The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II are among the best in-ear headphones you can get for general use, and are surprisingly good for sports as well. They’re pricy and some features aren’t ideal for exercise, but these are a great choice to use both in and out of the gym.
- Best ANC available
- Great sound
- Comfortable fit
- Awareness mode too noisy during outdoor runs
- More wing sizes cost extra
- Not the loudest
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The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II are built for general use, rather than sports like the Bose Sport Earbuds, but since they are Bose’s top in-ear buds with the best active noise cancellation going, I was keen to see if they also worked well enough for exercise to be among the best workout headphones.
Overall, the answer is yes. While I had some frustrations around the fit and controls during exercises, the Bose QC Earbuds II are good sports buds while being amazing lifestyle headphones. As well as being great for gym sessions, I rate them as the best running headphones for cross-over use.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II: Price And Availability
The Bose QC Earbuds II are available now and cost $299/£279.95, enough to make even the Apple AirPods Pro 2 look cheap(ish) at $249/£249. The Bose Sport Earbuds are a cheaper in-ear option at $149/£179.95.
Design And Fit
I didn’t test the original Bose QC Earbuds, but the new headphones are around a third smaller and have more of a stem design than their predecessors. The fact that they’re smaller and lighter is good news for people who want to wear them during sporting activity, as is the redesigned fit system on the QC Earbuds II, which come with separate ear tips and stability bands.
You get three of each size in the box, and with the largest wing on I found that I could get a mostly secure fit for running and other workouts. A pack of XS and XL sets of tips and bands (opens in new tab) is available for an extra £9.95/$10, and I found the larger bands did make the fit more secure without significantly reducing the comfort. However, it still rankles that you have to spend the extra money for the bands given the high price of the QC Earbuds II.
All the same, it’s worth spending the extra money for an optimal fit. The buds stayed in place during runs and even sweaty indoor rides when I used the included sizes, but they needed nudging back into place at times. This invariably triggered the touch controls, which quickly became annoying.
Even with the largest available wing in, the buds are comfortable to wear for long periods, and outside of workouts I don’t have to adjust the fit at all. Some might find the stability wings a little uncomfortable for prolonged use, but they are really only necessary during workouts and it’s easy to take them off afterwards if you prefer.
The headphones have an IPX4 rating, which means they are sweat- and water-resistant. They aren’t fully waterproof like some sports headphones, but I have always found IPX4-rated buds perfectly fine for exercise.
For now both Bose buds don’t work independently – you have to have the right bud in to connect to other devices, and the left one won’t work by itself. This is apparently due to be resolved via a future update to the buds.
They’re Bose headphones and they cost 300 big ones, so you should expect absolutely top-notch sound quality. And the QC Earbuds II absolutely deliver. The sound profile is balanced by default and crystal clear. It’s an open and atmospheric sound, where each instrument and voice can be picked out and enjoyed, rather than being mushed together as on cheaper buds.
You can adjust the EQ in the partner app, and I did so to add more bass especially during workouts, but for the most part the neutral set-up is perfect for a range of music genres. I would like the top volume to be higher, especially for workouts when you want to really crank it up, but for the sake of my long-term hearing it’s probably for the best that it isn’t.
When you put the headphones in your ears a little tone sounds, which the buds use to measure your ear and customise the sound and noise cancellation to your individual ear. It sounds like magic and it’s impossible to ascertain how much of a difference it makes since the buds do it automatically when you pop them in, but I have zero complaints about the sound quality of the headphones.
ANC And Awareness Modes
The sound quality is great, but you can get other buds that sound as good. The ANC, however, is unrivalled among in-ear buds, according to Bose at any rate. I’ve not tested all other headphones available, but I can say there’s nothing else I’ve tested that is as good, though the Apple AirPods Pro 2 are almost as impressive in cancelling out sounds like trains and planes.
The Bose buds do an amazing job of that, but where they really shine is in blocking out higher-frequency sounds like people talking. If you want the buds that block out the world most effectively during workouts, runs and general use, these are the ones to go for.
However, the awareness mode was less impressive for me. It works brilliantly well in general life, allowing voices and other sounds to pass through, but when running outdoors it picked up a lot of wind. This isn’t uncommon with in-ear buds, but the windy sound makes it harder to hear things like cars. Like I say, this is a problem with most buds with an awareness mode, but it’s not a problem with the AirPods Pro 2, which cancel out wind sound effectively in both ANC and transparency modes.
You can also set up custom modes where you select how much noise you want to cancel out. I rarely strayed from the ANC and aware modes myself, and what I’d have preferred to have available is a simple ‘off’ mode for these features, allowing you to save battery.
Each of the QC Earbuds II has a touch panel on it, which you can use to control playback with taps and raise/lower the volume by swiping up and down. If you hold the panel on either bud you can switch between sound modes, or you can set it up to activate your phone’s voice assistant.
The controls work well during regular life and most workouts but are hard to use during runs, when swiping to adjust the volume is particularly tricky. I’d have liked the option to turn off the panel at times as well, since I would often pause my music by accident when adjusting the fit during a run.
The Bose QC Earbuds II last six hours on a charge, with another 18 hours of battery in the case. You can get two hours of playback with a 20-minute charge, which is not the most impressive quick-charge feature – the AirPods Pro 2 last an hour on five minutes of charging, for example – but is still handy to have. You can’t charge the case wirelessly, which is a surprising feature for them to lack at this price.
I’ve found that the headphones live up to the battery numbers given by Bose, even when using them at high volumes in ANC mode at all times. This is not exceptional battery life, especially given that the buds and case are both quite chunky, but it’s good enough.
Are The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II Worth It?
You can, of course, get great sports and lifestyle headphones for a lot less than the price of the Bose QC Earbuds II. One set worth checking out is the Jabra Elite 4 Active, which are excellent cross-over buds for $120/£120. If you want great sound quality at a lower price, it’s also worth looking at the Sennheiser Sport True Wireless at $129/£119.99, though they are a little chunky and uncomfortable to wear for long stretches.
However, if you can afford them, the QC Earbuds II are superb. The fit is better than I expected for sports, and while the Bose Sport Earbuds do fit better, the sound, ANC and battery life are all much better on the QC Earbuds II. The Sport Earbuds don’t have ANC, for one.
The Apple AirPods Pro 2 are serious competitors, though, especially if you get on with the in-ear fit during exercise. I found that the AirPods Pro 2 came loose, but I could fix the problem easily with cheap third-party silicone wings, though the downside is the AirPods then won’t fit in their case, so you have to put the wings on each time you use them. The Bose QC Earbuds II sound better and have more effective ANC, but it’s close, and the AirPods 2 are smaller and – for me – more comfortable.
There are more sports-focused high-end headphones like the Master & Dynamic MW08 buds and the B&O Beoplay E8 Sport, which also sound amazing. The Bose buds have better ANC, though, and I actually found their fit was more comfortable and secure than the MW08 buds, while the Beoplay E8 Sport headphones did fit securely but were uncomfortable to wear for long periods.
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
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