Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds II get serious about noise cancellation

Bose doesn’t want Apple to hog all the limelight today. On the day Apple showed off its latest AirPods Pro model, Bose showed off the QuietComfort Earbuds II — $299.99 wireless earbuds that claim to deliver the “world’s best noise cancellation,” according to Bose’s press release. They’re available for preorder today in black (white is coming the first week of October), and shipping starts on September 15th.

I spent about 10 minutes with the new earbuds at the launch event, during which Bose barraged the press with a cacophony of sounds from everyday life (trains, planes, automobiles) to show off two new features: CustomTune sound calibration and Aware Mode with ActiveSense. It’s impressive; ANC always makes a big difference, but the leap sounded particularly huge. With “Quiet” mode activated, I had to make a serious effort to hear the sounds in the background.

The CustomTune process recalibrates each earbud locally every time you remove them from the case. It plays a quick startup chime, then calculates how your ear canal warps the sound and adjusts accordingly. Instead of relying on a one-size-fits-all ANC filter to work its magic for everyone’s ears, this one leaves the guesswork up to an algorithm. Both you and I have heard countless companies say that they adjust the sound to your ear anatomy, but this was pretty convincing.

The other new feature, ActiveSense, works in Aware Mode — Bose’s name for its transparency mode, which lets in outside sound and adapts the ANC sensitivity in real time based on the noises happening around you. Each earbud has four mics: one inside and three outside. Bose says this mic array can “sense, measure, and send unwanted noise to a proprietary electronic chip” to cancel it out in “less than a fraction of a millisecond.” I was impressed here, too. The environmental sound was much more realistic and a lot less noisy and distorted than I’m accustomed to. We’ll have to wait and see if the seemingly solid mic quality translates to good-sounding voice calls.

The QuietComfort Earbuds II use Bluetooth 5.3, though they lack multipoint pairing, which is an odd omission at this price. Bose claims that they can last for up to six hours with ANC on, and the USB-C charging case (no wireless charging) supports 18 hours of extra battery life. A 20-minute charge in the case can supply up to two hours of playback. They have IPX4 water resistance, which is good for sweat and light rain but probably not a downpour. The buds ship with three ear tips and three stability bands.

Bose needed to show off something good to justify launching on an Apple event day. We’ll need to spend more time testing, but in my brief time with the demo unit in a controlled environment, the sound quality was stellar in both the “Quiet” and “Aware” modes — enough that I’d consider ditching my over-ear WH-1000XM3s. While their unremarkable design might limit how much of a splash they’ll make today, keep it locked for our review to see if the QuietComfort Earbuds II can deliver on Bose’s hype.