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Home / Reviews / Audio / Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones review: deeply impressive, deeply expensive

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones review: deeply impressive, deeply expensive

Bose has given its range-topping wireless over-ears the ‘Ultra’ treatment

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones

Stuff Verdict

They sound brilliant, cancel noise like champions and they’re comfortable, too. But the look and feel isn’t great and they are bafflingly expensive compared to the competition.


  • Deeply impressive noise-cancellation
  • Detailed, balanced and confident sound
  • Light and comfortable to wear


  • Bafflingly expensive
  • Look and feel doesn’t match the asking price
  • Not every song suits being ‘immersive’


If the name ‘Bose’ doesn’t come up if you’re researching new wireless noise-cancelling headphones, you need to change your search terms. I’m not the only person out there who’ll tell you that Bose knows exactly what’s what when it comes to turning out headphones able to deal with all the external noise that might distract you from your listening.

But I’m the one who’s sure he’s about to do it again. Bose has given its range-topping wireless over-ears the ‘Ultra’ treatment, and is charging a high price accordingly. So what, apart from the noise-cancellation is Ultra about them?  

How we test headphones

Every pair of earphones and headphones reviewed on Stuff is used for a minimum of a week’s worth of daily listening. We use a playlist of test tracks made up of multiple genres to assess sound, and use our years of experience to compare to other models. Manufacturers have no visibility on reviews before they appear online, and we never accept payment to feature products.

Find out more about how we test and rate products.

Design and build: the lightweight contender

Your perception of the design of the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones will depend on whether you prioritise comfort ahead of desirability in your wireless headphones. Because there’s no two ways about it: for a pair of headphones at an unblinkingly premium price, the QuietComfort Ultra don’t look or feel anything special.

That’s not to suggest there’s anything wrong with the way they’re put together, you understand – this is Bose we’re talking about, after all. But while the combination of a lot of plastic, a quantity of nicely padded synthetic leather and a touch of aluminium helps keep weight down to a trifling 250g, it also means perceived value is lacking somewhat.

The fact that the clamping force and hanger arrangement is so well judged that the Bose stay comfortable for hours at a time is just as important, of course, as is the fact that the amount of articulation in the frame means they’ll fold usefully small. But if you’re hoping to be made to feel good about your purchase, you’ll have to concentrate on some other aspect of these headphones – no matter if you choose the black, white or (Bose website exclusive) sandstone finish, your nice new QuietComfort Ultra look unremarkable. 

Features: get immersed

The QC Ultra use Bluetooth 5.3 for wireless connectivity and, as well as having multipoint connectivity, the Bose are compatible with SBC, AAC and aptX Adaptive codecs. There’s a 2.5mm socket on the left earcup, near the USB-C socket used for charging the battery, and the 2.5mm – 3.5mm cable in the compact carry-case allows the headphones to be wired to a source as well as used wirelessly. 

As is the company’s standard practice, details of the dynamic driver that delivers sound are thin on the ground. It seems the driver arrangement has been carried over unchanged from the outgoing Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, though, so all the stuff we didn’t know about that driver design applies here too.

The driver does at least have a whole new feature to deal with, though. Bose is the latest company to attempt to emulate the ‘spatial audio’ concept popularised by Dolby Atmos – it calls this feature ‘Immersive Audio’, and it intends to consistently put you in the acoustic sweet spot of a spatial presentation rather than the tedious old ‘left’ and ‘right’ of stereo. Options for ‘immersive audio’ extend to ‘off’, ‘still’ (which adjust sound in response to your head movements) and ‘motion’ (which fixes the spatial audio effect in position).

‘Off’ is the way to go if you want to maximise battery life. Listen in straight stereo and the QuietComfort Ultra should last for around 24 hours between charges – switch ‘immersive audio’ on and that figure drops to a fairly unimpressive 18 hours. Hook the headphones to the mains via USB-C and it’ll take around three hours to go from ‘flat’ to full’, while 15 minutes on the power should give you around two hours of playback. 

To take care of voice-assistant interaction, active noise-cancellation and telephony, there are five mics arranged on each earcup. Three are feed-forward and handle voice-capture, and there’s an internal feedback mic in each earcup too. Your active noise-cancellation options consist of ‘quiet’ (which means ‘full on’), ‘aware’ (meaning ‘transparency’) and ‘immersion’ (which means ‘immersion’). You can also define your own ANC mode in the control app – there’s a slider to set the amount of cancellation you fancy, and an ‘on/off’ control for the ‘wind block’ feature too. 

Interface: too touchy

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones app

The QuietComfort Ultra are compatible with the Bose Music control app that’s free for iOS and Android – and this is without doubt a good thing. It’s a tidy and easy-to-navigate app, nice and stable – and it’s loaded with options. All the usual volume and playback controls are there, of course, and there’s the facility to customise an ANC setting or two (as mentioned previously). There’s a three-band EQ adjuster as well as a few presets, the facility to thoroughly investigate your various ‘immersive audio’ options, check for firmware upgrades and check on battery life. You can decide if you’d like music to pause or not when you take the headphones off, you can adjust the amount of your own voice you hear during telephone calls… it’s very useful in every respect, and something for any number of rival manufacturers to aspire to.

You can also decide on the function of one of the very few physical controls by using the app, too. The right earcup has a couple of buttons on its outer edge – one deals with ‘power on/off/Bluetooth pairing’ and the other deals with ‘play/pause’, ‘skip forwards/backwards’ as well as cycling through your ‘immersive audio options’. On its inner edge, there’s a capacitive touch-strip used for controlling volume – swipe up to increase, swipe down to decrease – and is also home to a ‘shortcut’ function. Touch and hold the touch-surface and, depending on what you’ve selected in the app, you can hear an indication of remaining battery life, summon your source player’s native voice assistant, examine your ‘immersive audio’ options or (uf your app is up-to-date) ‘resume Spotify’.

The touch-control is unhelpfully close to the physical buttons, and it’s all too easy to operate one when intending to use another. Bose used to keep its touch-controls on the surface of the earcup, and it’s difficult to understand what the advantage of moving them to the edge of the earcup might be. Still, voice-assistant interaction is, like general telephony, rapid and reliable.

Performance: extreme insight

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones

There are three things to consider here, really: the way these headphones sound in stereo, the way they sound when they’re doing their ‘immersive audio’ thing, and the effectiveness of their active noise-cancellation. And for the ‘TL;DR’ among us, let’s say a) pretty good, b) pretty good with some exceptions, and c) exceptional.

But if you’re still with me, we can go into this in a bit more detail. In stereo, with a nice big file of Eartheater’s Sugarcane Switch playing, there’s plenty to admire here. The Bose are a really poised listen, with an authentically convincing tonal balance and the power to retain and reveal what seems very much like the last shred of detail. From the top of the frequency range to the bottom, they’re even-handed and confident, and they communicate through the midrange like nobody’s business. It seems unlikely in the extreme you’ll ever wonder about a singer’s character or motivation, any more than you might worry that you’re not getting every detail contained in a recording. And if it’s low-frequency speed and impact you’re looking for, you came to the right place.

Switching on the ‘immersive audio’ setting in the control app when listening to this tune takes things up a notch. The soundstage, which was already quite well-defined and convincing, becomes bigger in every direction – what was simple ‘left’ and ‘right’ is now a deep, wide and tall presentation that occupies what sounds very like 180 degrees – a ‘dome’ of sound is not an unreasonable way to describe it. Every strand of the recording is suddenly a doddle to follow, and it’s true: this is a more immersive way to hear the song.

Not every audio file is as accommodating, though. 2+2=5 by Radiohead, for example, ends up sounding quite distinct from the song I know and love – and not automatically in a good way. The ‘left’ and ‘right’ channel separation that the stereo rendering makes obvious becomes rather hazy and indistinct, while the voice – while still occupying the centre of the bigger, more expansive soundstage, lacks the straight-edged positivity of the stereo alternative. The overall presentation is relatively vague, slightly fuzzy and, in fundamental terms, not as enjoyable or rewarding to listen to.

We’re back on surer (and more predictable) ground where active noise-cancellation is concerned, because the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are basically excellent at it. They can deal with the huge majority of external distractions, and can do so without any suggestion of how hard they must be working to do so. It’s hardly a hot take to observe that Bose is really, really good at this sort of thing, but nevertheless I think it bears repeating: if the abolition of external sounds is as important to you as the sound of the headphones in the first place, you simply can’t go wrong with Bose. 

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones verdict

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones

You can’t have it all ways. Yes, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones sound good, cancel noise like champions, and their ‘immersive audio’ feature is a half-decent party trick too.

But they either need to be more tactile and more covetable as items, or they need to be less expensive. Which is it to be?

Stuff Says…

Score: 4/5

They sound brilliant, cancel noise like champions and they’re comfortable, too. But the look and feel isn’t great and they are bafflingly expensive compared to the competition.


Deeply impressive noise-cancellation

Detailed, balanced and confident sound

Light and comfortable to wear


Bafflingly expensive

Look and feel doesn’t match the asking price

Not every song suits being ‘immersive’

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones tech specs

Codec supportSBC, AAC
Connectivity2.5mm to 3.5mm, USB-C (both cables supplied)
Battery life24hrs with ANC on
ColoursBlack, white smoke and sandstone
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Luxury content of the audio/video variety. Adept at going on and on. European.

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