It's been a very iterative year in tech. With few exceptions, big-ticket new releases in 2023, from phones to tablets to wearables to personal audio, have largely seemed like minor refinements to what we just got a year or two ago. The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, available for preorder now, are a prime example of this trend: for the same $299 MSRP as 2022's QuietComfort Earbuds II, the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds offer all the same benefits (chiefly, outrageously effective ANC) with a handful of new features that probably won't matter to most people. They're not without faults, and they may not be terribly exciting coming from the last generation — but they're still great earbuds.
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds bring precious few upgrades from the QuietComfort Earbuds II they're replacing. There's support for Fast Pair on Android, plus a new Immersive Audio trick that creates the illusion of spatial audio on any device. At the same MSRP as the previous generation, these are marginally better earbuds — but if you've got the QuietComfort Earbuds II already, you're not missing much if you decide not to upgrade.
- Battery Life
- 6 hours per charge, total of 24 hours with case
- Noise Cancellation
- IP rating
- Weight (earbuds)
- Dimensions (earbuds)
- 31.2 × 20 × 24.3mm
- Price (MSRP)
- Spatial Audio
- Earbuds battery life
- Up to 6 hours
- Charging case battery life
- Up to 24 hours
- Dimensions (charging case)
- 63 × 59 × 27mm
- Great audio
- Class-leading ANC
- Fast Pair support
- Bose Immersive Audio might be gimmicky, but it's fun
- Middling battery life
- Still no wireless charging or Bluetooth multipoint
- Intermittent faint ANC hiss
Price and availability
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are available for preorder from Bose right now for $299, the same price as last year's Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II. They come in either black or white. Bose says preordered earbuds should start shipping to customers on October 3.
Design and hardware
Coming from the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II, very little has changed in the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, visually. The earbuds and their cases are the same size and shape — they're so similar, you can actually use their charging cases interchangeably. The only way to tell them apart by looking is that the Ultra buds have new, metallic accents, both on their capacitive touchpads and on the case — the BOSE wordmark on the front is now printed on with a metallic finish, as opposed to the glossy plastic it was rendered in on the QC Earbuds II.
I like the design fine, though. The case is a little on the large side, especially considering it still doesn't support wireless charging, but it's small enough to fit in a change pocket. The earbuds come with three sizes each of both silicone ear tips and the little stabilizing gasket that wraps around the bud to help it create a seal in your ear, so it should be easy for most people to find a good fit. The flat outer surface of the short stem that sticks down from the bud toward your mouth is wide enough that it's easy to use the buds' touch controls, even when swiping to adjust volume up and down.
The QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are IPX4 rated, which means they're not any more water-resistant than their predecessors. It's still enough protection that they shouldn't get damaged from high humidity or sweat, but I'd be leery about leaving them in if I were caught in the rain. I think they're very comfortable, though, and with the default parts installed, they stick firm enough in my ears that I haven't ever felt like they might fall out, even on runs.
Audio and ANC
I was impressed with the audio quality in the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II, and it's the same story with the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds — I actually can't hear any difference. Same as last year, sound comes across rich and full, with a low end that's well represented, but not quite as thick as a lot of other options in the same segment; the sub-bass in Denzel Curry's X-Wing feels as big as it should, but doesn't overwhelm the rest of the mix. Higher sounds are detailed and bright — the jingly tambourines and acoustic strumming in The Shins' New Slang sound very clean and lifelike. Personally, I prefer my earbuds sound just a little warmer than the Ultra Earbuds do out of the box, but nudging the bass slider up a little in the Bose Music app's three-band EQ gets the sound just where I like it.
Noise canceling is top-tier. Switching back and forth between the QuietComfort Earbuds II and the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds in noisy places, again, I can't hear a difference in how thoroughly the two block external sound. For my money, though, ANC here is still the best you can get in earbuds. You know the score: low droning noise is almost entirely eliminated, and higher and more irregular sounds are quieted significantly. It's good enough that I'd be happy to take the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds on a flight instead of bulkier over-ear headphones to save some space in my carry-on. I've actually had the chance to use them during air travel already, and they performed great — though they still can't tune out fussy iPad kids entirely.
Bose has made a point to call out improvements to call quality in the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, saying that they do a better job at tuning out background noise than the QC Earbuds II did, so your voice comes across clearer on the other end of the call. I haven't noticed a stark difference here, either. Listening to recordings I took on the two sets in noisy environments, I can't tell which is which without checking. But the QC Earbuds II were already good for calls, and the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are at least just as good.
If there's any downside to the listening experience in the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, it's the presence of faint electronic popping and hissing in the left earbud. At first, I hoped the interference was a defect in my review unit — my QuietComfort Earbuds II don't have the same problem. But I've experienced it on two separate pairs of QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds connected to multiple audio sources, so if it's not a universal issue, it seems it's at least a pretty common one. I don't want to overstate the problem; the sound is very faint, and I don't think it'll bother most people. Still, it's a little hard to swallow in a pair of earbuds that costs 300 bucks.
Bose Immersive Audio
The headlining new functionality in the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds is a feature Bose is calling Immersive Audio. It's a kind of spatial audio that, when active, aims to make it sound like your music is coming from in front of you, rather than from directly in your ears. I'm a little torn about it.
With Immersive Audio flipped on, sound playing really does seem like it's positioned out in front of you, like you're listening to a pair of speakers sitting on a desk, rather than two tiny ones stuffed in your ears. There are Still and Motion modes in Immersive Audio. With Still selected, the earbuds track your head movement to create the illusion that audio is coming from a stationary source when you turn your head. On Motion, sound still appears to come from in front of you, but seems to follow your head movements, like floating speakers are tracking your ears very closely as you move around.
At its best, the effect is very convincing. Listening to the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds while working from a hotel on a recent business trip, with Immersive Audio turned on and set to Still, I felt the urge more than once to turn my music down so it wouldn't bother people in adjacent rooms — the way the earbuds mimic spatial sound can be that convincing. Bose also points out that sound doesn't naturally happen right in our ears, and that audio that appears to come from external sources feels more natural.
But true as that may be, headphones have been around for more than a century, and anyone who listens to music today is fully accustomed to the way it sounds coming out of regular earbuds. Recording professionals even wear headphones when they make the music we listen to — sound coming from just outside our ear canals might not be natural, but you could make the case that it's the way recorded music is supposed to sound. Immersive Audio also makes some media sound straight-up worse, introducing a sort of subtle reverb effect that's noticeable in anything with dialog — TV, movies, podcasts. With the wrong media, Immersive Audio kind of sounds like you're listening to speakers in a tiled bathroom, with sound bouncing off all the walls.
All that to say: Bose's Immersive Audio feels decidedly like a gimmick, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's fun to play around with, and because the audio processing involved takes place entirely on the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, Immersive Audio works regardless of what device your earbuds are paired to, be it your phone, laptop, Nintendo Switch, or whatever else. I can't see Immersive Audio ever being my default choice, but in my time with the Ultra Earbuds, I've enjoyed using it.
Battery and charging
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds offer middle-of-the-road battery life, at about six hours per charge with ANC active. With Immersive Audio turned on, that figure drops to about four hours at a stretch. Curiously, there's no way to listen without either ANC, Immersive Audio, or pass-through active — there's no plain off setting. I think this kind of battery life is generally fine; most people won't want to listen to music for longer than six consecutive hours, and it's easy enough to drop the buds in their case on your lunch break if you need to make it through a whole workday. The charging case packs three additional charges.
I'm more annoyed that there's no wireless charging built into the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds' case — it's USB-C only. Bose will sell a silicone sleeve for the case that enables wireless charging, but it'll cost an additional 50 bucks. That's no small ask, and pushes the price for the whole package up to a painfully premium $350.
In a way, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds' biggest competition comes from the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II. They're still available direct from Bose and from third-party retailers, and go on sale for $249 pretty regularly — and will presumably only get cheaper as time goes on. If both pairs are at their $299 MSRP, the newer QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are, of course, the better buy. But if you can get a deal on Bose's previous-gen earbuds, all you're really missing out on from the Ultra model is Immersive Audio and Fast Pair support. Audio quality, ANC, battery life — they're all just as good on the older model.
As far as contemporary competition goes, the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds' biggest rival has to be Sony's WF-1000XM5 earbuds. For the same $300 MSRP, the XM5s offer similar audio quality on SBC and AAC codecs, plus ANC that very nearly matches the Ultra Earbuds'. The Sony earbuds lack Bose's Immersive Audio feature, but have better battery life (eight hours with ANC to Bose's six), a smaller case that allows for wireless charging, and support for Bluetooth multipoint. They can also use the LDAC codec, if you're into that; the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds have AAC, SBC, and AptX Adaptive where it's supported.
Should you buy them?
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds offer the best ANC you can get in earbuds today, very good audio quality, and a fun and engaging gimmick in Bose's new Immersive Audio feature. In many ways, they really are excellent earbuds. But the space is more competitive than ever, and at an asking price of $299, they're not an easy sell — even compared to the previous-generation QuietComfort Earbuds II, which have most of the same features and are now regularly available for less.
Immersive Audio is certainly neat, but it's not a good reason to drop $300 on the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds. If you're looking to upgrade from earbuds that are a few years old, though, the QC Ultra Earbuds are a compelling premium pick: they're comfortable, they sound great, and their ANC still manages to edge out the increasingly stiff competition. It just so happens those things are also true of last year's QuietComfort Earbuds II.
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds bring precious few upgrades from the QuietComfort Earbuds II they're replacing. There's support for Fast Pair on Android, plus a new Immersive Audio trick that mimics spatial audio on any device. At the same MSRP as the previous generation, these are marginally better earbuds — but if you've got the QuietComfort Earbuds II already, you're not missing much if you decide not to upgrade.