There are a few things you can bank on when it comes to Bose headphones. The first is (ANC) that’s been the best in the industry for years. You can also reliably expect that the company’s new set of cans over the course of a long flight or extended work session. Bose continues to check both boxes with the ($), but the marquee feature here is the company’s unique take on spatial audio. However, more immersive sound and a refreshed design, along with everything else the company is known for, comes at a higher price.
After debuting a refreshed design on the Bose 700 headphones in 2019, the company returned to its old aesthetic on subsequent models. With the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones, Bose did a mix of the two, but it mostly stuck to the traditional look of the QC line. The outside of the ear cups are where the blend of the 700 and previous QuietComfort models is most apparent. They have a similar shape to those on the 2021 QC 45s, but the physical buttons are almost entirely gone, more like the 700s.
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones
- Excellent ANC
- Improved audio
- Clearer transparency mode
- Immersive Audio is inconsistent
- No USB-C audio
Bose removed the three-button setup for playback and volume, instead assigning play/pause, skipping tracks and changing audio modes to a single multi-function control. Just below it on the right ear cup, the Bluetooth pairing button also handles power. The company moved the on-board volume adjustment to a touch-sensitive strip that you can glide your finger across to raise or lower the level. Bose also allows you to assign a shortcut to the volume slider that’s activated by long pressing on it. Even though it’s touch-based, the slider reliably recognized my thumb swipes.
Another notable design change is the headband and hinge. Bose gave these a refined look by using metal instead of relying entirely on plastic. The hinge is better integrated in the headband so there are no visible screws until you fold the ear cups in. Those ear cups can also rotate flat, consistent with previous models over the years. Even with all the changes, Bose managed to keep things extremely comfortable during long listening sessions. Both the earpads and the inside of the headband are soft and cushiony, and I didn’t notice the extra weight.
Software and features
All the settings are found inside the Bose Music app. Once connected, the software serves up battery life and a volume slider right up top, with quick access to audio modes, Bluetooth connections, EQ, Immersive Audio, shortcut customization and tips underneath. The app also has a media player that mirrors whatever you’re playing elsewhere, so you don’t have to leave to control tunes when you’re tweaking headphone settings.
For audio modes, Bose gives you three by default: Quiet, Aware and Immersion. The first is just active noise cancellation, while the second is full transparency. Immersion is both maximum ANC and Immersive Audio. Bose also offers the ability to create your own modes with an adjustable noise canceling, the option of wind block and Immersive Audio. Once you create a new mode, favoriting it will make it accessible via the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones’ on-board controls.
For Immersive Audio, there are three options to choose from. You can disable it entirely for the stock Bose tuning, and to save battery life, or you can opt for Still or Motion settings. The former keeps the audio at a fixed point and it is best for when you’re sitting. The latter allows the audio to follow you as you move around, using head tracking to keep the sound in front of you at all times.
In order to use that long press on the volume slider shortcut, you first have to enable it in the Bose app. From there, you can assign a handful of actions to the gesture. These include hearing the battery level, cycling through the Immersive Audio presets, accessing a voice assistant or playing content from Spotify. If none of those seem particularly helpful, you can always leave it turned off.
Sound quality and Immersive Audio
While the headline feature is Immersive Audio, Bose has also improved its stock tuning on the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones. Before I even activated spatial audio, I could tell the sound was considerably warmer and clearer, with more bass right out of the box. Overall sound quality is one area Bose lagged slightly behind the likes of Sony and Sennheiser, but the company is certainly catching up.
Bose’s take on spatial audio doesn’t rely on specialized content like Dolby Atmos in Apple Music or Sony 360 Reality Audio. Those formats have been engineered to specifically make the instruments sound like they’re playing around you. Bose uses a combination of headphone components and its newly developed signal processing for Immersive Audio. Thanks to virtualization, it works with any content and that makes it more convenient.
Like the dedicated spatial audio formats, the first thing you’ll notice is the sound is louder. Immersive Audio lends more overall presence to music, but there’s also heightened clarity and detail. Rather than surround you with sound, Bose claims to put you in the acoustic sweet spot, as if you were sitting in the perfect position in front of a set of high-end speakers. Indeed, the company achieves this as albums like TesseracT’s prog-metal War of Being have an atmospheric depth while preserving finer details – from the texture of the singer’s growl to subtle nuances in the drums.
At times, Bose’s spatial audio can make songs sound worse. On Tyler Childers’ “In Your Love,” the vocals are sharp and tinny, and the reverb is accentuated to the point it becomes a distraction from the rest of the music. And the vocals are now several notches louder than the instruments. When it hits, this audio tech is a joy to listen to, but because Bose is relying on signal processing rather than carefully engineered content, the results can vary greatly.
Another area Bose continues to improve is transparency mode. On the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones, the company offers noticeably clearer audio when piping in your surroundings and allowing you to hear your voice. It’s still not as good as what Apple manages on the AirPods Max (no one comes close really), but Bose is making strides. That certainly helps when you’re taking a call or need to be tuned into your environment.
Stellar noise canceling performance is nothing new on a set of Bose headphones. The company is consistently the best in terms of allowing you to block out the world and the same holds true with the QC Ultra Headphones. Constant rumbling from an air conditioner or white noise machine is reduced to barely a whisper. The headphones do a great job with TV sound and human voices too – even the lethal combination of a nine-year-old playing Fall Guys.
Bose promises “amazingly clear calls” on the QC Ultra Headphones, a claim that’s on par with nearly every headphone company these days. While I wouldn’t describe the audio quality for calls that way, it’s suitable for everyday voice and video calls when you just need to hear and be heard. It doesn’t sound like you’re on speakerphone, but it’s not pristine either. That’s better than what a lot of the competition offers and near the best you’ll get on wireless headphones.
Bose says you can expect up to 24 hours of use with ANC turned on. If you opt for both noise cancellation and Immersive Audio, that figure drops to 18 hours. However, during my tests using the latter option, both the Bose app and macOS were showing 30 percent remaining after 20 hours. So while it’s true that the company’s new spatial audio impacts battery life, the QC Ultra Headphones still surpass the stated numbers.
To help you conserve battery, the QC Ultra Headphones will automatically turn off when they aren’t being worn and no audio is playing for 10 minutes. There’s also a quick-charge feature that gives you two and a half hours of use in 15 minutes. That’s with ANC on and Immersive Audio off though. If you need spatial audio during this time, Bose says you can expect 30 minutes less battery life after the fast top off.
While Bose has done a lot to catch up, it still doesn’t offer the suite of features that Sony does on the . No company does and that’s why the M5 is consistently at the top of our list. The QuietComfort Ultra Headphones do offer more effective noise cancellation, but there’s nothing akin to Sony’s Speak-to-Chat automatic pausing or the ability to change audio modes based on your activity or location. The M5 also supports Sony’s DSEE Extreme that uses AI to upscale compressed audio and increase depth and clarity. The results are far more consistent than Bose’s Immersive Audio.
With the , Bose remains near the top of the headphone heap. While Immersive Audio is great at times, the results are inconsistent and can be downright bad with some albums and songs. Still, the default tuning is improved and puts these headphones closer to the level of Sony and Sennheiser sonically, mostly due to added bass, increased clarity and enhanced warmth. Bose needed to nail its new trademark feature to help justify the higher price, but it failed to do so. The QuietComfort Ultra Headphones showcase a number of improvements over previous Bose models, but they’re not good enough to dethrone the king.
Gallery: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones review | 12 Photos
Gallery: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones review | 12 Photos