Bose QuietComfort Ultra review
Image: Alice Clarke.

Bose QuietComfort Ultra review: a new noise cancelling champion

For a long time, the standard price you’d expect to pay for good noise cancelling headphones for travel was around $500. That would normally get you the latest Sony, Bose and Sennheiser had to offer. But with the Bose QuietComfort Ultra, the brand is clearly testing the waters for moving that price tag up to $650, which is a huge leap.

In my time with the Bose QuietComfort Ultra, I’ve been impressed with the overall package, but I’m not entirely convinced it earns the new price tag, or if it’s the best option for travel.

Bose QuietComfort Ultra review

First impressions

My first impression of the Bose QuietComfort Ultra is that they look like an elevated version of the old QuietComfort headphones. They still have the same visual language, but now with metal elements that look a bit more premium.

When I saw the new white colourway, my first thought was “that is going to get scuffed so quickly”, and I was right. There are lots of mysterious black marks all over the headphones now.

My biggest takeaway, though, is that the Bose QuietComfort Ultra has the best controls on a pair of over-ear headphones I have used in a long, long time, aside from the excellent ones on the AirPods Max. There are physical buttons to pause/play/next, but there’s a touch bar for volume. Normally I despise touch controls on headphones because they can be so hit-and-miss and depend on where you aim, but the volume bar is slightly raised and feels satisfying to use.

Bose QuietComfort Ultra specifications

Dimensions19.5 cm H x 13.9 cm W x 5.08 cm D (0.25 kg)
MaterialsAluminum, Leather (Plastic), Leather (Protein), Plastic  
Battery lifeUp to 24 hours
Charging timeUp to 3 hours  
BluetoothBluetooth range: Up to 9m (30 ft)
Bluetooth version: 5.3    
InputsUSB-C on the headphone side USB-A on the source side 2.5-mm audio cable for the headphone side and a standard 3.5mm jack for the device side  
Price (RRP)$649
WarrantyOne year
Official websiteBose Australia

The big new features are supposedly improved active noise cancellation (ANC), AptX Adaptive support, Swift Pair on Android, and a general sprinkling of more premium design, which sets it apart from the base-level QuietComfort. All of this is great, though the AptX support really depends on which phone you have. Judging by the phones more commonly sold in Australia, you very probably don’t have the right one to take advantage of this feature.


As you would expect from a brand with the pedigree of Bose, and a pair of premium headphones like these, the performance is excellent.


The comfort has been improved over the previous, less premium model. The headband is a bit more padded, and I can comfortably wear it for longer. But, there is still more “clamp” in the QuietComfort Ultra than the Sony XM5. That’s good for people with smaller heads, and that clamp will probably loosen with time. However, it does make things a little tight for those with average or larger-sized heads. The generous size of the ear cups means that even with the extra clamp, my earrings are unbothered, which makes a nice change, but that extra clamp jams the arms of my glasses into my skull more than I’d like.

They’re still comfy, just not the comfiest.

Quiet (Noise cancelling)

I am extremely impressed by the noise cancelling on the Bose QuietComfort Ultras. I’ve worn them on planes, trams, and trains now, and they cut out a decent amount of sound. I can still hear some conversations, and some noises, but much more is blocked than the previous generation. The Sony XM5 used to hold the distinction of having the best noise cancelling for travel, but I think the Bose QuietComfort Ultra has a slight edge here.

Audio quality

Here’s where things get good. The Bose QuietComfort Ultra has a clarity that I don’t normally hear at this price point. I have spent two weeks working on this review, most of that was spent going between the Sony XM5 and the Bose and trying to work out which is better, and I have no idea. They’re slightly different from each other, and there are little things that stand out, but each has such similarly weighted positives and negatives that I honestly cannot tell which one is better.

One of the things I look for on headphones are the ghost notes on the snare in “Simmer” by Hayley Williams, and whether the big sigh at the start of the song also makes me unconsciously take a big sigh. With the Bose QCU, I don’t sigh, and I’m missing some of the little details on the drums, compared to the Sony XM5, but then the song also sounds cleaner on the Bose with less distortion that I hadn’t noticed on the XM5s before today. In the second verse, there’s more detail than with the Sonys, which is a fun paradox. It’s like the snare gets buried at the start because of the EQ, but because there’s less going on in the second verse it can shine better.

“Everything At Your Feet” by Odesza somehow sounds extra chill on the Bose QuietComfort Ultra.

The bass isn’t overwhelming, but it is ever so slightly more present than on the Sony XM5, which means that “Fully Heart Fancy” by Lucky Chops is ever so slightly more grounded than I’d usually like, but still sounds great.

The QuietComfort Ultra sounds clear and good, and everyone except perhaps the most discerning and cashed-up audiophiles will love them.

Other features

One of the big headlines for the Bose QuietComfort Ultra is the Snapdragon 888 chip that supports AptX lossless audio. That is a big deal if you have an Android phone with a Snapdragon 888 chip, from a brand that paid for AptX compatibility (so, not Google or Samsung) and access to music in the AptX lossless codec. At the moment, that is an extremely small number of people. None of the phones I tested the Bose QuietComfort Ultra with had AptX support, so I can’t speak to the quality, and most of the phones sold in Australia do not support it. This is less of a Bose problem and more of a Snapdragon problem, but it does mean that paying for this flashy-sounding feature makes less sense for most people.

Bose Immersive Audio is one of the big highlights of the QuietComfort Ultra. The way the effect is applied to some songs is reminiscent of those LG TVs that could convert 2D pictures into 3D a little over a decade ago, so it’s far from perfect. It’s certainly not in the realm of Apple’s Spatial Audio. But it does add extra texture and space to the music that is often welcome.

Who is the Bose QuietComfort Ultra for?

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra is best suited to people with small heads who travel a lot and want a great pair of headphones that last. I would recommend them for travel over the Apple AirPods Max. However, given the extra clamping from the headband, people with larger heads would still be better off with the Sony XM5 or Apple AirPods Pro 2nd Gen (which now has a USB-C model).

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones with Spatial Audio, Over-The-Ear Headphones with Mic, Up to 24 Hours of Battery Life, Black
  • LEVELLED-UP LISTENING: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones with spatial audio give you an immersive experience that makes music feel more real; CustomTune technology offers personalised sound, shaped to you
  • WORLD-CLASS NOISE CANCELLATION: These noise cancelling headphones feature Quiet Mode, Aware Mode and Immersion Mode, which combines full noise cancellation and Bose Immersive Audio
  • CRYSTAL-CLEAR CALLS: Microphones focus on the sound of your voice and the noise cancelling headphones with mic filter out background noise for the clearest phone calls of any Bose headphones

Personally, I’m incredibly picky about which headphones I use when I travel, and I think the Bose QuietComfort Ultra will be my new headphones for flights under 17 hours. Over that, I think the discomfort will be a bit much, even with moving between over-ears and in-ears (which I recommend everyone do if they’re wearing headphones for more than a dozen hours at a time), and the Sony XM5 will still be my go-to for that.

Given I have been a dedicated Sony XM-series user for travel for years, this is a pretty strong endorsement.

That said, the extra $100 for the Bose QuietComfort Ultra is a lot, and I’m not entirely convinced there is $100 of improvement for most users. But that’s a question for you and your wallet.

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Bose Quietcomfort Ultra
Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones are the best competition the Sony XM5 range has had in years, and is the new benchmark for over ear noise cancelling headphones.
Value for money
Ease of use
Great noise cancelling
Long battery life
Nice metal accents
The AptX feature won’t be useful for most people
Headband is a little tight
White colourway scuffs easily
Price jump