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"Bones, sinking like stones. All that we fought for. Homes, places we've grown. All of us are done for. And we live in a beautiful world. Yeah, we do, yeah, we do. We live in a beautiful world." Yes, Coldplay, Don’t Panic was my track of choice as I write this product review, feasting on the immersive sound that these Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones offer up.
At £450 (€500/$429/A$649) these Bose-beauties are their most expensive model yet, joining other ultra-premium headphones’ price points such as Apple's AirPods Max and B&W's Px8. And I’m back in the studio, the Matrix London, with Chris and the band. I must be. Martin’s unconventional, theatrical falsettos fall full-throated down my ear canals. The sound is so real I’m almost reaching out to catch it. Actually, you can pick them up for $379 on Amazon.com right now.
Shiver journeys into Spies to Sparks and I’m sat atop a swing bench at Curtain Bluff, a luxury resort in Antigua, gazing at the emerald ocean giving way to foam. The noise cancellation silences the water and the beats of Will Champion’s drum take me away. These Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones have afforded me the appreciation of an album I haven’t picked up in a while. The storytelling and raw emotion. I’m gazing at the gentle lapping of the ocean again. I know the gregarious Carib grackle birds and their guttural readle-eak and high-pitched, clear whistles are all around but I haven’t heard one iota and I’m on minute 25, Parachutes is almost done.
One minute, I think Kelcie wants to take a photo for the article - at least that’s what her moving lips appear to be saying. You get the point. Noise cancellation - exceptional.
And if you’d prefer to hear the rocks in your mojito clash when you take a sip, or want to be more present on your daily commute, transparency or ‘aware mode’ is at the ready for increasing situational awareness. There’s a mode for every mood. Depending on your activity you can create up to seven different listening modes to match. Think walking, commuting on train and tube, at work, at home, you can switch quickly between them.
According to Bose: “Listening modes are collections of headphone settings that you can name and access with a single action.
You can combine the following settings in a mode:
• Noise cancellation level
• Wind Block on/off
• ActiveSense on/off (applicable only in Aware mode)
• Immersive Audio setting
Three modes are provided by default:
• Quiet: noise cancellation set to maximum; all other settings off
• Aware: noise cancellation set to Aware; all other settings off
• Immersion: noise cancellation set to maximum;
Quiet Mode gives you full noise cancellation. Bose say these are “the quietest quiet of any Bose over-ear headphone yet.”
Immersion Mode blends full noise cancelling with the spatialised audio (more on that later) of Bose Immersive Audio. This is the mode I used whilst listening to Coldplay and it’s the realest sound you can get.
So I’ve been testing these Bose headphones for 6-weeks now. And what better place to start the review process than putting them through their paces on an 8-hour flight from LGW-ANU. British Airways choose to run older, rattling planes to Antigua. So this flight with BA was a great marker for 1. How good the noise cancellation is against the battling call of a patched-up aeroplane and 2. How comfortable they really are long-haul.
Achtung Baby. I started the flight with U2’s seventh album available in spatial audio with Apple Music to divert my “attention” away from the rumble-thump, creaks and beeps after takeoff. Later, with the cloudscapes below it’s the Commodores, Easy and I’m relaxing, not a hint of the hypnotic hum of this older 777. The QC Ultras are giving exactly what they’re billed - world-class noise cancellation.
Switching to transparency mode can shield you against sudden loud sounds. For me, it was an unexpected snore from the passenger reclined to the maximum on the seat in front all the while allowing me to accept my inflight meal, decline coffee and request a glass of wine without unknowingly screaming.
You can change the sound mode by pressing and holding the middle of the new touch-sensitive volume slider. Doing so can also trigger a shortcut or start up Spotify or Apple Music. Tapping once, twice or three times on the multi-function button will drive playback controls.
The power button also switches between Bluetooth devices, although, for a left-hander like me I would’ve appreciated having controls on the left, not just the right. Though, it’s generally agreed that there’s only 10% of the population who are left-handed. And when you consider how many of that 10% will purchase headphones at this price point, I can overlook this design choice.
The Bose QC Ultras handy in-ear guide advising you which Bluetooth device you are paired to (Jason’s iPhone - Kelcie’s iPad) as you press on through is a nice touch. And although I haven’t worn gloves throughout the review, the touch-sensitive controls work well with touch screen gloves but not regular gloves, I am told; Something to bear in mind if you’ve just shed out on a new pair to wear on your commute.
I’ve always liked the idea of over-ear headphones but pressure on my ears, and sweaty lobes have put me off. The QC Ultras lasted the whole flight, no complaints. The plush protein leather cushions envelop your ears in a gentle, embracing hug, while the meticulously designed headband evenly distributes pressure across your head. The inclusion of sleek metal arms not only enhances their sophisticated aesthetic but also reinforces their durability and comfort, making them the perfect choice for extended listening sessions, such as an 8-hour flight.
These headphones are smartly designed to pause playback when removed, enter standby mode after 10 minutes of inactivity, and power down after 24 hours of non-use. Additionally, they support simultaneous connectivity with two devices and feature Bluetooth 5.3 with SBC and AAC audio codecs.
Notably, they also offer instant pairing with Android devices and support Qualcomm's high-quality aptX Adaptive audio format, promising an enhanced Bluetooth experience with low latency and improved audio quality. The QC Ultra headphones also include a headphone cable for wired listening when needed.
Absolutely. The QuietComfort Ultra headphones are equipped with an advanced microphone system that intelligently adjusts to your environment and the ambient noises present. Following my initial outdoor test call, my voice was transmitted with exceptional clarity and natural tone, without any interference from background sounds.
The headphones feature a 'self-voice' function, which allows me to hear my own voice through the headphones in a way that avoids the common distraction and discomfort associated with feeling like your voice is echoing inside two cups. This feature also assists in monitoring and regulating the loudness of my voice. Eventually, wearing the headphones felt so comfortable that it was almost like not wearing any at all."
The QC Ultra headphones provide up to 24 hours of battery life when using Bluetooth with noise cancellation, which is respectable but falls short of some competitors with longer battery endurance. Enabling the immersive sound mode reduces the battery life to approximately 18 hours and the headphones require around three hours to fully charge via USB-C.
Regarding sustainability, while the battery is projected to last for over 500 full charge cycles, it is not replaceable by Bose. However, some replacement parts, including ear cushions, will be available for repair purposes.
Unfortunately, the headphones do not contain recycled materials, and Bose does not publish individual product environmental impact reports but does issue annual sustainability reports.
So, the QC Ultra headphones combine exceptional comfort with top-tier noise-cancelling capabilities. They excel in attenuating sudden and high-frequency sounds, making them stand out in distracting environments. At maximum noise cancellation, they effectively minimise distractions, ambient noises, and unwanted sounds.
These headphones are also Bose's first to support immersive or spatial audio, a feature that simulates a stereo speaker setup in front of the listener. This innovation significantly widens the soundstage and enhances the listening experience, especially for movies and TV shows. Bose's CustomTune technology adapts audio playback to the unique shape of the listener's ears, delivering impactful bass and clear sound across the frequency range. Android users benefit from aptX Adaptive support, offering high-resolution Bluetooth audio with minimal latency.
In terms of design, the QC Ultra headphones strike a balance between modern aesthetics and practicality. They fold inward, enhancing portability, and feature aluminium extenders that provide flexibility to the minimalist ear cups.
The protein leather-wrapped ear cushions and headband ensure comfort during extended listening sessions. The headphones incorporate intuitive physical buttons, voice activation, and wear detection, ensuring seamless operation.
Notably, the volume slider strip behind the right ear cup enhances user convenience, accurately registering slide gestures.
While the QC Ultra headphones offer a commendable 24-hour battery life, they still fall short of some competitors that provide even longer playtime. Quick charging, though convenient, is not as rapid as other models, with 15 minutes of charging yielding 2.5 hours of ANC playtime.
Priced at $429, the QC Ultra headphones are Bose's most expensive ANC headphones. Rivals like the Sony WH-1000XM5 and Sennheiser Momentum 4 come at a lower cost, making price-conscious consumers consider their options.
Impeccable immersive and spatial sound.
Noise cancellation could be the best on the market right now.
An intelligent adaptive microphone system is great at isolating your voice from intrusive background noises. Knowing you will be heard clearly and naturally even if you’re taking a virtual meeting outside, wind blowing.
Prone to finger marks.
No button controls on the left ear (if I’m picky).
The battery is currently not replaceable by Bose and is projected to last in excess of 500 charge cycles.
Battery charge time
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones represent a pinnacle of ANC and spatial audio technology. Their exceptional noise cancellation, personalised sound, and sophisticated design make them a top choice for discerning audio enthusiasts.
While their battery life and price may raise some concerns, the overall experience, comfort, and sound quality make them a worthwhile investment for those seeking the best in audio quality and noise cancellation at this price point.
In conclusion, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones not only elevate the experience of music and sound but also transform mundane moments into extraordinary ones. As I sit here, reflecting on the immersive journey these headphones have taken me on, it's now 4 pm, and the time has seamlessly slipped into the hour for afternoon tea in the library of Curtain Bluff.
The tranquillity of this moment, paired with the unparalleled auditory experience provided by the QC Ultras, brings full circle the essence of that beautiful world Coldplay sang about in the opening lines of this review.
Surrounded by the serenity of this luxury resort, the noise cancellation feature has allowed me to dwell in my private concert, making the lyrics and melodies of Don’t Panic resonate more deeply.
These Bose QC Ultras, though steeply priced, have proven their worth offering not just a way to listen to music but an invitation to live fully within each note. And, as I pack them away, take in the afternoon light and head off to grab a cup of decaf coffee, I can’t help but think how exceptional the sound they offer well and truly is.