Tuesday, October 4, 2022

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Bose QuietComfort II earphones: stepping up to quiet level 11

Now that Apple and Google are fully immersed in building their own audio devices with active noise-canceling (ANC) technology, it can often seem like the choice is between AirPods Pro or Pixelbuds Pro. But don’t sleep on Bose’s new QuietComfort II headphones. Bose has really stepped up its game in two specific ways: versatile comfort and radical noise blocking.

Bose is best known for its excellent on-ear headphones with active noise cancellation, but much less so for its headphones. These new QuietComfort II earbuds, however, blew me away with their ability to shut out the disturbances. Equally important is their new refined fit. They are less bulky and intrusive, at least to my ears.

Travel use may be how you persuade yourself to put up with their $299 price tag, but these headphones will benefit you in many different scenarios. From yard work to business calls, the Bose QuietComfort II headphones are a complete product with a lot to love.


the inconvenients:

Buy from Bose.

It turns out these headphones are both comfortable and do a pretty good job of soothing the world around you, demonstrating a seemingly rare occurrence of realistic product naming. Seriously, these felt like a significant upgrade over the previous model in both of those areas – fit and sound isolation.

The fit will be subjective, but there are several ear tips included in the box with different stability bands. These headphones should create a seal that helps audio quality as well as a lock for a secure grip while you move. While I probably wouldn’t buy these exclusively for working out because of the touch controls, I took them on a 6 mile run with no issues. They never came loose, even when sweating, and the Aware mode was good enough to stay informed of street noises.

Mentioning subjectivity, I found the audio quality while listening to music to be excellent. The low-end was thick and completely full, while the high-frequency instrumentation was present and clear. Some of the midrange was lost in the blend between the two spectra, but it wasn’t noticeable and the vocals mostly shone through.

Bose seems to attract controversy over its default sound profile more than other manufacturers, but in its Music app you can adjust a three-band equalizer or apply preset configurations. More important than any equalizer is the company’s CustomTune technology, which customizes sound and ANC performance for each individual listener. Each time you stick the headphones on, they take a reading to assess your specific ears.

CustomTune, from the listener’s perspective, is virtually invisible. Until I spoke with folks at Bose, I was a little unsure what was going on with the feature. I just knew that things around me seemed calmer and the music sounded good. It’s also what you can expect, without needing to know the details. The magic happens automatically, so you just have to enjoy the experience.

These QuietComfort II headphones gave me a deep punch on songs like Kanye West’s “Blood on the Leaves.” They also provided the space to get lost in the right kind of music. “Omen,” featuring Lyrah and by Holiday87 and the Knocks, is a prime example: Lyrah’s delicate vocals guide you through a rhythmic beat and pumping synths, and those headphones don’t limit the song’s impact.

There are four microphones in each earbud, which accounts for their truly phenomenal ANC performance. Out of the box, you can switch between silent and aware modes, but in the Music app, you can configure up to four modes with varying levels of noise cancellation strength. I never felt the need to be too nuanced in this area because I liked the flaws.

On the other hand, the Aware mode did a great job allowing sounds around me. ActiveSense, in Aware mode, will let noise in, but it will limit extreme noise, like a leaf blower. I couldn’t decide if I thought the ANC was too aggressive, but overall they did a good job.

The core of this product is exceptional, but it is not flawless. The touch controls continue to be a sensitive area, literally. Pause and play, skip a track, volume up or down, and toggle are all accessible by pressing your finger on the side of the earbuds. However, I never felt confident in activating the controls. Most of the time I was able to get the result I wanted using the touch controls, but not every time. Also, the extra energy needed to stabilize my finger for precise placement was cumbersome.

I wish these had real buttons like Jabra does on its Elite 5 headphones, or even dummy buttons like the pressure-sensitive ones on the AirPods. The QuietComfort Earbuds II controls were easier to use when I was sitting at my desk than when walking around. Additionally, you can customize a long-press shortcut in the Bose Music app, but upon launch, you only have two choices.

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