For those who follow Bose, it’s not much of a surprise that they’ve unveiled their new flagship QuietComfort Ultra Headphones ($429) just in time for the holiday shopping season. Leaked images of these headphones surfaced online months ago.
However, what’s quite surprising is that Bose, known for its gradual release of new headphone models, has also introduced a new flagship earbuds model – the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds ($299) – just a year after launching the QuietComfort Earbuds 2.
Additionally, the new QuietComfort Headphones ($349) are replacing the QuietComfort 45 headphones.
As for the release dates, the QuietComfort Headphones will start shipping on September 21 in black, white smoke, and cypress green colors, while the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones and QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are expected to ship in early October in black and white smoke.
All these new QuietComfort models, often referred to as QC models, are currently available for pre-order.
An improved design overall
Among these three models, only the QC Ultra Headphones feature a completely new “more premium” design, resembling a hybrid between the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 and the QuietComfort 45s.
Unlike the 700 headphones, the QC Ultra Headphones incorporate an aluminum yoke and arms that slide into the headband, giving them a durable feel.
They weigh approximately the same as the Headphones 700, at 252 grams, and are designed to accommodate a broader range of head types, promising enhanced comfort.
On the other hand, the QC Ultra Earbuds feature minor design refinements, including a new “metallic treatment.”
However, they maintain the same appearance as the QC Earbuds 2, but come with an “improved interlocking fit” with slightly upgraded stability bands that prevent movement.
The QC Headphones, while costing $50 more, retain the same design as the QC 45s and do not seem to offer significant upgrades.
The QC Ultra Headphones come equipped with both physical control buttons and touch controls for volume adjustment.
It’s noteworthy that they share the same drivers as the Headphones 700 but have different ear cups.
Bose is a champion in the Immersive Audio department
While Bose highlights that all the new QC models feature “world-class noise cancellation,” their standout feature this time is something called “Immersive Audio,” which is Bose’s custom version of spatial audio.
Bose claims that Immersive Audio surpasses special effects, creating a broader and more expansive soundstage, regardless of the audio platform or device.
Similar to other headphones with spatial audio capabilities, such as Apple’s latest AirPods, the QC Ultra Headphones and QC Ultra Earbuds offer two spatial audio modes: a “still” mode without head-tracking and a “motion” mode with head-tracking, allowing the audio to follow your movements.
During a demo of the QC Ultra headphones with Immersive Audio, the soundstage indeed felt wider. However, it remains to be seen how it compares to Apple or Dolby’s spatial audio, which will be determined when a review sample becomes available for direct comparison.
Additionally, I had the opportunity to listen to a set of demo tracks on Apple Music through the QC Ultra Headphones.
I was a fan of the Headphones 700’s sound quality, and the QC Ultra Headphones’ sound impressed me with its clarity, well-balanced audio, good detail, and deep but well-defined bass.
Given that the QC Ultra Headphones share the same drivers as the Headphones 700, most of the audio quality improvements are attributed to the more powerful chipset with enhanced digital processing power. Bose also includes a feature that optimizes the sound for individual ears.
Qualcomm Chipsets for the Ultras
Bose has consistently used Qualcomm chipsets in its recent headphones, and both the QC Ultra Headphones and QC Ultra Earbuds feature Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Sound Technology Suite (QCC5181 chipset).
They also support the aptX Adaptive audio codec, offering lossless and low-latency capabilities for Android devices and other devices compatible with aptX.
Android users benefit from Swift Pair, while Apple users get the AAC audio codec, which is also compatible with Android devices.
In terms of Bluetooth technology, the QC Ultra Headphones and QC Ultra Earbuds are equipped with Bluetooth 5.3, while the new QC Headphones use Bluetooth 5.1 and lack Bose’s Immersive Audio feature. The over-ear models feature multipoint Bluetooth pairing, but the QC Ultra Earbuds still lack this feature, although Bose representatives mentioned they are working on adding it to the earbuds.
Both Ultra models are LE Audio ready, meaning they can be upgraded through firmware updates to include LE Audio features like Auracast, which allows you to tune into audio broadcasts over Bluetooth, such as those from a TV at your gym. The LE Audio standard also includes support for the LC3 audio codec.
Better Voice Calling Tech
Voice-calling performance was a notable improvement in the QC Earbuds 2, but it still couldn’t match the voice-calling performance of Apple’s AirPods Pro 2, especially in noisy environments.
Now, Bose promises that the QC Ultra Earbuds deliver excellent noise reduction and voice pickup. According to Bose, “With the support of dynamic microphone mixing and adaptive filters, voice pickup is more intelligible in less-than-ideal environments.”
Bose had previously excelled in voice-calling performance with the Headphones 700 and QuietComfort 45s.
The QC Ultra Headphones continue this tradition, offering voice-calling performance similar to the Headphones 700, as per Bose representatives.
These headphones are equipped with five microphones in each earcup (four external and one inside the earcup) that contribute to both noise-canceling and voice-calling performance.
Testing the performance of both Ultra models in real-world voice calls will provide a more accurate assessment of whether they live up to Bose’s claims.
Oddly and somewhat disappointingly, Bose did not include wireless charging with last year’s QC Earbuds 2, despite it being a common feature among most $300 true-wireless earbuds.
Similarly, the new QC Ultra Earbuds do not come with wireless charging. However, Bose now offers a $49 silicone case cover accessory that can be used with either case to enable wireless charging.
The QC Ultra Headphones provide 24 hours of battery life with Immersive Audio turned off and 18 hours with it on. The new QC Headphones also offer 24 hours of battery life but lack Immersive Audio.
In contrast, the QC Ultra Earbuds are rated for six hours with Immersive Audio off and four hours with it on.
These battery life numbers may not be outstanding, suggesting that Immersive Audio may consume significant processing power.
What we think
While the QC Ultras may not represent massive upgrades compared to their predecessors, they are certainly welcome improvements.
They appear to offer enhanced sound quality and slight improvements in noise-canceling performance. Notably, the QC Ultra Earbuds may provide legitimate improvements in voice-calling performance.
The QuietComfort Headphones do not seem to offer significant upgrades over the existing QuietComfort 45s, which are priced at $299.
It’s likely that they will see decent discounts in the future. While they are cheaper than the QC Ultra Headphones at $350, most customers in this price range may prefer to invest in the extra $79 for the QC Ultra Headphones.
Further thoughts and opinions will emerge as I conduct a comprehensive evaluation of these new headphones. Stay tuned for more insights.