Bose stepped into the custom active noise-canceling game today, defying Apple’s AirPods Pro 2nd Gen reveal to announce its QuietComfort Earbuds II. Eschewing features unrelated to audio quality like spatial audio or, um, wireless charging, these $300 earbuds focus solely on custom active noise canceling, which supposedly builds a profile that specifically fits your ear shape.
According to Bose’s lead engineer for these earbuds, who I got to speak to during a press event where I also got to try the earbuds, the way the company normally does active noise canceling is to have as many people as possible try its earbuds, then build a profile that can serve each of them about equally well. But every ear shape is different, which means you lose out on some quality by trying to make the same profile work for people who might have vastly different ear canals.
What the QuietComfort II does instead is probe your earbuds by playing a specialized sound when you first put them in, and listening to the echo to adjust your active noise-canceling (ANC) profile accordingly. It’s always difficult to test how much tech like this is smoke and mirrors, especially since I wasn’t able to A/B test it at the reveal event in New York. But the resultant ANC was among the best I’ve listened to, even compared to Sony’s headsets and my own AirPods Pro.
Apple’s claims that the ANC on the AirPod Pro 2nd Gen is twice as good as the 1st Gen’s needs to hold water if the company wants to compete. While I had to take my Bose demo with a grain of salt given its highly manufactured environment, I could barely hear through my earbuds’ ANC in a simulated train, suburban neighborhood, or airplane environment. I just needed the slightest touch of music to feel completely isolated.
Even if Apple’s claims do live up to promises, the QuietComfort Earbuds II also come with an app that ensure you have a good physical seal before you start listening. The earbuds come with 3 different ear tips and 3 different support wings, which will help you find your fit. I didn’t get to wear them for long, but their Pixel Buds Pro-like design felt more comfortable in my ears than the bean shaped design of the AirPods. Regardless, it’s nice to get some help when I actually put the buds in.
You don’t need the app to get the custom ANC, though. Each earbud has an (as of yet unspecified) onboard chip that automatically calibrates custom ANC for you each time you take it out of its case and put it in your ear. For privacy’s sake, this information never leaves your earbuds.
We’re excited to try these buds out with more thorough testing down the line. For now, a few downsides do still present themselves. The worst is the price, which is $299. That’s $50 more than even the newly announced 2nd Gen AirPods Pro, and you’d lose out on some features. There’s also no spatial audio.
What’s more discouraging is the lack of wireless charging, meaning you’ll need to plug in your buds’ case every time it needs juice. As of now, the expected battery life for the buds themselves is 6 hours without the case and 24 hours with. Bose says you can also fast charge the buds for 2 hours of playback within 20 minutes, so long as you put them in the case and plug it in.
It might be a nitpick, but that charging case is also significantly larger than the AirPods Pro Gen 1 case. If you’ve got a purse or small pockets, these are a bit less portable.
Colors are currently limited to black and white, and you can pre-order today, with shipping starting on September 15.