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Manufacturing quality, acoustic know-how, extensive expertise in active noise reduction. When it comes to consumer audio, Bose is a respected and respectable manufacturer. It must be said that in journalistic memory, rarely has a product from the brand been so disappointing that we cannot recommend it.
Bose is also a brand that likes to take its time. The proof is that its latest high-end headset, the Headphone 700, was launched in 2019. Even if the world of audio is not subject to the same frantic pace as a sector like smartphones, four years is still a bit long.
Almost taking us by surprise, the American manufacturer came out of its torpor at the end of 2023 by formalizing the new generation of its QuietComfort range. On the program, a pair of in-ear headphones, as well as two headphones, the QuietComfort and the QuietComfort Ultra. It is the latter, located at the very top of the manufacturer's food chain, that we tested for more than a month.
Like Bose, we also wanted to take our time. The QuietComfort Ultra competes head-on with a powerful duo composed of Sony's WH-1000XM5, released in 2022, and Apple's AirPods Max, available since the end of 2020. Two products that share, neck and neck, the title of best premium audio headphones.
Does the QuietComfort Ultra bring enough new features to shake up this pretty little world? This will be essential, because for its big comeback, the American manufacturer has increased the bill somewhat…
Bose QuietComfort Ultra price and availability
The QuietComfort Ultra headphones are available in black, white and light gray at a price of… 500 euros. Outch!
First observation, it's 100 euros more than its predecessor the Headphone 700. It's also 100 euros more than Sony's excellent WH-1000XM5. The QuietComfort Ultra is also more expensive than the Px7 S2e from Bowers & Wilkins (429 euros) and the Beats Studio Pro (399 euros).
No matter how much we search, in consumer audio, only the AirPods Max is “better” with its 540 euros.
A design in continuity (questionable)
The design of Bose headphones has always been easily identifiable. Which is rather a good thing, since it proves that the brand has its own stamp. The QuietComfort Ultra therefore makes no break with previous models. It includes these famous joints equipped with forks which allow the hulls to rotate 90 degrees.
As usual, Bose shows a certain simplicity. The QuietComfort Ultra is elegant while remaining discreet.This is notably due to the clever mix of its materials. Synthetic leather for the ear cushions and for the headrest padding, anodized aluminum on the temples and dense plastic on the top of the headband and on the shells. This triptych works rather well, however it is a shame that it is the plastic which is the main element.
Unlike its competitors, Bose's latest offspring is foldable. Which is not to displease us . So it can be discreet on a table or in a bag. To transport it with more care, still opt for its carrying case. Oval in shape, the latter knows how to be discreet in a bag. In addition to this cover, the headset comes with a mini-jack to sub-mini-jack cable and a USB-A to USB-C cable.
If the manufacturing quality does not suffer from any major defect, we were able to notice some small squeaks at the headband. In addition, from experience, Bose ear cushions tend to age quite badly . After a year or two, they shrivel and sometimes fray. You might as well be warned.
Luckily, it is possible to replace them. For this, you will have to pay an additional 35 euros. Finally, although we don't have much to complain about, we would have liked Bose to bring more new aesthetic features. Especially, after this long absence.
Always so comfortable
In this area, the American manufacturer has always been an excellent student. And the QuietComfort Ultra will not contradict us. Soft and pleasant, the large pads delicately envelop our shells without overloading them. Passive insulation is optimal without creating a disturbing effect, even after long use.
For its part, the headband is wider than on the Headphones 700, while its travel is really appreciable. As a result, all head shapes will be able to easily find an ideal wearing position. Additionally, the experience is comfortable when wearing glasses.
The padding of the headband is also of good quality. It sits delicately on the hair and there is no feeling of oppression. With its 252 grams on the scale, the QuietComfort Ultra is barely heavier than the Sony WH-1000XM5, which weighs 249 grams. On the other hand, it is much more discreet than the AirPods Max d 'Apple and its 385 grams. Whether for extended work sessions or for watching a film, this headset can be worn comfortably over time.
Finally, unlike its two competitors today, the QuietComfort Ultra has the good idea of having IPX4 certification. It can therefore possibly be taken for a jog since it is resistant to sweat and light rain.
In terms of controls, Bose has been quite clever with an effective mix of touch and physical buttons. Under the right earpiece, a button is dedicated to powering on, as well as Bluetooth pairing. Right next to it, another button is assigned to several actions. Depending on the press (single, double, triple or long), this button allows you to pause, move to the next or previous track or even change the listening mode.
Always under the right earpiece, everything happens here, a discreet, slightly raised tactile strip takes care of the rest. Via a swipe, it is possible to manage the volume and via a long press to perform an action to be configured according to your preference (voice assistant, Spotify shortcut, etc.). Once the gestures are memorized, the QuietComfort Ultra moves easily and instinctively without mishandling.
Ergonomic and complete, the Bose Music application is also a little treat to use with its tiles. Settings are available in abundance (standby time, multipoint, port detection, etc.) and the ability to create listening scenarios is pleasant. In this little game, the American manufacturer does as well as Sony.
In terms of connectivity, the QuietComfort Ultra brings two new features compared to its predecessor. Communicating via Bluetooth 5.3, the headset supports AAC, SBC codecs, but also aptX Adaptive. However, for the latter, your smartphone must be compatible with Snapdragon Sound certification.
Which is a bit excluding since this is not the case for the Samsung Galaxy, Google Pixel smartphones and of course the iPhone. Too bad, an overwhelming majority of music lovers, us first and foremost, will have to settle for an AAC and SBC duo. Especially since the headset also skips, temporarily or not, Bluetooth LE Audio. Which, in the end, is a little cheap for a headset at this price.
Finally, to avoid falling behind in the race for spatial audio, Bose is offering a brand new “Immersive” mode. Unlike the AirPods Max, the sources here do not need to be encoded in Dolby Atmos. Like a grown-up, it is the headset which takes care of the processing directly.
When listening, this mode is effective in widening the soundstage. The immersion is pleasant, even if the mid and bass spectrum inevitably loses precision. Too bad. With the option followed by head movements, we also notice some shifts on complex mixes. Double shame. Like its competitors, Bose still needs to refine its spatial audio recipe.
Good audio quality
Although featuring brand new 40mm bio-cellulose membrane transducers, the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones offer a sound signature quite close to its predecessor. Overall, the frequency curve is similar to a W. In this case, the three registers of the spectrum display a peak at a given moment, while on the rest, the evolution remains rather regular.
For example, from the first listens, it is possible to realize that the headphones surprisingly emphasize the sub-bass, or the beginning of the register. This gives the bass a nice amplitude and a chest that is not overwhelming. Which is rather pleasant, since the bass seems to come from afar. However, since they take time to deploy, they sometimes lack explosiveness. To fully enjoy his rap songs, you will have to play lightly on the equalizer.
On the midrange, Bose's processing is identical with a peak, this time, at the top of the register. Where most of the voices are. As a result, they are rather demonstrative and we have the impression of a real closeness with the singers. On jazz or acoustic pieces, it's a real pleasure.
Finally, the treble does not lack energy and depth. However, the peak in the middle, or even at the end of the spectrum, sometimes makes the sound a little excessive. The details are there, but certain instruments like the snare drums sometimes look artificial. As if we had wanted to force their hand too much. While excellent, the sound signature of the QuietComfort Ultra is slightly less versatile than that of the Sony WH-1000XM5.
Masterful noise reduction
Both a pioneer and locomotive of this technology, Bose has always been able to offer breathtaking active noise reduction on its products. And let’s say it straight away, this is still the case with these QuietComfort Ultra headphones.
Already, and it is important to emphasize it again, the passive insulation is excellent. By simply screwing with the headphones off on his head, a good quarter of the noises around us are already softened. And once noise reduction is activated, the result is impressively effective.
All the muffled and constant noises (metro, traffic, works, etc.) are admirably annihilated. And unlike many headphones, there is no drone effect in the background. On the mediums, it's even better. Even in an open space, human voices are perfectly attenuated. So much so that if we are addressed, even up close, it is obligatory to raise an earpiece to understand what our interlocutor is saying.
Once in a café, leaning at the counter, we were able to watch a sequence of espresso preparations on the machine in almost cathedral silence. For all nomadic workers, the QuietComfort Ultra is the ultimate.
Another big satisfaction, the “ Aware ” mode which allows us to remain, this time, attentive to our environment. The sound feedback is credible and the acoustic distance well evaluated. We can easily understand what is happening around us and guess where the noises are coming from. Particularly when walking in the street.
Finally, for calls, the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones attenuate extraneous noise so that it never spills over into voices. As a result, conversations are intelligible even in noisy surroundings and even when the wind is blowing lightly. Bose is at the top of his game here.
This is an area where the American brand has always struggled to be totally sovereign. It is clear that this time, Bose is level with the best. With a volume at 60% in AAC codec, we were able to last around thirty hours each time. It's strong.
Especially since the noise reduction was active all the time. In fact, it is impossible to use the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones in passive mode.Too bad, from excellent, the autonomy could have gone to gargantuan. Bose should perhaps take inspiration from Sony, which makes it possible to use its headphones with noise reduction turned off.
For charging, you need to organize a little in advance. Like its competitors, the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones need a relatively long time to fully regain their strength. We measured around 2 hours to go from 0 to 100%. For those in a hurry, know that it is still possible to enjoy the headset for around 1h30 with only 10 good minutes of charging.
Our opinion on the Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones
The continuity. After spending more than a month in his company, that’s the first word that comes to mind. With its new headset, Bose is not really changing its recipe. From an audio point of view, it's not really a problem as this headset offers a successful experience. For noise reduction, hands-free kit and “attentive” mode neither. Bose is once again displaying its technological know-how to the point of outclassing all the competition in these areas.
However, although comfortable, we would have liked this headset to be more daring in terms of design and ergonomics. The rare new features to get your teeth into are either restrictive (aptX Adaptive with Snapdragon Sound), or poorly mastered (immersive sound).
Finally, two small errors (no audio via USB, passive mode impossible) prevent us from awarding an ultimate score to this headset. The fact remains that the Bose QuietComfort Ultra is an excellent headset and a new premium reference.
A reference that is still a bit expensive. Getting in tune with Apple’s pricing schedule – the QuietComfort Ultra still costs 500 euros – implies an obligation. That of excellence at all levels.
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