STEREO GUIDE verdict
+ warm, pleasant tuning for relaxed listening
+ superior ANC for absolute silence when traveling
+ Bluetooh streaming and analog playback possible
+ 3D immersive spatial sound with head tracking
- No passive mode: Analog playback with empty battery only possible with USB power supply
Sound: tonal balance / transparency8.6
Sound: Bass / Dynamics9.3
Ease-of-use / Connectivity9.5
Even if you ask non-hifi experts for which products the manufacturer Bose became famous, the answer is usually: For noise-canceling headphones. The large version, with particularly effective noise suppression for airline passengers, established the success of the headphone division over 20 years ago under the name QC1 (Quiet Comfort). The latest version of the over-ear model, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones, is now in the stores. It is intended to replace the QuietComfort 45. The ear cups now look a little more elegant, with a concave flank. The design corresponds to what we know from the Bose Headphones 700 or some competitors.
The idea of canceling out ambient noise by adding an inverted correction signal to the audio signal in the headphones was originally developed for pilots. It was no wonder that the QuietComfort model name became synonymous with an entire segment, given the Americans’ many years of technological leadership. But today, other mothers also have particularly quiet daughters, namely industry giants such as Sony. Is even more efficient active noise canceling (ANC) enough of a selling point?
Hardly, if like Bose you are a whole lot more expensive than the competition in terms of list price. Accordingly, 3D audio with immersive sound circuitry, head tracking, automatic calibration based on the shape of the ear (“Custom Tune“) and improved voice quality and wearing comfort are the keywords with which Bose wants to take the lead.
A lot of useful features
Based purely on the data sheet, this is likely to be difficult: With 24 hours of battery life, the QuietComfort Ultra headphones are only in the good midfield. With 3D audio activated, the operating time is reduced to 18 hours.
Bluetooth is based on the latest 5.3 standard. Experience has shown that this particularly benefits the stability of the connection at greater distances from the transmitter. At the time of our review, Bose only listed the standard SBC codec and AAC, which is popular with iPhone users, in the technical data section of the website. Although contradictory information is circulating, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones have a Snapdragon processor from chip manufacturer Qualcom, which supports the aptX Adaptive Bluetooth Codec.
When studying the source options, we immediately came across the next inconsistency: USB-C is listed under “Inputs”, but the Bose QuietComfort Ultra definitely does not accept digital streams via USB cable. The corresponding plug is only used to charge the over-ear headphones. More on this in the next but one paragraph.
Analog sources are also heard
As an alternative to Bluetooth, however, an analog input is available with the 2.5 mm jack plug commonly used on older Boses. A corresponding adapter cable is included in the scope of delivery. This means that nothing stands in the way of operation in an airplane (additional airline adapter required) or on a laptop with Bluetooth deactivated.
It also allows you to continue listening to music when the QC Ultra Headphones have run out of battery. However, unlike many other Bluetooth headphones, they are not connected to the amplifier output of the smart device or laptop in passive mode. Analog playback via the supplied jack cable also only works with the handset switched on. Therefore, when the battery is empty, the USB cable included in the scope of delivery must be connected to a power source in order to power the QuietComfort Ultra’s electronics. Important in this context: This enables playback including ANC, but the batteries are not charged during operation.
The proprietary 3D process
When we talk about “immersive playback”, many people involuntarily think of channel-discrete surround systems with height speakers, such as Dolby Atmos or Auro-3D. Like soundbars, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra is advertised with this slogan, but Bose makes it clear that no discrete 3D streams can be played here and that the calculation of the sound field in height is carried out according to the company’s own blow-up algorithm.
This can be activated by switching the main operating mode (“Modes”) to “Immersion” in the app. Then the Bose QuietComfort Ultra transforms every input signal into a spatial sound field with its 3D processor.
What the Bose Music app can do
The renowned American brand, known for its user-friendly approach, remains true to itself with its Bose Music app. Inside the environmentally friendly headphone packaging there is a practical reference to the corresponding app with a QR code. I already had the Bose Music app on my iPhone because I reviewed the Smart Soundbar 600 and the QC Ultra Earbuds. Bose seamlessly integrates different product categories into the music app to enhance the user experience. It is important to note that the older Bose Connect app is not compatible with the QC Ultra. For Android users, the prospect of Google Pair is an additional relief, as the Bluetooth pairing process required to use the app is simplified.
The functions that can be controlled via the app correspond to the in-ear of the QuietComfort Ultra series. This means you can customize the shortcut commands that can be controlled on the ear capsules via switches and swipe commands (volume control) on the over-ears. This also includes calling up the voice control of the paired smartphone. And you can create your own scenarios and continuously adjust the intensity of the ANC for them. You can also choose between normal stereo playback and two different immersive modes. One (“Unmoved”) is a case for the couch. The other (“Bewegt”) – you guessed it – is intended for on the go.
Head Tracking for more natural listening experience
The difference between the two 3D programs lies in the head tracking. Thanks to a gyro sensor, the Bose QC Ultra headphones can track head rotations and ensure that the sound stage does not move – at least within certain limits. But we’ll come to that later in the listening test. However, if you use the Bose headphones outdoors on the street or during sports, you would completely overstrain the head-tracking technology. The result would be wild, artificial-looking shifts in the acoustic image. This is why head tracking is disabled in “Moving” mode. The imaginary sound stage then rotates in sync with your head – just as you would with ordinary headphones.
You could write a whole essay about the setting options of the Bose Music app. But we do not see our review as a substitute for the operating instructions. Therefore, only a few special features should be mentioned. You can customize the sound of the Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones with an equalizer. There are also some sound presets for this.
If you want to customize the name of the Bose displayed in the app to your own taste, you will also find a selection of suggestions such as “Dark Star”, “Black Diamond” or “Atom”. Relying on the promised 24-hour runtime, we chose nuclear in the hope that it would get us through the next winter without any power problems. The extensive setting options of the QC Ultra headphones even include adjusting the level at which your own voice is played through the headphones when making calls using the headset function.
Active noise canceling in practice
The recently reviewed new Bose QuietComfort in-ears already amazed with their extremely powerful active noise-canceling. I could place it directly in front of a Teufel Boomster playing at volume level 4 at room volume without playing music through the earphones and hear nothing but a slight whisper of the music from its DAB tuner. That was really impressive. But the over-ear went one better: at volume 4 there was absolute silence. Only at level 6 or 7, depending on the piece of music, could you recognize the singing very quietly. There’s no question that the Bose QC Ultra are the non-plus-ultra for bonus mileage earners and other frequent travelers.
But it’s not just the suppression of external noise that works even better with the over-ear than with its in-ear sister model. The inherent noise level is also quite a bit lower. The lower background noise of the ANC headphones should be an argument in favor of the over-ear, especially for classical music fans. In Aware mode, called “Perceptible” in the app, you can perceive your surroundings acoustically very well. The high-frequency background noise does increase. But compared to the waterfall noise of some competitors, this is absolutely fine.
Sound rating of the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones
Apart from the immersive 3D sound, the new QuietComfort Ultra headphones follow Bose’s balanced, pleasantly warm-tuned line. There were therefore no surprises in terms of tone. This sound goes down like oil and you can enjoy it for a long, very long time, which is a definite plus, especially for long-distance travelers. The over-ear sounds less edgy than the QC Ultra earbuds, especially in vocals, and also avoids their sometimes slightly artificial touch in higher vocal ranges. However, the bottom line is that the very homogeneous headphones with the mild treble are a little less spectacular than the in-ears, even in the bass. Bose is obviously aiming at a more mature target group here.
Be that as it may, the QuietComfort Ultra headphones reproduce the bass range voluminously and with a decent depth. But they lack that last bit of kick that makes music groove as dynamically as with the Ultra earbuds. On the other hand, they are more neutral in the vocal range and deliver a very decent transparency for closed over-ears. However, the difference between normal stereo and 3D sound is not as noticeable as with the earbuds. This applies both to the spatial effect and, on the positive side, to the lack of a slightly artificial flavor to the voices. The often slightly delayed or even misdirected tracking of the sound stage was similar in both models. You have to live with such compromises – especially if you don’t have an infrared transmitter like some gaming headphones to set the center of the stage.
All of these features together make the long-term headphone for mature listeners who simply want to use their headphones on the train or airplane to disconnect from their noisy surroundings.
Verdict and alternatives to the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones are among the most expensive over-ears with ANC and therefore have to compete with the audiophile competition. But unlike most of them, Bose focuses on the promise of maximum acoustic decoupling from the surroundings. Because when it comes to the last bit of resolution, the QuietComfort Ultra over-ear headphones give way to Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 or the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless. A cheaper alternative would also be the Teufel Real Blue Pro with similarly good ANC, crisper punch and greater dynamic range.
With its focus on the combination of ultra-effective active noise-canceling and innovative 3D sound, the comparison with the Bose QC Ultra earbuds is obvious, despite the different design. If you mainly travel short distances on public transport and listen to crisp pop, dance or rock music, the in-ears are a better way to let it rip and also save money. They are also easier to handle when you’re on the move.
Although the over-ear can be folded, it is no match for the earbuds in terms of mobility. For those traveling between countries and continents with Senator status, the QuietComfort headphones are the better choice simply because of the longer uninterrupted continuous operation and the usability on the cable with the in-flight entertainment – even if the destinations are not 200,000 kilometers away. In addition, the tuning of the over-ear is better suited to relaxed music listening.
Technical data Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones
- Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: 500 Euro
- Type: Over-Ear
- Transducer principle: Dynamic
- Weight: 250g
- Special features: active noise-canceling, 24-hour battery life, 3D immersive audio (proprietary process), app control, hands-free setup, USB-C input
- More at: bose.com