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Best Bose headphones 2021: For audiophiles to athletes

The Bose catalog continues to expand with competitive offerings with its trademark ANC, and without.

Bose has been making headphones geared towards travelers and commuters longer than almost any other company. Its QuietComfort (QC) line was not only one of the first successful wireless headphone offerings, but it largely pioneered the active noise cancellation technology that has become such an integral part of wireless headphones today. 

Over the years, Bose has continued to create strong entries in the over-the-ear market, including modernized versions of its original QC set, while also expanding into new form factors like earbuds, truly wireless headphones, and even eyeglass frames equipped with speakers

The company may not have the largest product selection of any headphone maker on the market, but its current lineup includes both standout stars and some products that should be skipped in favor of better options. This guide will help you choose the best Bose headphones for your particular use case, and steer you to the best options in the catalog of one of the world's best-known headphone manufacturers. 

Bose QuietComfort 45

The original

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Bose

Bose became the name in audio it is today largely on the back of the original QuietComfort line. Launched in 2000, the headphone series has only seen five major updates over the past two decades. Those refreshes have continually improved audio quality, ANC capabilities, Bluetooth connectivity, and charging technology. 

The latest entry, the QuietComfort 45, brings with it Bluetooth 5.1 connectivity, USB-C fast charging, and 24 hours of battery life. Its array of microphones power its updated ANC system to provide what Bose claims is its "best noise cancelling." The company has also updated the hardware and software of the generation to provide a more personalized listening experience. Users can even use the compatible Bose Music app to apply Active EQ technology for additional sound profile customization. 

All of this updated technology comes in a package that maintains Bose's trademark minimalistic design and all-day wearability. The QC 45 also provides the option to switch between its ANC-enabled Quiet Mode for times when the user wants to concentrate, and its Aware Mode for when users want to be alert to the sounds of their surroundings. 

Ideal user: The daily commuter, frequent remote worker, or student that needs peace and quiet to get their job or studying done. 

Pros

  • 24-hour battery life with a 15-minute fast charge option providing 3 hours of playtime 
  • Build quality includes cast-metal hinges and glass-filled nylon headbands for on-the-go durability
  • Weighs only 8.5 oz to prevent neck strain from long-term use 
  • ANC Microphones double as voice pickups for cellular calls

Cons

  • Some may consider the aesthetics as bland or dated
  • Only available in Black or White Smoke

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 with Charging Case

Modern design, most customizable

bose-700.png
Bose

Bose seems very well aware of the QC line's iconic status, and has shown no intention of ending it. But, that doesn't mean it can't attempt to innovate on it. The Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are the most dramatic attempt to do this yet. Where the QC line's design continues to play it relatively safe, the 700 line focuses on forward-thinking features, a "modern, sleek, sophisticated" design aesthetic, and expanded customizability. 

Unlike the simple on or off options of the QC line, the 700 line offers a total of 11 levels of noise cancellation to provide the ideal amount of background sound for comfortable working or music listening. This can all be controlled via the capacitive right earcup, which can accept a variety of taps and swipes to do things like play/pause, advance music tracks, take calls, or even issue voice commands to Google Assistant or Alexa. 

The 20-hour battery life provided by the 700 line is almost as long as the QC line on its own. However, travelers can extend that even further with the unit's included Charging Case. This enclosure provides not only security for the headphones, but a built-in battery pack that can fully recharge their built-in power cell twice, adding an extra 40 hours of listening time. 

Ideal user: The fashion-conscious or tech-obsessed music listener interested in customizing their playback and on-the-go call experience to their precise needs. 

Pros 

  • Sensitive capacitive controls allow for complete interaction without uncomfortable pressure being applied to the head or ears. 
  • Included charging case lets you leave the cords at home during all but the longest trips
  • Can pair with two Bluetooth devices at once to provide easy switching between a laptop or tablet and smartphone. 

Cons

  • The $400+ MSRP 
  • Capacitive controls could be hard to access with gloves on
  • Slightly older Bluetooth version than the QC 45

SoundLink Around-Ear wireless Headphones II

Best budget option

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Bose

The SoundLink Around-Ear Wireless Headphones were created to be a less expensive alternative to the QC line, with a bit of the aesthetic flair of the 700 line thrown in for good measure. The more compact design provides a featherweight (7oz) form factor, while retaining the trademark comfort of the QC line. 

The biggest concession with this unit is, of course, the lack of any form of ANC. The SoundLink line does adapt its sound output to account for quieter or louder environments, and does include microphones for voice input. However, it does not combine these features to continually block out external sound in the same way its more expensive siblings do.

For some, these missing features may be dealbreakers. For others, the price tag which comes in at less than half of the QC 45 and 700 series is well worth the compromises required of them in their day-to-day use, particularly if they do the vast majority of their music listening in environments where the passive sound blocking of the line's earcups is adequate. 

Ideal user: Budget-conscious workers or students that typically listen to music or audio in quiet environments, or aren't bothered by a little more background noise

Pros

  • Lightweight, well-built design provides comfort and durability
  • Supports simultaneous connection to two devices
  • Low and High Volume modes adapt to surrounding noise 

Cons

  • Lack of ANC may be a dealbreaker for some
  • No Aware Mode to pass environmental audio to the user
  • 15-hour battery is one of the shortest in Bose's over-the-ear line

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

Best wireless earbud option

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Bose

Bose was by no means the earliest entrant to the truly wireless earbud market, but its first crack at the new product category is bearing out its decision to take its time and get that initial attempt right. The QuietComfort Earbuds bring with them much of the pedigree their branding would suggest. This includes support for active noise cancellation, something that's still fairly rare in the unit's diminutive competitors. The in-ear buds even support Bose's Aware Mode, allowing users to immediately hear their environment through them with just a double-tap of the capacitive controls on the outer casing. 

In addition to including the company's trademark sound-blocking technology, the QuietComfort Earbuds incorporate many features exclusive to high-end truly wireless buds, such as sweat and water resistance, replaceable and customizable tips for an ideal fit, and an included charging case that itself includes enough capacity for two full extra charges and support for Qi-certified wireless charging. 

The audiophiles out there may deny the possibility of these earbuds matching their larger, heavier, over-the-ear counterparts in sound quality. However, any perceived loss in fidelity is more than made up for in the minuscule (0.6oz total) buds' ability to provide a very, very similar listening experience to their much bulkier, much more obtrusive cousins. 

The ideal user: Anyone that wants the benefits of ANC technology without the bulk and weight of a full over-the-ear solution. 

Pros 

  • Qi-Wireless charging support for easy top-ups
  • Capacitive controls prevent painful ear pressure some mechanical in-ear controls can cause
  • Sweat and water resistance make them safe for light workouts or wearing in moderate rain. 

Cons

  • Bulkier than competing products without ANC
  • Changeable eartips may or may not fit every user's ears comfortably

Bose Sport Earbuds

Best fitness-focused earbuds

bose-sport-earbuds.png
Bose

The Bose Sport Earbuds are to the company's in-ear line what its SoundLink around-ear wireless headphones are to its over-the-ear line: a less expensive, smaller option that includes most of the same features, but lacks ANC. 

These buds are, top to bottom, fitness-focused, scrapping noise cancellation and slightly longer battery life of their multi-purpose siblings above for an even smaller and lighter form factor to provide better stability within the ear during the most strenuous workouts. 

Despite some compromises, the athletic buds include the same sound profile, same easy-access capacitive controls, and an almost-the-same 5-hour battery life. While they may not be ideal for loud environments, their fitness-focused nature means they'll see use primarily in relatively quiet gyms or on outdoor runs and bike rides. In other words, places where ANC may be of limited use anyway. 

Ideal user: The gym rat or runner that expects to use them almost exclusively while in motion, sweating, or undertaking some other strenuous activity that other options might not survive. 

Pros

  • Bose's smallest truly wireless form factor for maximum in-ear stability 
  • Remembers up to 7 Bluetooth devices for fast reconnects
  • IPX4 sweat and water resistance 

Cons

  • No ANC
  • No wireless charging support with included charging case

How did we choose these headphones?

Each of the headphones included here is among the best in their respective product categories. Whether they are noise cancelling over-the-ear cans, fitness-focused athletic buds, or comfort-centric truly wireless buds, they all shine when compared to similarly equipped and priced offerings. 

This last point is important as even Bose's cheaper options still come at a premium price. That's why it's so vital to make sure that the specific model chosen is the ideal selection for your specific needs. This is why we selected each of these entries here to best suit the needs of the specific type of user mentioned within their individual sections.

How does active noise cancellation work?

Since Bose was an early pioneer of the technology, and continues to boast some of the best on the market, it makes sense to quickly summarize how it works. Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) uses one or more microphones to detect the sounds heading for the user's ears. Those sounds are picked up, analyzed, and neutralized by the headphone when it produces its own soundwaves that are inverted 180 degrees from the structure of the incoming soundwave. The result is that the opposing waves cancel each other out, blocking some or all of the incoming noise from reaching the user's ears and providing far more external sound blocking than simple earcup padding could.

Will ANC block out (insert noise here)?

Generally speaking, ANC works best on consistent, ambient noises. This refers to things like the murmur of a crowd on mass transit, a nearby AC unit humming away, or distant construction noises. While more adept applications of the technology can significantly reduce the volume of loud, sudden noises, they are generally still audible, though typically far less obtrusive or annoying. In short, you may still occasionally hear that screaming kid or constantly slamming door, but it might not give you a headache quite so fast.

Is Bose's audio equipment overpriced?

This is an accusation that frequently gets leveled at nearly all makers of audio equipment. The main reason seems to be a misunderstanding in the vast, vast difference in quality that can exist within this single product category. Can those $30 earbuds play all the same podcasts and music as a $380 pair of cans from Bose? Certainly. But, will you enjoy the fine details of the musical instruments, or particular emotions in an interviewee's voice as much when piped through the likely muffled, flatter output of the cheaper pair as much as the richer, more accurate sounds produced by the more expensive option? That's up to the individual user to decide. 

Quality is extremely important in audio equipment, but you should never feel obligated to pay more for it than you see fit. Differences in hearing acuity and taste will greatly impact what sounds good to each individual user. Paying far more for headphones and speakers that don't actually improve your personal enjoyment is a waste of money, regardless of what your audiophile friend may tell you.


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