Bose’s new Ultra earbuds are better than the QuietComfort II in virtually every way – and they cost the same

Nina Raemont/ZDNET

As earbuds become more capable and packed with sophisticated features, it can be a laborious task to find which earbuds will work best for you. Choosing from different shapes, sizes, and capabilities leaves you with a sea of options.

Also: Bose’s QuietComfort Ultra are some of the most comfortable, best-sounding headphones I’ve tested

But the latest from Bose, the new QuietComfort Ultra earbuds promise improved noise-canceling, higher-quality sound, all-day comfort, and an interesting take on spatial audio, and may just be the all-encompassing pair that shoppers have been waiting for. 

I spent a week with the QuietComfort Ultra earbuds and took a deep dive into its very best features. Are these the top earbuds you can buy? How do they stack up against the competition? And are they worth the $299 price tag? I answer all of those questions below.

The QuietComfort Ultra earbuds, which I’ll refer to as the QC Ultra earbuds, come with Bose’s Fit Kit that includes three pairs of ear tips, three pairs of stability bands, a charging case, and a 12-inch USB-C cable. 

The charging case is quite bulky; It’s larger than my JBL Tour Pro 2 earbuds and my roommate’s AirPods (2nd Gen), but has a sleek finish and has a nice, reassuring weight to it. Scuffs and scratches are also very visible on the White Smoke case that the earbuds came in, so I’d recommend picking up the Black or Moonstone Blue colorways if you want your accessories to look pristine.

As far as audio performance goes, the QC Ultra earbuds deliver impeccable noise cancellation — the best I’ve tried yet — and robust sound. With the strong ANC, I was able to dig into my work by listening to my morning classical playlist and blocking out the noisy office chatter around me. 

More spherical than circular, the shape of the ear tip suctioned well to my ear, and I never had trouble with it falling out as I moved around. I appreciated that the touch controls on either ear were incredibly receptive, as other earbuds I’ve tried have had difficulty mastering capacitive touch controls.

Also: Forget Sony and Bose: These JBL headphones are my sleeper pick for best of 2023

One feature I especially enjoyed while listening to the QC Ultra earbuds was the different sound modes you can access through the Bose Music companion app. These buds don’t just come with a Quiet mode and an Aware mode. You can cycle through six audio modes: Quiet, Aware, Immersion, Commute, Run, and Work. In the app or by lightly pressing your left earbud, you can take advantage of pre-set modes that turn on or off specific audio modes based on your daily activities, like a commute, run, or work.

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds

Nina Raemont/ZDNET

Because I want to be aware of my surroundings during my subway commutes, I especially enjoyed the commute mode on the app. It offers some noise cancellation, so I can properly hear and appreciate my music but blends it with a distinct level of sound awareness.  

Also: Everything you need for commuting to work

Immersive Audio is Bose’s take on spatial audio, and the new feature is something that sets the QC Ultra apart from previous generations of QuietComfort earbuds. Immersive Audio creates a thoroughly fun listening experience by adding an airy, multidimensional sound to whatever you’re listening to. 

You can choose between “Still” for sitting or standing in place or “Motion,” which keeps the feature working properly while you walk around. It’s a cool feature and adds an extra layer of engagement to any workout or physical activity you perform with the earbuds on. 

Also: The best noise-canceling earbuds: Bose, Sony, and more compared

While listening to Dua Lipa’s Swan Song, I toggled between Immersive Audio and Aware mode to hear the distinction between the different filters. Amusingly, I found that every aspect of the song was more spacious and immersive (no pun intended) with Immersive Audio turned on. 

Though the immersive audio is a great feature, it can also be a battery drainer. By design, earbuds have a shorter battery life than larger headphones and speakers, as the internal electrical components can only handle so much with such little room. If you’re cross-shopping, the QC Ultra earbuds’ six-hour battery life is shorter than Sony’s latest flagship earbuds, the WF-1000XM5, despite both earbuds being the same price. 

Hand holding a Bose QuietComfort Ultra case

Nina Raemont/ZDNET

With the Immersive Audio feature turned on, the QC Ultra earbuds’ six-hour battery life quickly dropped to four hours, barely enough to get me through a workday. It’s not a big problem if you go through one to two-hour listening sessions at a time, of course.

One issue I have with the QC Ultra earbuds is that despite being equipped with Bluetooth 5.3, they’re a pair of premium earbuds without Bluetooth multipoint connectivity. Without multipoint, you can’t seamlessly switch the buds’ audio output between two devices, like your smartphone and your laptop.

Also: I was skeptical of these $350 wireless earbuds – until they knocked my socks off

Bose’s accompanying QC Ultra over-ear headphones are equipped with Bluetooth multipoint, and the company says the feature is on the way for the earbuds. Still, for $299, I’d expect it to be available right out of the box.

ZDNET’s buying advice

It’s clear to me that Bose made noise-canceling and sound quality a priority with the new Bose QuietComfort Ultra earbuds. For a pair of earbuds, the sound quality is top-notch, and the noise-canceling easily shields me from the loudness of car horns, train rides, and the many other sounds of New York City.

If you are looking for a pair of headphones that can keep up with your audio demands, the QuietComfort Ultra earbuds are the way to go, especially if you’ve been on the fence about the older, similarly-priced QuietComfort II buds.

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