Some of our posts include links to retailers. If you buy something from clicking on one, G/O Media may earn a commission. Because editorial staff is independent of commerce, affiliate linking does not influence our editorial content.

They're Too Big!

undefined
Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo

The Bose QuietComfort earbuds slip into my ears relatively easily. They connect to my phone, and the moment they do, that pleasing Bose brand of silence washes over me. I can’t hear the fridge’s compressor or the steady hum of my server—only silence. Then, because the Bose QuietComforts are pretty large, one pops out of my ear and the moment is ruined. The Bose QuietComfort earbuds accomplish nearly everything I want in a noise-canceling, totally wireless earbud, but their size keeps them from being extraordinary.

Advertisement

Apple seemed to shock a lot of people when it introduced the AirPods Pro with active noise cancellation. While Apple is absolutely not on the same level as Bose or Sony in the active noise-canceling earbuds space (although, who knows if that will change with the AirPods Max headphones), it still managed to cram a little ANC magic into tiny tiny earbuds. Sony has also made the attempt (even earlier than Apple!), though the buds were larger. Bose’s attempt at totally wireless earbuds with true active noise cancellation are undoubtedly the most successful at actually canceling noise.

The sensation of silence when using the QuietComforts feels identical to the silence I get from a pair of Bose over-ear headphones, or the Sony WH-1000XM4. One of the dog parks I go to is right next to the highway and obnoxiously loud. Most earbuds I have to crank up to drown out the noise, but the QuietComforts bring the noise down to a whisper—punctuated only rarely by the brrrrap of a semi motoring over the poorly maintained road. The morning magic hour genuinely feels magical with dew-covered grass, the sun rising over the buildings and peeking through the trees, and utter silence except for the music streaming from my phone.

But after weeks of regular use for every dog walk, trip to the store, walk to Lowe’s, and miles trekking through Brooklyn, I couldn’t wait to switch back to the AirPods Pro. It had nothing to do with the sound profile—the Bose reproduces a richer sound. Nor did it have anything to do with Bluetooth connectivity (the Bose work just fine here too) or microphone quality (they’re nearly identical for handling phone calls).

Advertisement

The AirPods Pro just fit a helluva lot better in my ears than the QuietComfort earbuds. It was honestly heartbreaking. I’ve been desperate for a pair of totally wireless earbuds that fit perfectly and also provide a great blend of noise-canceling and audio quality. The QCs tick nearly every box. But I also have smaller than average ear canals. My previous attempts at embracing truly wireless earbuds, like the Jabra 65t, have also been rejected for being too big.

undefined
Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo
Advertisement

The QuietComforts include three sizes of silicone tips with integrated wings to try and make fit better. However, because the wings are integrated with the tips themselves, they weren’t actually useful for me. They might fit your ears and this could may not be a concern, but generally, I prefer the tips and wings separate so you can mix and match to have a better chance of finding the right solution.

But the bigger problem is the canal that moves the sound from the drivers in the earbuds to your actual ears is fairly large. I’m not sure you could make a small enough tip that would be comfortable and still allow those to fit in smaller ears. Even getting a seal for some passive noise-canceling was borderline impossible and required constant fidgeting on my part when out and about with the earbuds.

Advertisement

But I’m told there are people with larger ear canals in the world. People these earbuds might actually fit. And friend, if you are one of these people, get excited. Because when the seal works, and you’re not in constant fear of the earbuds flying out and into the street where they are sure to be crushed by a comically giant truck, these things sound great. It’s some of the richest sound I’ve heard in a truly wireless earbud, and I rarely had issues with disconnections or annoying static. It did still happen enough to be noticeable compared to the AirPods Pro (which continue to handle Bluetooth connectivity better than any other truly wireless earbud on the market), but not enough to be a reason to reject the buds.

Chunky.
Chunky.
Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo
Advertisement

It’s a good and clean sound. The bass isn’t super heavy and distracting, and the highs aren’t so high as to be irritating. There’s nice detail in the music, but a bassline like the one in Billie Eilish’s “bad guy” has some nice oomph. The active noise-canceling definitely helps to make the music sound that good, though. If the QuietComforts had to compete with the real world as much as other earbuds do, I might not be as impressed by their sound.

Bose has a separate app for tweaking the earbuds. It’s not strictly necessary to use and I connected to plenty of Bluetooth devices, including an E Ink tablet, with zero effort. However, the app gives you super fine control over the noise-canceling and productivity settings, including how the headphones function on a phone call and even how much of your own voice you hear when talking to someone on the phone.

Advertisement

The earbuds are sensitive to touch, so you can touch the right one to activate your voice assistant, or the left to use a shortcut you program in the app. Given how often I had to adjust the earbuds throughout my day, I was grateful I could deactivate the touch feature on the left earbud entirely and wish I could have done the same on the right. I also wish the buds were better at realizing fingers were about to interact with them, as more than once I’d go to adjust a bud and get feedback from the microphones onboard. Reducing gain on the microphones when they sense a hand would be extremely welcome.

Advertisement

My last issue with the Bose QuietComforts is probably a minor one for most people: The case is too huge. The buds can last six hours on a charge, which is nice, and the case can give them two hours of battery life in 15 minutes and fully charge them twice over, and that’s wonderful. But all that battery life means the case is much larger than I expected and not the least bit pocket-friendly if you’re like me and frequently faced with tiny pockets.

But size isn’t everything (please shut up) so you might not be as concerned about the size of these buds or their enormous case. And if you’re not worried about the size of the Bose QuietComforts, then they’re a fine, and quieter, alternative to the Apple AirPods Pro. The Bose QuietComforts really will transport you out of the white noise of your existence—and I love that.

Advertisement

README

  • The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds work really well.
  • At $280, they’re priced similarly to the Apple AirPods Pro.
  • The Bose QCs sound better and have far more effective active noise cancellation.
  • Too bad they’re so large that getting a good fit can be a chore.
Advertisement

DISCUSSION

By
SoLongSoLongAndThanksForAllTheFish

Fit is an interesting problem that needs solving. I suspect custom fit is just around the corner, once we come up with inexpensive scanning or photo interpretation. Would be interesting to know if iPhone lidar is capable of small scale, and we might already be there.

I don’t know what’s wrong with my ears, but if I find something good I’ll still have one side suboptimal, or maybe they fit well but the sound is crap, etc. My first Shuffle and original Apple buds fit so laughably bad that I ended up sticking them in lengthwise, my head like a two-fuse bomb for Moose and Squirrel. My first attempt at a fix was a “no refunds” dead end, which I assumed was comparable to asking for refunds on underwear that rides up too high. I also had a similar and regretful experience with over-the-ear Sonys that I raged on, vandalized, and threw out.

I learned Apple, then, had an unsatisfied customer full refund policy, so after checking with staff and explaining I wanted to try for fit, she stood right beside me with her remote invoicing system while I bought, tried on, and rejected one after another, her refunding each in turn while I moved onto the next. I think I stopped around four because what remained appeared so similar, but I didn’t purchase any in the end. I don’t know their customer returns need to be shipped back for proof, but if not I hope they found their way into some charitable hands after the clerk saw how little they suffered.

I also surfed some custom solutions, like the stage stars, but it just felt too expensive for another experiment. I set that idea aside for if I couldn’t come up with a better alternative.

In the end I bought none, found some awesome Klipsch on sale online, and finished the fit with Comply foam tips for maximum sound block. The solution was still kinda hacky as they don’t attach perfectly, but it was a great combination of sound block, price, and sound quality. The Klipsch decision was a gamble, but I based it on some corporate Christmas gifts that were the best bud quality I’d heard at any price. I was correct that purchasing a couple of steps up from those Klipsch only got better.