Today, we’ve grown accustomed to the annual release of new smartphones, but the update cycle for headphones typically spans two to three years. However, Bose has broken this convention with the claim that their new product has significant improvements that warrant an immediate upgrade. Compared to its predecessor, the QC Ultra Earbuds now feature Bose’s proprietary spatial audio processing technology, referred to as “Immersive Audio.” These earbuds have received certification from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Sound platform and support AptX Adaptive Bluetooth technology. The only other improvement is a new groove on the earbuds, making it easier to attach the silicone stability wings.
These are the “significant improvements” Bose has brought to the table. Consequently, users who recently purchased the QuietComfort Earbuds II may feel disappointed that their headphones have been quickly superseded. Part of the frustration stems from Bose’s initial promise to add AptX Bluetooth audio support to these headphones through firmware updates, which has yet to materialize. Some users believe that Bose’s rapid release of the new QC Ultra Earbuds implies that the company has abandoned further upgrades for the older models. However, Bose spokesperson Joanne Berthiaume assures that the promised features will eventually be rolled out through software updates later this year.
At its core, the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds offer the same sound quality, six hours of battery life, IPX4 waterproof rating, and active noise cancellation as their predecessor. Regarding ANC, it remains top-notch, with Bose outperforming Sony, Apple, and all other competitors in reducing external noise. Bose’s headphones excel in noise reduction, unmatched by any other. Bose’s transparency mode is also impressive; when “ActiveSense” is enabled in the settings, Bose’s headphones adapt to environmental conditions, similar to the new adaptive transparency feature on Apple’s AirPods Pro 2.
Sound quality is quite good as well. Each time the earbuds are inserted, users will hear an orchestral tone, which is used to calibrate the output independently for each ear. Bose’s tuning provides the QC Ultra Earbuds with high clarity, rich bass, and clear highs without any harshness. Moreover, Android smartphones with the latest Qualcomm chipsets should be able to take advantage of AptX Adaptive for low-latency gaming and high-bitrate music streaming.
In terms of general stereo sound quality, the new earbuds perform similarly to the QC Earbuds II. However, the main new feature of the QC Ultra Earbuds is Bose’s immersive audio mode, coexisting with “noise-canceling” and “transparent” modes. In the immersive audio settings, you can choose “still” mode, which keeps the music fixed in front of you while providing lateral head tracking, or “motion” mode, reducing head tracking to maintain the sound source’s position regardless of your orientation. Bose claims to have developed new DSP software that gives music more dimension and depth “regardless of the audio platform or device.”
Whether you’re listening to regular MP3s or songs with environmental effects on Apple Music, Bose’s approach is the same. Like its competitors, Bose’s immersive audio can be outstanding at times, adding depth to music. However, in some situations, the sound may seem a bit distant, creating a sense of artificial live performance.
Immersive audio significantly affects battery life. While the QC Ultra Earbuds can last around six hours in normal usage, playing immersive audio continuously reduces this to about four hours.
For improvements in voice calls, Bose leverages dynamic microphone mixing and adaptive filtering to provide relatively clear sound pickup even in less than ideal conditions. These technologies work together in real-time to determine and prioritize the microphone on each earbud with the least wind noise and select from various noise filters to make the sound clearer.
Currently, the new earbuds still do not support multipoint connection, meaning users cannot pair these headphones with two devices simultaneously. Furthermore, the charging case still does not support wireless charging. However, Bose plans to release a silicone case that will add Qi wireless charging support to the earbud case, and this silicone case will be backward compatible with the QC Earbuds II.
For users who frequently switch devices or use headphones with mobile devices, multipoint connectivity is a much-desired feature. Imagine effortlessly switching music from one device to another with just a few clicks or swipes, without the hassle of unplugging or re-pairing the headphones. This seamless switching experience undoubtedly enhances users’ convenience in enjoying music and video content. Additionally, built-in wireless charging can make charging more convenient and efficient. Compared to traditional wired charging methods, wireless charging eliminates the need to find the right charging cable and connect it to the headphones. Both of these features are highly practical and convenient, and addressing these areas would significantly enhance the user experience. Currently, Bose has only improved immersive audio, stability wings, and some enhancements for voice call performance.
Are the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds better than last year’s QuietComfort Earbuds II? Certainly, but the improvements are not substantial. Immersive audio is one such improvement, adding depth to songs that suit the feature but sacrificing battery life. Apart from that, other enhancements are minor. Therefore, there is reason to suspect that Bose could bring these features to last year’s QC Earbuds II through software upgrades.
So, this is the basic review of Bose’s latest noise-canceling headphones. If you’ve just purchased last year’s Earbuds II, I suggest waiting for Bose’s next headphones. However, if you haven’t bought a pair yet, you can go ahead and get these.