The wireless ANC category is growing at an exponential rate and to say that it is difficult to keep up with all of the new models and review samples would be an understatement. We have recently covered some of the best new products from Mark Levinson, Sony, Sennheiser, and Bowers & Wilkins, and we have even more coverage coming in regard to Master & Dynamic and other brands.
One of the key brands missing from our list was Bose. The brand that audiophiles love to hate continues to dominate in the category and with products like the Bose QuietComfort 45 and Bose Noise Cancelling Headphone 700 — it is easy to understand why mainstream consumers think audiophiles are wrong.
As we mentioned in the review, the $379 Bose NCH 700 headphones are still in the lineup from 2019. They are the most commonly seen wireless headphone on airline flights and their continuing strong sales are rather remarkable considering the age of the product.
When Bose reached out about doing a review of the QuietComfort 45 (QC45), we requested both because we wanted to see how the two products compared; the QC45 has the latest generation of Bose’s ANC technology and it has become a very popular rival to the Sony XM5 and Apple AirPods Max.
The first product in the QuietComfort series was the QC25; Bose introduced these in 2009 and they were basically alone in the ANC category at the time. Over the past 13 years, the category has become rather crowded, but Bose has still managed to dominate and that’s no small feat for more than a decade.
Bose has also been very active and successful outside of the consumer side of the business; the company has supplied special models for the U.S. military, NASA, NFL, and other professional and amateur sports teams that play in venues where ambient noise is a huge problem.
The brand has not stopped working to advance the technology that makes their ANC work better than other brands and it’s odd that audiophiles feel so much resentment towards them.
We can think of a lot of loudspeakers that we would rather own than Bose, but their headphones do an excellent job at wireless active noise cancellation; reading through some of the comments on audiophile forums, it is rather obvious to us that many of these people have never listened to the Bose NCH 700 or QuietComfort 45 headphones.
The Bose QuietComfort 45 are the most recent addition to the lineup and we find it interesting that the company has decided to focus their latest upgrades on the QuietComfort series and not the flagship model. The QC45 are $329 USD and aimed at the mainstream consumer who walk into an Apple store, Best Buy, or shop online for wireless headphones.
At first glance, the Bose QuietComfort 45 look quite similar to its predecessor with a few fairly minor cosmetic differences. Mic placements are less noticeable, venting is different, and the USB port has been updated to USB Type-C from the earlier micro-USB of the QC35 models. Placed next to one another, most people probably wouldn’t notice the differences.
The QC35 II were very good noise cancelling wireless headphones but there were a number of areas where it needed to be changed and Bose clearly knew that it had to make them with Sony, Apple, Sennheiser, 1More, Master & Dynamic, and Beyerdynamic breathing down its neck.
The wireless headphone category is projected to grow to $27 billion over the next 5 years and with its market share starting to face some serious pressure — the QC45 needed to be a lot better. Has Bose succeeded or left the door wide open for the competition to eat its lunch?
The QC45 are largely plastic; a design reality that applies to a lot of headphones designed for travelers. Plastic is lightweight and nobody wants to wear a suitcase on their head while listening for 3 hours at 30,000 feet.
The hinges are reinforced with steel cores and most parts are screwed together rather than glued; there is more opportunity to replace a part should the need arise. The headband is spring steel and I found the clamping force to be medium to high depending on the size of your head; my rather large skull found them to be rather comfortable during longer listening sessions (more than 2-3 hours).
I found the clamping force to be a good compromise between comfort and how it impacted the effectiveness of Bose’s ANC technology; noise canceling requires a solid seal for it to work properly.
At the same time, physical fatigue can become a very real issue if the clamping force is too high. Cup size is also kept moderate, so while most ears will fit without touching the pads, there is not a lot of extra room and there is some heat captured as a result.
For myself, it never became uncomfortable, but it is noticeable; those more sensitive may find that distracting. That is one of the design issues when creating an effective pair of wireless ANC headphones and Bose have done an admirable job in this case.
The controls feature an on/off/pairing button on the face of the right cup, volume up, play/pause, volume down on the back edge of the right cup, and a single mode button on the left cup.
The bottom of the right cup has the USB Type-C charge port while the left cup offers a 3.5mm port for use as a wired headphone if desired. The play/pause operates as a back/forward control as well with a double or triple tap and is an easy system to operate once you get used to it.
The only feature I don’t particularly care for here is that the ANC can’t be turned off completely while listening wirelessly.
The only way to listen to the QC45 without the ANC/Awareness modes engaged, is to use the 3.5mm cable with the electronics turned off. Thankfully, the ANC does not have a significant impact on the sound quality or presentation. Bose must feel that the vast majority of listeners will use the QC45 with ANC engaged, because I can’t think of another reason to leave that feature out.
Bose have chosen to tune the QC45 with a somewhat shallow “V” which offers a significant upper midrange and lower treble boost. There is also a mild sub bass lift with a gradual decrease around 100Hz that ultimately bottoms out below 1kHz.
The mid bass has sufficient impact with some added emphasis that does not take away from the overall clarity. The lower midrange is slightly recessed sounding which does impact male vocals somewhat; they still cut through the instrumentation but are not pushed forward. I did still find that male vocals had ample note weight and color even with the slightly reserved presentation.
Guitar notes certainly have some edge to them but it was quite evident that there is some softening in that region which cuts back on the amount of energy and detail that one hears.
The emphasis in the midrange starts to climb rather quickly around 1kHz and it is quite audible around 2kHz; this tuning gives strings a lot of energy, but it can be too much and takes away from the accuracy.
Female vocals suffer somewhat from this extra degree of emphasis; there is too much energy in this part of the range and some vocals can sound etched or hard if the recording is already somewhat elevated.
I found that I preferred to use the built-in EQ to reduce the treble emphasis rather considerably which made everything sound more natural and open. The clarity and detail improved with this change as well.
The top end does not roll-off until after 12kHz and it is rather evident that the QC45 are designed for those who want a livelier treble.
Percussion and cymbals have a lot of energy and until I used the EQ to dial the treble back, the level of detail and presence was too much for me; each listener will have different listening preferences but the EQ is a handy tool in that regard.
Overall, with a bit of judicious EQ and reasonable listening levels, the QC45 makes a great travel companion; the ANC works extremely well at handling noise and without having an impact on the sound quality.
Those who enjoy listening to headphones at louder listening levels will find the Bose QC45 somewhat fatiguing and it is our advice to listen at lower to moderate volume levels.
The Bose QuietComfort 45 will deliver roughly 24 hours of playtime on a full charge; that level of playing time is also dependent on the level of ANC being used which will drain the battery faster.
The quick charge feature is rather handy; a 10 minute charge will let you listen for 2-3 hours based on our testing. A fully drained pair of QC45s require 2.5 hours of charging to deliver an additional 24 hours of playing time.
Bose has always been a leader in battery life with the original QC25 using a single AAA battery and getting nearly 30 hours of usable listening time from it. Today’s QC45 delivers almost the same battery life with a more environmentally responsible rechargeable lithium battery.
Bose have sold millions of the QC35 II because it never failed to deliver superior ANC performance, excellent battery life, comfort, and above average sound quality. The changes to the QuietComfort 45 were rather minimal and that has resulted in a pair of wireless ANC headphones that deliver a solid performance and excellent isolation.
The tonal balance will not appeal to everyone; the top end emphasis might be too much for some listeners and while it can be changed using the EQ, it certainly impacted how long I was able to listen.
Sony and Sennheiser have two excellent new models that are both more affordable and better sonically. With all of the major brands improving their ANC performance with each new product cycle, Bose now faces some stiff competition in the category. Are the QuietComfort 45 still at the head of the pack? We think that might be up for debate right now.