18-hours when including the case's battery.
Both earphone models are charged via USB-C in their cases.
One thing the QC Earbuds 2 lack is wireless charging capabilities. However, Bose has introduced an optional silicone case cover with its latest launch, which is compatible with both the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds and their predecessor. Priced at an additional £/$50, this cover easily attaches to the existing charging case, enabling wireless charging without it being a standard feature.
The main difference between the one-year-old QuietComfort Earbuds 2 and the brand new QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds is the addition of a slightly more flash metallic finish and the integration of Bose’s fresh Immersive Audio technology, which will bring you closer to the action of whatever you’re watching or listening to.
While the update might not look massive, the sound improvement alone, I think, warrants the small difference in price (in the UK, anyway). However, if you’re already the proud owner of a pair of QC Earbuds 2, and they’re working perfectly fine, then it’s probably not worth forking out for a brand new pair of Ultra 'buds unless you’re made of money, or super realistic sound is just incredibly important to you.