Sunday, 27 February 2022 18:24

Bose shows it is still the king of all-day noise-cancelling comfort with its QuietComfort 45

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The Bose QuietComfort 45, or QC45, is out and delivers both the long-lasting comfort and astonishingly immersive noise-cancelling you expect from the Bose name. At the same time, it’s not an impulse buy, priced between $450 and $499.95 depending where you look. Happily, Bose brings the goods with smart features, long battery life, and absolutely all-day operation and physical enjoyment.

For almost 60 years Bose has been delivering audio excellence, driven by a mission of inventing new technologies that would truly benefit people and creating a culture where innovation and teamwork are valued above all else. The Bose founders were determined to play for the long run. This paid off, and by 2012 Bose was the highest-selling company in the United States for retail home theatre systems and third highest for portable audio products.

Bose became such a household name - and an aspirational brand - that it featured in pop culture such as Adam Sandler’s neighbour boasting his dad’s stereo is a Bose, in the 2006 movie Click.

Of course, Apple's entry to portable audio in the form of AirPods has driven a large push to diminutive earbuds and recent research by tradingplatforms.com states Apple has 34.4% of the headphone market in the US. Yet, that same research indicates Bose has held third place with 12.5% of the market, followed by Samsung at 12.2%, leading both JBL and Sony at 11.4% each.

Whichever way you look at it, it is consumers who benefited most from the massive increase in sound engineering - but even if the tech has advanced across the board you still want the best bang for your buck. With the QuietComfort 45, Bose shows it’s still king.

First off, these are no earbuds. While earbuds have their place - they’re small and unobtrusive and sit at a lower price point than good headphones, they ultimately have an audio experience constrained by their size and power, and by their inability to entirely enclose your ears. Headphones block more outside noise and are less likely to cause ear damage than earbuds because they sit outside the ear.

The Bose QC45 aims firmly at such luminaries as the Sony WH-1000XM4 and the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay 8i, as well as the Jabra Elite 85h, among others. In iTWire’s view and testing, Bose has exceeded them all.

To be fair, the Jabra Elite 85h has an appealing aesthetic with copper and black vs. the all-black (or all-white) of the Bose QC45, but ultimately our experience is Bose provides superior noise isolation. This is also the case when compares against the Sony WH-1000XM4 - which is no slouch by any means, yet donning the Bose QC45 for the first time almost transports you to another world. Even without power, or without any inputs, the headphones immediately deaden the outside world. Connecting to a source and playing music is an experience you must listen to, to truly savour. It becomes you and your Bose soundstage with all else melting away.

Apple Music provides a vast array of spatial audio content, built-in to the regular price of Apple Music, and the Bose QC45 allows you to accurately pinpoint the precise location of artists and their instruments as they dance around your forehead and your room - beckoning from here, calling out to there, switching from location to location in a marvellous audio presentation you’ll have never experienced with stereo sound, or with less-capable headphones.

Bose has outfitted the QuietComfort 45 with four microphones, isolating and focusing on your voice when in conversation, and assisting with its astounding noise cancellation. A quick button press allows you to switch between quiet and aware modes, the difference being whether you want some sense of what is going on in your environment. With quiet mode on you are cocooned in soft, plush cushions focusing on your music or podcasts, or perhaps focusing on your work with an ambient soundtrack powering you on to greatness.

You can be connected to two devices at one time, and sure enough, I was playing music through my laptop when my mobile phone began to ring. The first time it happened I didn’t immediately realise what was going on. I couldn’t hear my phone, of course, because all outside noises were obliterated by the headset, but my music paused. For a split second, I wondered what had gone wrong when I heard the ringing in my ears, the headset switching automatically to my mobile. I answered the call with a single button press on the headset, questioning if I needed to advise I was using a new headset and to ask if they could hear me ok - but all fears diminished, because my caller engaged naturally in the call, listening and reacting to my responses with no hint whatsoever they couldn’t hear me perfectly. I later tested the microphone using a voice recording app and the pickup was perfect despite no obviously visible microphone on the QC45, such as a boom microphone on typical gaming headsets.

In fact, I set myself a task to literally use the Bose QuietComfort 45 from 9 am through 5 pm without stopping, to see how it fared. I played music continually, only stopping to join Teams, Zoom, and similar meetings on my laptop, and to take and make several calls on my mobile phone. I’d begun the day with 80% of battery - not deliberately, but after charging to 100% the night before I couldn’t bring myself to leave the QC45 alone, using it in the evening and during the night when I had a period of being unable to sleep. So, I began the day at 80% and by midday was around 60%. After non-stop use, paired to two devices, playing music, taking calls, I was still at 20% at the end of the working day. I had noise cancelling switched on the entire time.

Bose says its testing indicates you can expect 24 hours of operation with noise cancellation on and continuous audio playback, albeit at a volume of 50%, which I was most certainly not limiting myself to. As you would expect, battery life will vary according to usage and circumstances. I would not normally wear headphones for the entire day but I was on a mission. In fact, it was a tremendous experience. I felt energised and focused, while able to collaborate with others without concerns. In the past when I’ve used Bluetooth headphones for calls I’ve tended to turn them off when not in use, which became a problem when scrambling to get them going again when an incoming call arose. So, then I’d switched to cabled headphones for calls. Now, with Bose, there’s no longer any need to compromise. You can genuinely have your headphones always at the ready for calls and use with confidence the battery will last the day.

This highlights a difference over Bang & Olufsen’s Beoplay H8i. While that model also provided crisp, clear audio I never found its voice pickup terribly impressive and anybody I spoke with found me to be faint and distant. By contrast, the Bose QuietComfort 45 had me working seamlessly with colleagues as if I were in the same room.

Some things could be better; new firmware had been released since my Bose QC45s were manufactured so the first thing I did was update the firmware. Even though it came pre-charged to 80% out of the box, I plugged the headphones in thinking this would ensure stability during the update. Well, as I quickly found it, you can neither update the QC45 nor be connected to it through the app, while it is charging. While unexpected, it’s not a deal-breaker in the grander scheme of things. Let it charge overnight, or if need be, use its quick charge capability to get three hours of playtime within 15 minutes. The other thing I am not so keen on is the somewhat naff, robotic nature of the in-ear voice prompts. The accompanying Bose Music smartphone app allows you to change language but does not provide any subset voice options such as accent or gender.

Nevertheless, these are largely non-issues. What I do like is the use of physical buttons over touch controls. I’m not a huge fan of absolute minimalism when it means I have to remember exactly where I’m supposed to press or swipe to make something happen. Happily, the QC45 has a Bluetooth switch, volume up and down, and two multi-function buttons. One switch moves from aware to quiet mode and back; the other pauses music, answers calls, skips tracks, hangs up the phone, and does other things in a fairly natural and intuitive way.

Bose2

The app also provides an EQ facility, allowing you to tweak your bass, mids, and trebles to suit your preference. The setting gets fixed into the headset and remains until you change it again. However, at this time the app does not allow you to save any EQ combinations for later recall, but hopefully, this can be added as a simple software change.

Where the QC45 stands out is in the headphones themselves; the rich detail, instrument separation, and soundstage is stunning. Noise cancellation is truly next-level, beyond the experience of competition products I have used. The comfort is also outstanding with soft, padded, plush, ear cups and a flexible headband. You can wear them for hours and hours … and hours and hours without your ear hurting, without feeling heavy or pressure.

Along with music I regularly enjoy, I put the QC45 through its paces with an eclectic mix of music designed to separate quality audio systems from the ordinary. This includes Corey Hart’s Sunglasses at Night, with its bouncing stereo effect, as well as Wilderness by Explosions in the Sky, Symphony No. 1 in D Minor by the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, and Stay by The Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber for a little spatial fun.

Previous Bose headsets have enjoyed a reputation among frequent flyers and others as a commuter's delight. While other brands and models have come to the forefront, Bose has delivered, in the words of Billy Idol, “more, more, more” - more noise cancelling, more comfort, more microphones and voice pickup.

The Bose QC45 is a sensational set of headphones, and ones your ears deserve. It includes a durable carry case with a 3.5mm jack and a USB-A to USB-C charging cable.

Here is our unboxing:

Here's the official Bose reveal video:

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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.

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