Image Credit: Billy Steele/Engadget

The technology also lends a hand with ANC and ambient sound. For active noise cancellation, CustomTune calibrates the noise reduction signal, which is noticeably better at blocking out voices and crying babies than the previous model. For transparency mode, QuietComfort Earbuds II can pick up loud noises and apply a level of sound blocking so they don’t startle you and damage your hearing. It’s an aspect of CustomTune called ActiveSense.

For Aware mode, CustomTune helps keep those desired ambient sounds “as natural and realistic as possible.” I don’t understand why most headphone companies are bad at transparency mode, Apple being the only exception. Most of the time, the sound is muffled and far from “natural”, since it is obvious that you still have something stuck in your ears that affects the volume and quality. Bose doesn’t beat Apple, but it’s a marked improvement. While you will still notice that you have the buds inside, the overall audio is clearer, which also helps you avoid shouting your cut order at the barista.

Sound quality

Billy Steele/Engadget

The biggest jump in the QuietComfort Earbuds II is ANC, but we’ll get to that shortly. However, you should first know that Bose has also come a long way in the audio department. Since CustomTune does its thing automatically and I haven’t found a way to turn it off, I don’t have a frame of reference for whether or not that split second makes a difference to the overall sound quality. What I can tell you though, is that the QuietComfort Earbuds II are a vast improvement over the first version.

I always thought Bose headphone audio was penalty fee. It never surprised me, but it did a good enough job of complementing the company’s noise-blocking capabilities. In the QuietComfort Earbuds II, the sound is much more dynamic and open. I notice it more in the nuance of the low end, specifically when it comes to kick drums and synths. There’s texture and detail to those bass elements – they’re not just generic hits. This is evident on tracks like Russian Circles’ “Tupilak,” Dua Lipa’s “Levitating,” and Hardy’s “Wait In The Truck.”

There is also a greater dimensionality to the sound of the QCE II. I talk a lot about open sound, a term I use for audio quality where things appear to exist in space rather than being a compressed mess. Here, the instruments stand on their own, creating depth as well as impartial tuning. The drums on Boz Scaggs’ “Lowdown” and the thunder and sirens on the aforementioned Hardy track are good examples of this, and the effect is further enhanced as details move across channels.

Gallery: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II Review | 16 photos

When it comes to active noise cancellation, that’s where the QuietComfort Earbuds II really shine. Sure, that’s to be expected with a Bose product, but the improvements the company has made from one generation to the next are overnight. The first QuietComfort Earbuds were pretty good at reducing distractions, but version 2.0 can completely block out the world, to the point of forgetting anyone else is nearby. In fact, I’d say this is the best ANC performance you’ll find in a set of true wireless earphones right now.

Things like vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, dryers, and white noise machines are completely canceled out. True to his promise, Bose has also improved his ability to block out human voices. Even if someone is on a call right behind you, that conversation is much less of a distraction on the QuietComfort Earbuds II. You’ll still hear them, but not as much.

call quality

For calls, Bose says the QuietComfort Earbuds II’s microphones can filter out ambient noise to keep the focus on your voice. Many companies make claims about call clarity that ultimately end with you still sounding like you’re on speakerphone, even if the headphones manage to reduce background clamor. Performance is slightly improved thanks to the Self Voice feature that lets you adjust how much of yourself you hear during calls, however your voice still sounds muffled.

Overall call quality is pretty lackluster here. It sounds like it’s on speaker and background noise like a TV or running water is clearly heard. This is another case of yes, you can use them for calls, but they’re not great and you’ll want to be somewhere quieter when doing so.

Battery duration

The noise blocking crown is safe.  Bose has vastly improved the amount of sound you can cancel on the QuietComfort Earbuds II, eliminating more everyday noise, including voices.  Sound quality is also noticeably improved, and the smaller buttons offer a more comfortable fit (and less awkward look).  However, there is room for further improvement as the company passed on basics like multi-point connectivity and wireless charging.

Billy Steele/Engadget

Bose promises up to six hours of battery life with ANC on and an additional three full charges through the case. However, it doesn’t support wireless charging, which is a major bummer in a $299 set of earphones. However, there is a quick charge feature that will give you up to two hours of playback in 20 minutes. During my tests, the results were just below Bose’s figures, and I managed five and a half hours before having to document the buds in the case.

the competition

The closest alternative to the QuietComfort Earbuds II are the ones that debuted last year. They’re also much smaller with great sound quality, solid ANC, wireless charging, and support for 360 Reality Audio. I wasn’t a fan of the new ear tips and the redesigned buttons are still pretty big, but Sony consistently delivers the strongest feature set. Plus, even at full price ($280) they’re cheaper than Bose’s latest, and we’ve seen the M4s that might be enough savings to sway your opinion. Despite all the work Bose has done on ANC, Sony’s flagship headphones are still better in terms of pure sound quality.

If audio is your primary concern, it should be your other consideration. The company is consistently at the top in terms of sound, with a blend of clarity and detail plus low-end punch that is rarely rivaled. At $250, they’re cheaper than Bose and Sony, but you’ll have to sacrifice best-in-class noise cancellation on the QCE II and the deep feature set of the 1000XM4.

To wrap

If supreme noise blocking is what you’re looking for in your next set of true wireless earphones, the it is the choice. With the updates Bose offers here with the help of CustomTune, the ANC is not only noticeably better than the previous model, but the overall audio quality and Ambient Sound mode are also improved. Sure, I’d like more than six hours of battery life and conveniences like multi-point connectivity and wireless charging should be standard fare right now. For $299, you’d expect some of those basics to be included and overlooked by Bose.

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