Bose has long dominated the world of noise-cancelling headphones, with its QuietComfort line setting the bar for the industry for over 20 years. Apple and Sony have recently given Bose a run for its money with the AirPods Max and the WH-1000XM4, both of which offer their own excellent active noise cancellation (ANC) with arguably stronger audio quality. And Bose is even competing against itself with the terrific Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, which deliver ANC you can tune to your liking. That means the stakes have never been higher for the company's latest QC headphones, the $329 QuietComfort 45. Simply put, this is the best active noise cancellation you can find in over-ear headphones. The sound quality is good too, and certainly lives up to the price tag, though the aforementioned models are better geared toward audiophiles. But in terms of sheer ANC performance, you won't find a better pair than the QuietComfort 45, earning the headphones our Editors' Choice award.Our Experts Have Tested 90 Products in the Headphones Category in the Past YearSince 1982, PCMag has tested and rated thousands of products to help you make better buying decisions. (See how we test.)
Available in black or off-white, the circumaural (over-ear) QuietComfort 45 headphones look a lot like the QuietComfort 35 II, with a simple, practical design that prominently displays the Bose logo on the sides. The fit is exceptionally comfortable, with plush earpads and an equally cushioned headband. I wore them for hours of testing and never felt uncomfortable pressure on the top of my head. The headphones have no IP rating and aren't water resistant, but that isn't expected.
Bose eschews capacitive touch controls, instead going with physical buttons, three clustered on the back edge of the right earcup. The central button handles playback, call management, track navigation, and voice assistants (depending on how many times you tap it), and is flanked by dedicated volume up/down buttons. The left earcup has an ANC/ambient mode button, which Bose calls Quiet and Aware modes. Unfortunately, Bose only allows you to listen in Quiet or Aware modes; you can't disable both features to preserve battery life. You can use the headphones in passive mode, with the included 3.5mm audio cable, but with many phones lacking a headphone jack these days, this isn't particularly useful.
The headphones ship with a rounded rectangular zip-up case that’s impressively shallow and compact considering the size of the headphones; the hinges collapse and the earcups fold down flat to fit inside of it. The included USB-A-to-USB-C charging cable connects to a port on bottom edge of the right earcup. The cable feels a little short, but this is nitpicking.4.5Outstanding$329.00See Itat AmazonRead Our Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 Review 4.0Excellent$449.00See Itat AmazonRead Our Apple AirPods Max Review4.5Outstanding$278.00See Itat AmazonRead Our Sony WH-1000XM4 Review 4.5Outstanding$299.00See It at Abt ElectronicsRead Our Bose QuietComfort 35 II Review 4.0Excellent$497.00See Itat AmazonRead Our Master & Dynamic MW65 Review 4.5Outstanding$129.95See Itat AmazonRead Our Sennheiser HD 450BT Review(Photo: Tim Gideon)
The headphones are compatible with Bluetooth 5.1, with support for both AAC and SBC codecs, and the Bose Music app for Android and iOS allows for effortless pairing. Turn the headphones on, open the app, and it will pair the headphones with your mobile device without you needing to go to the Bluetooth menu. It isn't quite as seamless as the the way the AirPods Max automatically connect with iOS devices, but it's still simple and convenient.
Once paired, you can use the app to toggle between Quiet and Aware modes, which you can already do on the headphones. You can also connect to different sound sources you're simultaneously paired to, letting you easily get audio from your phone, laptop, or other device. Other than that, the settings menu only provides some basic options, like adjusting automatic power-down times and the level of mic monitoring (how much of your own voice you hear on calls).
Bose recently added adjustable EQ to the QC45, allowing you to tune the bass, midrange, and treble to your liking, or select from a number of preset options. You can't adjust ANC levels, which is a key differentiator between the QC45 and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, which offer granular ANC adjustments. It would be nice to see that same functionality here, but it's worth noting the NC 700 headphones cost $50 more and fall just short of the QC 45 in terms of noise cancellation (more on this in the next section).
Bose estimates battery life to be roughly 24 hours, but your results will vary with your volume levels.(Photo: Tim Gideon)
Quite simply, the QuietComfort 45 headphones offer the best active noise cancellation we've tested. Deep low-frequency rumble, like you’d hear on an airplane, gets dialed back effortlessly. This is easy for noise-cancelling circuitry, though. ANC headphones tend to struggle much more with variable highs like human conversation and glasses clinking, so we played a recording of a loud, busy restaurant through near-field monitors as a stress test. Impressively, the ANC had no problem in either of these scenarios, tamping down the mids and highs dramatically, as well as dampening the lows. There is perhaps the slightest bit of audible high-frequency hiss (like a faint white noise), but it’s just barely there, and it doesn't mask or impact the ANC performance.
Loud music with deep bass, bright guitars, and percussion, also played at high volumes through the near-field monitors, gets similarly dampened to an impressive degree. The ANC doesn't come close to completely eliminating these high-volume sounds, but it's doubtful any noise-cancelling circuitry can. In a real-life scenario, the QuietComfort 45 can easily and significantly reduce in-room TV audio or office chatter.
For comparison, Sony's WH-1000XM4 headphones deal with powerful low-frequency sounds with similar skill, and it’s hard to say which pair is better. They both dial back large swaths of rumble, but their circuitry is different, so they don’t dial back the exact same frequencies with the exact same results. In the case of mids and highs, the QC 45's ANC is slightly more effective. The Sony headphones let through more high frequencies and seem to dial back the mids to a lesser degree, although the difference is subtle.Clockwise from upper left: Bose QuietComfort 45, Apple AirPods Max, Sony WH-1000XM4, Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700(Photo: Tim Gideon)
Compared with the AirPods Max, the Bose headphones fare better against both low rumble and the mids/highs of a restaurant. The AirPods Max do well, but they can drastically alter the ANC as your head moves. While you might need to tweak the position of the QC 45 on your head to get the best effect with low frequencies, the Bose headphones still consistently dial the lows back regardless of head movement.
And while the QuietComfort headphones don't offer the same the granular ANC adjustments of the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, they're better at tamping down both powerful low frequencies as well as restaurant-like mids and highs. So if you want the best noise cancellation from a pair of Bose headphones, you just have to accept less control over the ability to tweak it.
Aware mode (which lets you hear your surroundings without removing the headphones) is useful, but seems slightly less loud than competing models. Bose ostensibly aims to recreate the actual levels you would hear around you, which is a noble pursuit, but sometimes you might want more volume, or more of the high-mid and high frequencies that make voices more intelligible (especially with music playing).
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the headphones deliver powerful low-frequency response at default settings. At top, unwise listening levels, the bass depth is strong and doesn’t distort. At lower, more moderate listening levels, the bass still feels powerful, and is well matched with higher-frequency sculpting.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the QuietComfort 45’s general sound signature. The drums on this track get some added bass thump, but nothing overly thunderous. Callahan’s baritone vocals have a rich low-mid presence well matched with high-mids that add some crispness to the delivery. The higher-register percussive hits and acoustic guitar also benefit from the frequency sculpting. The sound signature isn’t wildly tweaked, but it’s massaged enough that we wouldn’t call it flat response.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop receives plenty of high-mid presence so that its attack retains its punch. We also hear the vinyl hiss and crackle, usually relegated to the background, take a step forward in the mix. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with substantial bass depth, but nothing like we hear on seriously bass-boosted models that are going for the full subwoofer sound. The vocals are delivered cleanly on this track, with perhaps a bit of added sibilance.(Photo: Tim Gideon)
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, sound balanced despite the sculpting in the lows and highs. The higher-register brass, strings, and vocals retain their bright, prominent presence in the mix, while the lower-register instrumentation takes a step forward without overwhelming the balance.
The mic array offers solid intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone, we could understand every word we recorded, but the mic array favors boosted clarity over accuracy, so the signal can sound a little filtered in favor of high-mids. Callers will have no problem understanding you on a clear cell or wireless signal.
The QuietComfort 45 headphones cement Bose as the leader in active noise cancellation, with better performance than the $549 AirPods Max, the $349 Sony WH-1000XM4, and Bose's own $379 Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. That said, the QC 45 aren't the best-sounding pair of the bunch, and each competitor offers unique strengths. The AirPods Max deliver unparalleled connectivity with Apple devices, as well as Apple's unique Adaptive EQ and Spatial audio features. Sony's WH-1000XM4 headphones are the best bet for audiophiles. And the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 offer the ability to tune noise cancellation to taste. Each of these pairs brings something to the table and is worth considering. But if it's the absolute best ANC you're after, the QuietComfort 45 headphones are the ones to get, and our Editors' Choice winner for class-leading noise cancellation.4.5Editors' ChoiceSee It $279.00 at AmazonMSRP $329.00
Though the competition is stiffer than ever, the Bose QuietComfort 45 headphones continue to lead the industry with the best active noise cancellation you can buy.
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