According to Bose, this bravura performance is thanks to its CustomTune technology. When the earbuds are taken from their charging case and placed in the user’s ear, a brief tone burst assesses the specific properties of the ear canal. In under half a second, the QCE II takes the information and sets themselves up, for both audio and ANC, to best complement the wearer’s specific characteristics. And then, by way of an encore, CustomTune remains vigilant if you’re in “aware” mode, and will immediately kick in the noise canceling if a sudden loud noise should intrude.
Despite the lack of headline codec compatibility, the QCE II are a unified, detailed, and spacious listen, and musical in a way that ought to be a given but quite often isn’t. Through the course of our testing, the Bose played everything from Warren Zevon’s Gorilla, You’re a Desperado so …and the World Laughs with You by Flying Lotus via the Cleveland Orchestra’s rampage through Orff’s O Fortuna—and at no point do they sound anything less than engaged and entertaining.
As is often the case with Bose headphones, low frequencies are generous, but here they have proper attack-and-decay control to go with their prodigious extension and considerable weight. This level of authority makes for decent rhythmic expression, and recordings have a proper sense of momentum as well as solid underpinnings. Detail levels concerning texture are high, and there’s punch and finesse in equal measure.
At the opposite end of the frequency range, treble sounds attack politely. Bose has erred on the side of caution here, but only a little. There’s sufficient bite and shine to the top end, just about, and certainly no suggestion of hardness even at volume. Some listeners may hanker after a little more high-end aggression, but then again, some listeners have never heard of tinnitus.
In between, the Bose do uncomplicated good work with singers of all types and all levels of competence. The level of insight available through the midrange means no detail of timbre or technique is too minor or fleeting to escape the attention of the QCE II. And as a result, vocalists are described with all their character and attitude intact.
The Bose consolidates the entire frequency range solidly, with a smooth, bump-free journey from top to bottom. Overall tonality is probably just fractionally on the warm side of neutral when EQ settings are left well alone. Naturally, it’s possible to skew the presentation to your taste within the app, although to be honest, you’ll be hard-pressed to make a genuine improvement. Different is about the best you can hope for.
It’s easy to imagine “good taste” being high on the sonic wish list when Bose was tuning the QCE II. That might go some way to explaining the slightly inhibited dynamic response to big Orff-style shifts in volume and intensity. There’s distance between quiet and loud here, of course, but it’s not quite as marked as it is through some other similarly priced alternatives. Where the low level dynamic variations in instruments or voices are concerned, though, the Bose are on much surer ground.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II are smaller and lighter than the model they replace, which puts them on par with their obvious rivals. They are fully competitive, if not class-leading, where sound quality, battery life, and user interfaces are concerned. And when it comes to actually canceling noise, it looks like only Apple’s next-generation AirPods Pros have a shot at dethroning them. Which means we’ll be updating that best-of list right away.