Bose’s New Headphones Are Exactly What You’d Expect From Bose

Bose’s New Headphones Are Exactly What You’d Expect From Bose
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

The Bose QuietComfort 35 and 35 II are top-selling noise-cancelling headphones. If you look around a crowded plane, you’ll certainly spot more than a few, and there’s good reason for that — they’re comfortable and damn good at blocking out the world around you. So when I say the QuietComfort 45 doesn’t really change much, it’s a good thing.

It can also be a bad thing, depending on what you want in a pair of wireless headphones. The updates this time around are about modernising the QC 35’s formula, not revolutionising it. That means Bose has kept some of the headphones’ quirks, and put simplicity above all else. After a few weeks of testing, I can say that the QC 45 gets it right the majority of the time. But when it doesn’t? It feels like a missed opportunity.

A Familiar Design

The Bose QC 45 is nearly identical to its predecessor, and at a glance, you’d easily mistake it for a pair of Sony WH-1000XM4. The main design change this time around is the ear cups are no longer pleated. In general, I’d say the QC 45 is sleeker, from the smooth padding to the look of the physical buttons. Unlike the Bose 700, the QC 45 folds up, making it an easier pair of headphones to travel with.

Aside from the pleating, another notable change is that the QC 45 now charges via USB-C. Huzzah. That said, it’s not a USB-C Audio headphone. If you want a wired connection, you still have to use a headphone jack and possibly, a dongle.

Bose Quiet Comfort 45

WHAT ARE THEY?

A refresh of Bose's iconic ANC headphones

PRICE

$US330 ($499)

LIKE

Comfortable. USB-C! Excellent sound (if you like Bose's sound signature). Excellent noise cancelling. Adds transparency mode. Improved battery life.

NO LIKE

No EQ. Some interference when you simultaneously connect multiple devices.

Bose isn’t switching up the controls with the QC 45 either. On the right side, you still have physical volume buttons, a multi-function button for music and call controls, and the power button. On the left, there’s a single button that lets you toggle between noise cancellation and transparency modes.

The QC 45 live up to their name. This is a comfy, lightweight pair of headphones. They stay snug on your head, but not so snug that your ears start to hurt, even during long listening sessions. Clearly, Bose knew it had a good thing going here and didn’t feel like tweaking the formula. But while that was a good choice for the overall design, there are some downsides to that strategy.

Good Performance, but Simple to a Fault

One gripe I had with the QC 35 and 35II was the lack of EQ settings. The QC 45 doesn’t have them either. It’s a curious omission since customisable EQ is something that you see more often on modern headphones and speakers alike. It’s also something Bose included with the Bose 700. Both headphones connect to the Bose Music app, so it feels odd to leave it out.

This isn’t a big deal if you like Bose’s signature sound, which is notoriously divisive. It’s got a “bright” sound but skimps on bass and the highs can sometimes sound too shrill. That said, like a lot of things in this space, whether you like Bose’s sound is highly subjective. For example, I listened to Mitski’s “Working for the Knife” on QC 45 and Sony’s WH-1000XM4. Did it sound a bit hollow and flat on the Bose? Yes. Was it drastically worse than what I heard on the Sony headphones? Nope. Likewise, I’ve been binging Exo’s entire discography on both these headphones. The bass-heavy songs definitely sound more lively on the WH-1000XM4, and you get a much richer soundstage as well. Punchy songs like “Electric Kiss” felt super flat on the QC 45. But to be frank, most songs still sounded pretty good. Audiophiles have been known to dislike Bose’s sound, but for the average listener, the Bose QC 45 will be just fine. It’d just be better if you had the option to tweak EQ to your liking.

No pleats, but hey, it folds. (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo) No pleats, but hey, it folds. (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo)

Bose may not be known for industry-leading audio quality, but it is known for its amazing noise cancellation. The QC 45 delivers here. I’ve got the world’s noisiest washer and dryer, but when I slip these bad boys on, I can barely hear it at all. The ever-present hum of my AC and refrigerator also fades away. I’m not sure any noise cancellation is good enough to block out my husband’s Zoom calls or a needy cat who wants to be fed, though if you add music to the mix, you can block out nearly everything. In my testing, the ANC was on par with the WH-1000XM4. The Bose NC 700 can get a smidge quieter, but at this point, we’re splitting hairs.

The thing is, once again Bose opts for simplicity here. You can only switch between one noise cancellation and transparency mode — they’re not adjustable. You also can’t turn noise-cancellation off, so you’re stuck in one mode or the other. Conversely, the NC 700 lets you choose between 10 levels of noise cancellation, and has a button that lets you toggle between zero, half, and maximum noise cancellation. There’s also no fancy auto-switching between modes here. The WH-1000XM4 will switch to transparency mode when it detects you’re speaking, but you have to do that manually with the QC 45. Again, this is fine if you prefer to keep things simple.

Battery life is also great. Bose has bumped battery life up to 24 hours. In real-life testing, it lasted me over a week of daily use (2-3 hours) before I needed to charge. Bose also said you should be able to get up to three hours of playback in 15 minutes of charging. I tested that out, and in 15 minutes went from 10% battery up to 50%. Not too shabby. That’s also important since you can’t listen use the headphones while charging unless you use a wired connection. You get more battery life here than with the NC 700’s 20 hours, but it’s still shorter than the WH-1000XM4’s 30 hours.

USB-C!  (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo) USB-C! (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo)

Connectivity Quirks

The QC 45 did disappoint in some areas. The most annoying thing for me was connecting to multiple devices simultaneously. While you can do this, the QC 45 won’t always automatically switch depending on which source is playing sound. So for example, if I try to play music while I’m watching a video on my laptop, I have to hit pause on my music first. That said, if you get a call on your phone while listening to tunes on your computer, it’ll switch to the call and restart your music once it’s done.

That’s not terrible. At this point, I don’t expect wireless headphones to be super smooth at multi-device connectivity. What was terrible, however, was interference when I was connected to two devices in close proximity. When listening to music, the sound would frequently cut out before coming back several seconds later. It happened on calls too. The issue went away if I manually unpaired from one of the devices, but that sort of defeats the purpose of being connected to two devices at once.

Calls were alright, but not stellar. That’s a bit of a bummer since Bose added a fourth external microphone to improve call quality. While no one complained about how I sounded when I took calls at home, it was a slightly different story when outside. It’s breezy where I live, and though a friend I sounded “pretty clear,” she also said wind noises were definitely noticeable.

Last, but not least, there’s the Bose Music app. It’s not the worst app out there, but aside from reading tips on how to use the controls and setting up a voice assistant, you’ll never use it.

I regret to inform you, they're all good. L to R: Bose QC 45, Bose NC 700, Sony WH-1000XM4 (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo) I regret to inform you, they’re all good. L to R: Bose QC 45, Bose NC 700, Sony WH-1000XM4 (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo)

Bose or Sony?

For $US330 ($499), the Bose QC 45 is competitively priced for what it is — though the $US400 ($546) Bose NC 700 sort of muddies the waters. Having used both, I’d recommend the NC 700 if you want a greater degree of customisation and plan on using it mostly at your desk. The QC 45 is the better choice if you’re on the go and want to save a few bucks.

As for whether you should go for the WH-1000XM4 or the QC 45 — that’s a close call. It mostly comes down to your audio preferences. Having used both, I prefer the WH-1000XM4 but it’s not by a massive margin. Frankly, unless you hate how Bose headphones sound, either is a solid choice.

The QC 45 is a clear upgrade from the QC 35, which is more than five years old. If your beloved pair has taken a beating, then you’ll be pleased to know the QC 45 are a worthy replacement. It’s probably not that satisfying to hear that all of these headphones are pretty good at what they do, but it’s the truth. These headphones may not be revolutionary, but Bose knew what people would expect from the QC 45. It gave us just that. Nothing more, but nothing less either.